Maude Callen: Hero Midwife

I’m wild for the LIFE photo archive that’s been put up recently by Google. It’s such an incredible resource and an insane rabbit hole. Today I punched in “midwife” and came upon W. Eugene Smith‘s photos of the right honorable Maude Callen, a nurse-midwife who braved the swampy lowlands of rural South Carolina to help laboring mothers deliver their babies and to attend to any who needed her care for whatever reason. Smith took these photographs in 1951 and they ran in LIFE as a 12 page profile of this remarkable woman. At the time, Ms. Callen had been working in the Pineville, SC area for nearly thirty years and she we would go on to serve the community another 40 years until her death in 1990 at age 92.

I love how fully the photos show a midwife doing her work well: journeying to the mother’s house when called, calmly preparing, listening and waiting, calmly preparing some more, receiving the baby, and educating the next generation.

on the way

the waters



mama and baby


For a sensible glimpse of midwifery in America today, my favorite nurse-midwife to be, Nile, suggests you take a look at a recent article in the LA Times, Midwives Deliver. It is so great to see such a positive and proactive endorsement of midwifery care in the mainstream media.



Filed under Cassie McGettigan, Profile of Awesome

4 responses to “Maude Callen: Hero Midwife

  1. Thanks for the informative information – I enjoyed reading it! I always enjoy this blog. 🙂 Cheers,

  2. mj

    Charles Kuralt did a lovely story about Maude Callen for ON THE ROAD WITH CHARLES KURALT. I was so moved that I wanted to learn more about this wonderful giving woman.

  3. The photograph of the mom holding the newborn is a horizontal, not a vertical as you have in your layout. I hope you correct that.

  4. As part of photographic history, “Nurse Midwife” was one of the early photo essays, and cemented Smith’s reputation in a new genre after his superlative work in the Pacific during WW2. In the context of the time, imagine a mostly white audience reading and seeing these amazingly truthful and compassionate photos of this selfless caregiver in the most read picture magazine of the century. In some ways, this essay laid the groundwork for more civil rights efforts to come.

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