Federal Writers' Project – Life Histories/2021/Spring/105/Section 56/Lula Russeau
Overview[edit | edit source]
Lula Russeau was a Native American woman who was born on August 15th, 1861 in the town of Eufaula, Alabama. She worked as a midwife and was interviewed by Gertha Couric as part of the Federal Writers' Project on December 15th, 1938.
Biography[edit | edit source]
Early Life[edit | edit source]
Lula Russeau was born on August 15th, 1861. Her mother was a Chickasaw Indian from Black Creek, Virginia and her father was also a Chickasaw Indian from South Carolina. She was born in the backyard of Andrew McKenzie and Miss Adelaide, whom she later referred to as her master and mistress. She was raised by her mother in Master Andrew McKenzie's home where her mother taught her a plethora of skills ranging from herbal medicines to simple skills such as cooking and sewing.
Career and Beliefs[edit | edit source]
Lula Russeau worked as a midwife, often referred to as "Aunt Granny", while living at Master Andrew McKenzie's home. Russeau differed from other midwives during this time due to the fact that she was not only of Native American Chickasaw descent, but also that she did not use commercial pharmaceuticals. Instead, she relied on the natural remedies that her mother taught her in order to care for the pregnant women she was helping. Some of these natural remedies include pine tops and mullein leaves for colds, bitter weed for chills and fever, and sage and catnip leaves for infants in order to cure hives. In addition to this, her mother also influenced her beliefs and superstitions. Some of these superstitions include tying a sack of sassafras roots around one's neck wards off sickness, throwing cow peas in the road if a couple wants children, and that putting your right shoe on first means bad luck. With these natural remedies and superstitions, Russeau had a successful career as a midwife, birthing over 500 infants.
Social Context[edit | edit source]
The Great Depression[edit | edit source]
The Great Depression was an economic depression that lasted from 1929 to 1933. It began with the stock market crash of 1929. The stock market crash disrupted the financial markets greatly while also drastically devalued capital stocks which caused extreme inflation and high levels of unemployment. Unfortunately, the lasting effects of the depression hit minorities the hardest due to America’s history of systematic racism and minority oppression. The exclusion of farm worker and domestic servants disproportionally impacted minorities as many of the workers that were first fired were unfortunately minorities. This made it extremely hard to find work and support a family when one is not able to find a stable source of income. The effects of the Great Depression lasted nearly up until World War II in 1941 when the labor necessary, state spending, and the strategic use of foreign markets lowered the unemployment rate to an all-time low and boosted the economy.
The Indian Reorganization Act[edit | edit source]
The livelihood of the Native American population was filled with oppression and hardships. It was the improvement of Native American treatment at a federal level. This was after acts such as the Indian Removal Act that was set in place by President Andrew Jackson. This act was arguably one of the worst federal acts against the community as it set aside are known as "reservations" where Native Americans were forced in order to make room for white settlement. The physical removal of Indians from the South resulted, whether intentionally or not, in their discursive removal as well. Societal norms during the 1800s undermined native culture by forcing Native Americans to assimilate into the European-American lifestyle. The Indian Reorganization Act, also known as the "Indian New Deal", was put in place in an attempt to remedy the oppression and hardships that the community was put through. John Collier was the Commissioner of Indian Affairs and chose to focus on preserving what remained of the American Indian culture. In an attempt to preserve Native American culture, the federal government took many actions including photographing native culture, incorporating native education on language and customs, and to ease unemployment with the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Nurse Midwifery during the 20th Century[edit | edit source]
Prior to the modernization of medicine, midwives were essential to childbirth. Midwives did a variety of tasks ranging from promoting women's health to supporting them during labor. The career of midwifery came to be in an attempt to lower infant mortality rates and provide professional care to pregnant women. This became a main focus during the time of the Great Depression as this is when mortality rates skyrocketed. With the expanding field, it is unfortunate that a campaign was started in order to eliminate traditional immigrant and African American midwives. This stems from the societal racism that has been a part of American culture since its birth and it put many out of work since initially, most of the midwives were immigrants or people of color. The racism was revealed when it was obvious that white midwives received higher and more professional education while minority midwives were merely apprentice trained. Specifically African American midwives, medical professionals considered them not only a necessary evil, but they were also believed to carry disease, to be incapable, and be inherently responsible. This is due to the fact that due to segregation and racial laws that were set during this time, minorities were unable to receive the professional health care when regarding pregnancy and labor. It was an impossible situation as the elevated levels of infant and maternal mortality was blamed on the minority midwives while the good work that they did and the extensive care that they provided was overlooked and ignored. Medicine and care for childbirth was approached differently as it surrounded deep spirituality and the viewpoints of ancestors bring a more wholesome perspective.
Notes[edit | edit source]
- Bernstein, Michael A. The Great Depression: delayed recovery and economic change in America, 1929-1939. Cambridge University Press, 1987.
- Trefzer, Annette. Disturbing Indians: The Archaeology of Southern Fiction. University of Alabama Press, 2007.
- Rhodes, Eric. National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2015/11/30/indian-new-deal/.
- Dawley, Katy. "Origins of nurse-midwifery in the United States and its expansion in the 1940s." Journal of midwifery & women's health 48, no. 2 (2003): 86-95.
- Maxwell, Kelena. Birth Behind the Veil: African American Midwives and Mothers in the Rural South, 1921-1962. Rutgers University Libraries, 2009.
References[edit | edit source]
Bernstein, Michael A. The Great Depression: delayed recovery and economic change in America, 1929-1939. Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Dawley, Katy. "Origins of nurse-midwifery in the United States and its expansion in the 1940s." Journal of midwifery & women's health 48, no. 2 (2003): 86-95.
Maxwell, Kelena. Birth Behind the Veil: African American Midwives and Mothers in the Rural South, 1921-1962. Rutgers University Libraries, 2009.
Rhodes, Eric. National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration. Accessed March 23, 2021. https://prologue.blogs.archives.gov/2015/11/30/indian-new-deal/.
Trefzer, Annette. Disturbing Indians: The Archaeology of Southern Fiction. University of Alabama Press, 2007.