Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau

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Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau[edit]

Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau
Midwives from Ft. Myers, Florida in 1944
 Midwives from Ft. Myers, Florida in 1944
Profession: Midwife
Born: August 15, 1861

Eufaula, Barbour, Alabama

Died: October 15, 1946

Eufaula, Barbour, Alabama

Overview[edit]

Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau was a midwife during the late 1800s and the early 1900s. She was interviewed for the Federal Writers Project on December 15, 1938.

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau was born into slavery on August 15, 1861 on Barbour Street in Eufaula, Alabama. Both of her parents had American Indian heritage, her mother from Virginia and her father from South Carolina. Russeau’s father died when she was only a few months old. Her mother raised her alone, teaching her to be a “missy.” Rather than leaving the plantation after the Civil War brought freedom from slavery, her mother stayed with her masters. While Russeau was actually American Indian, she was often confused as an African American woman. Based on her accounts, she experienced what life was like as an African American woman[1].

Middle Life[edit]

Russeau’s mother taught her how to wash and iron, cook, sew, and spin. Her mother made her own medicine out of herbs and worked on the spinning wheel. Russeau’s mother was also very superstitious, claiming that throwing cow peas in the road will make a wife pregnant and that a screeching owl near the house means a family member will die. Russeau’s mother focused on teaching her daughter home remedies useful to midwives, showing her how to use herbs and charms. Her mother taught her to use pine tops and mullein leaves for bad colds, bitter weed for chills and fevers, and sage and catnip leaves to cure hives on babies. In addition to the treatments, Russeau’s mother taught her to wear sassafras roots and asafoetida around her neck to ward off sickness[2]. Russeau married Dave Russeau in 1878 and had 11 children with him[3].

Later Life[edit]

By 1936, Russeau was widowed. Russeau used what her mother taught her as a child in her job as a midwife for over 50 years in the profession. Russeau was proud of her work as a midwife, claiming that she aided in the birth of over 500 babies. It’s unclear whether or not she was married, but there are no marriage records for her name and age. She lived most of her adult life at 426 East Washington Street, Eufaula, Alabama. Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau died on October 15, 1946 in Eufaula, Alabama[4].

Social Issues[edit]

New Expectations for Midwives[edit]

In the 1930s, improvements in medical care called for more strict requirements and regulations for midwives. Prenatal and maternity care became a key objective of public health in the 1920s. Since then, strides toward more regulated, focused care for pregnant women have been made[5]. According to the Public Health Reports of 1936, midwives started being evaluated on their skills in a four step procedure. Midwives are then ranked based on their ability to provide quality care. The four step procedure must be followed in order:

  1. “Construction and preliminary trial of a test for the measurement of a midwife’s knowledge and practice[6].”
  2. “Development of a means of discovering and recording all those administrative procedures of a health department concerned with the control and supervision of midwives[7].”
  3. “With the techniques developed in steps one and two, the measurement of a sampling of midwives in each of a number of communities, and the recording of the health department's’ activities for those communities[8].”
  4. “Relating the quality of service rendered by the midwives in each community to the type of midwife control used in that community, thus precipitating the methods of control that have been effective in producing a high quality of midwife service[9].”

Midwives in the deep South that based their practices solely on home remedies had a hard time adapting to the new regulations. The Public Health Reports of 1936 implied that there would be no tolerance for this type of midwifery: “Those midwives who pay no attention to accepted methods of cleanliness and prescribe for their patients all sorts of home remedies, many of them based on superstitions, must register low on the index as compared with those midwives whose routine procedures conform to the pattern set forth in the midwife manual[10].”

Low Wages for Midwives[edit]

Most midwives were self-employed and, since midwives were so common, there was rarely enough births to provide more than part-time income[11]. In 1936, movements toward higher pay for midwives started to get more attention from the government and official health organizations. In order for midwives to get higher pay, they would be expected to increase the quality of services. Higher pay and increased quality resulted in less midwife positions available[12].

African American Midwives[edit]

Because of new regulations set in the 1930s, African American midwives were largely eliminated from the field of midwifery. While the efforts to professionalize health care for pregnant women were intended to improve conditions, they were seen as racist by midwives of color[13]. According to a statement from Downplaying Difference: Historical Accounts of African American Midwives and Contemporary Struggles for Midwifery, “contemporary midwives are not a monolithic group and their efforts to professionalize have frequently come at a cost when one group has been privileged over another.” With the raised expectations for midwives, untrained midwives were viewed as illiterate and only capable of dangerous and unsanitary practices[14].

References[edit]

  1. Folder 9: Couric, Gertha (interviewer): Mid-Wives are Called Grannies, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Ibid.
  3. 1900; Census Place: Fort Browder, Barbour, Alabama; Roll: 1; Page: 5B; Enumeration District: 0005; FHL microfilm: 1240001.
  4. Folder 9: Couric, Gertha (interviewer): Mid-Wives are Called Grannies, in the Federal Writers' Project papers #3709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill..
  5. Derryberry, Mayhew, and Josephine Daniel. "The Development of a Technique for Measuring the Knowledge and Practice of Midwives." Public Health Reports (1896-1970) 51, no. 24 (1936): 757-71. doi:10.2307/4581857.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Reid, Alice. "Birth Attendants and Midwifery Practice in Early Twentieth-century Derbyshire | Social History of Medicine | Oxford Academic." OUP Academic. October 23, 2011. Accessed September 28, 2017.
  12. Forber. "The Independent Midwife." The British Medical Journal 1, no. 3922 (1936): 490.
  13. Craven, Christa, and Mara Glatzel. "Downplaying Difference: Historical Accounts of African American Midwives and Contemporary Struggles for Midwifery." Feminist Studies 36, no. 2 (2010): 330-58.
  14. Reid, Alice. "Birth Attendants and Midwifery Practice in Early Twentieth-century Derbyshire | Social History of Medicine | Oxford Academic." OUP Academic. October 23, 2011. Accessed September 28, 2017.