03709_0166: I Ain't No Midwife

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Mary Willingham, 1880, Clarke County, Black, practical nurse, Athens, 14 and 24 March, 29 May, and 9 June 1939

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There are three versions of the following interview which are substantially different in content and/or format. Therefore all three versions have been included in the project.

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I AIN'T NO MIDWIFE

Written by: Mrs. Sadie B. Hornsby Area 6 - Athens

Edited by: Mrs. Sarah H. Hall Area 6 - Athens

John H. Booth Area Supervisor Federal Writers' Project Areas 6 and 7 Augusta, Georgia

Mar. 24, 1939

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March 14, 1939 Mary Willingham (Negro) 140 Cohen Street Athens, Georgia Practical Nurse S.B.H.

I AIN'T NO MIDWIFE

I knocked on the door of the brown painted cottage, but there was no response. The key was in the door so I knocked again, harder this time; but still there was no answer. As I turned to go a Negro boy across the street yelled in a shrill voice, "Her dar, her's in de back yard washin', if it's Miss Mamie you'se wantin' to see." I thanked the boy. "You'se much oblige," he replied.

Walking around to the back yard, I found Mamie putting a kettle on a fire that was burning around a boiling washpot filled with clothes. "Good morning Mamie," I greeted her, "I'm surprised to find you at home. I was just taking a chance."

"Yes, mam, I ain't had no job in gwine on a month now."

"Are you taking in washing?" I asked.

"No, mam, I'se just doin' my own fambly washin', least I is this mornin'. I does have two small washin's. I means I called myself havin' two, but the folks didn't bring 'em last week and they ain't brung 'em so far this week,

"Come on the porch and sit down whilst I wash, 'cause vhen I gits through I'se got to go to town. I meant to wash outdoors in the sunshine, but my husband and daughter got off befo' I had a chance to get 'em to move my wash bench off of the porch for me."

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I sat down and watched her as she worked. Mamie is a stout woman of medium height and tangled gray hair frames her gingerbread-colored face. She was wearing a blue uniform, a white apron, black slippers, and gray cotton hose.

She spat into the tub of clothes, stood up straight and said, "Miss, does you know where I can git a job?"

"No," I replied.

"What!" she ejaculated. "Outen all the folks you knows!"

"That's true, Mamie, I surely don't know of a job that you could get right now." I told her.

"I sho don't know what us pore Negroes is gwine do," she grumbled. "When I first started to work I got more to do than I could keep up with. Now, the folks goes to the hawspital, and when they gits back home some of they folks comes and stays with 'em 'til they's up and about again. I reckon folks just has to do that way to cut 'spenses."

"How long have you been working out?" I asked.

"Let me see now, since 1924," she answered. "You know I ain't no midwife; I'se a practical nurse. I'se holped doctors and midwives, and I'se maided and cooked. Lord, have mercy! I had to spend my money as fast as I could git it feedin' my chillun and payin' house rent. I got my 'stificate to do practical nursin' in 1926. It took me 2 years to git it. It used to be any person could wait on a 'oman havin' a baby, they could go ahead and cut the cord and tie it if they knowed how. Now, that's all changed. If you don't have that 'stificate they'll put you in the penitentiary

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for life. I hope to git my next 'stificate in 'bout another year, and then I can call myself a midwife and pull down $35 a week. Then I won't have to worry 'bout my meat and bread no mo', 'cause I means to save for a rainy day.

"I don't know when I was bom 'cause I didn't know nothin' t'all 'about my ma. I recomembers seein' my pa all right 'nough. I can guess at my age, but I really don't know jes' how old I is. I tells ever'body that. I 'spect I will be'most fortynine my next birthday. I was born on a farm down here in Clarke County, and all I ever done in my younger days mostly was work in the field. I'se just been in town 'bout sixteen years. I used to have time and money to go to see my folks, but I don't no mo'. Like I done tole you, my ma died when I was a baby. My sister raised me part of the way, then some white folks took me up and I lived with 'em years and years. I lived and worked in the house with them white folks 'til I married.

"The reason I started takin' keer of the sick is that my husband's sister that was nursin' a white 'oman took sick and give me the job. I went there and liked the work and the white folks liked me. They paid me $8 a week. That was a good lady what I nursed. I had to work day and night and had to do somethin' for her all the time. She would say, 'Oh, please rub my legs. Oh, please scratch my head. If you will only rub my back, I am so nervous.' She had the shaking disease; her hands and legs was drawed up something awful. Her aunt said it was caused by bein' a

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