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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with James and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Childbirth practices and the aid of an African American midwife

Nannie Pharis addresses issues of childbirth during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. As one of thirteen children, Pharis was witness to childbirth practices on multiple occassions. Here, she describes how her mother received the help of a local African American midwife. While new babies were being born, Pharis recalls that she and the other siblings would go stay with the sister of the midwife until the birth was over. The midwife would then stay with the family for a few days until the new baby was settled.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with James and Nannie Pharis, December 5, 1978; January 8 and 30, 1979. Interview H-0039. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

ALLEN TULLOS:
How were you in this group of ten, thirteen children? Where did you come?
NANNIE PHARIS:
I was just about the middle one. I only have two brothers that are living. One in Reedsburg, Wisconsin and one in That's all the three left out of the ten.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did your mother have a doctor present?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Very seldom. Not unless it was very serious. It was about five miles, maybe a longer distance than that, to get a doctor. It would be too late, you know. She had a midwife with most of us.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Was it the same midwife everytime?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Yes, I do. Aunt Ivy Hosten. These two colored people. Aunt Ivy was the midwife, she lived close by.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Could you tell me any more about her? When would somebody get her to come?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Well, in the family, my father mostly would go out.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And she would come to the house….
NANNIE PHARIS:
And stay maybe three or four days. There was a lot of that in those days. The doctor was a good distance away and it would be impossible to get him before the baby.
ALLEN TULLOS:
And this woman delivered a lot of babies?
NANNIE PHARIS:
She did, surrounding where we lived.
ALLEN TULLOS:
You say her sister was a midwife, too?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Yes, there was two of them. I forget her name, though.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would you pay them anything?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Not anything, unless you'd give them some vegetables, fresh meat or something like that. Probably they did pay them with some money. I don't remember that much about it.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Is that how you were delivered too?
NANNIE PHARIS:
I guess so. Yes, most of us were.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Do you remember being present when any of that was going on?
NANNIE PHARIS:
They'd take us away from home. Them old colored women come and get us and take us to their house.
ALLEN TULLOS:
How long would you stay at their house?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Until everything was over with. Then they'd take us back. Then they'd spend three or four days with us.
ALLEN TULLOS:
But you knew what was going on then?
NANNIE PHARIS:
I don't think so. We didn't learn much about that in those days.
JAMES PHARIS:
They just left till the stork comes. The stork brought them.
NANNIE PHARIS:
Yes, that's the truth.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Would they say something like that when they took you away?
NANNIE PHARIS:
They'd take us to their homes and tell us to stay there until they come back for us. Then they'd come and get us and take us after everything was over with. And they'd remain with us probably a week or maybe more, until my mother got on her feet again. Think about giving birth to thirteen children. A pretty rugged life.
ALLEN TULLOS:
Did she start back into work pretty soon after that?
NANNIE PHARIS:
Yes, she'd commence doing her housework and maybe working in the garden near the house. My mother was awful smart, I thought.