Course Unit | Session 6: In Defense of the Lay Midwife

Session 6: In Defense of the Lay Midwife


Most African Americans women living in the South in the early to mid-20th century delivered their babies with the assistance of a Black lay midwife.  Beginning in the 1920s, federal funding was made available to states to promote maternal and child health.  Many State health departments used these funds to established training institutes in an effort to formalize practice patterns of Black lay midwives.  These women served their communities in many ways, usually being “called” to their work and at the same time, carrying on a tradition often passed down from grandmother to mother to daughter.  The impact of Black lay midwives on the overall health of Black rural Americans extended beyond reducing maternal and infant mortality with proper birthing practices as they served as liaisons between communities and public health departments and thus, extended immunization, screening and health care campaigns into often neglected areas of the South.


  1. Describe the historical role of the black lay midwife, her “call” and preparation for practice here in America
  2. Contrast the role and training of the lay midwife in America and in Europe
  3. Describe the rise of training programs for black lay midwifery offered through state public health departments
  4. Describe the benefits of the black lay midwife to women, public health, and the obstetric profession
  5. Describe the forces that contributed to the eventual elimination of the black lay midwife as an essential component of the health professional workforce