Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Carrie Dykes

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Carrie Dykes
Bornc. 1870
Belmont, Alabama
DiedDecember 17, 1955
EducationSeventh Grade
Years activeUnknown


Carrie Dykes was an African-American midwife during the Great Depression Era in Alabama. She was interviewed by the Federal Writers’ Project in 1938.[1]


Early Life[edit]

Carrie Dykes was born in Belmont, Alabama circa 1870. Her mother was a former slave. The white family of H.G. Mitchell helped to raise Dykes while employing her as a child. She assisted Mrs. Mitchell’s sister “Miss Gillespie,” who was said to be “an invalid.” Her father worked in the Mitchell home, also helping Miss Gillespie as she could not walk. Dykes’ mother and aunt lived nearby during her childhood.[2]

Dykes was later sent to school while working for the Mitchells. Her highest level of education was the seventh grade.[3]

Professional and Adult Life[edit]

Dykes later married, though she continued to farm for the Mitchells a short distance away. Her Aunt Susan later moved in with her and helped Dykes begin her career as a midwife.[4]

She delivered many children as well as livestock during her career. Dykes denied claims that she was able to accurately guess the sex of the children she delivered but confirmed this ability to be true with “beasts.” Later in her career, she also raised many children she took into her home.[5]

She denied a belief in superstition, but often Spiritualism influenced her experiences and stories. Her husband was a believer in the movement’s phenomena.[6]

One of her most important personal experiences was a storm that blew down many houses near her. She claimed her sister-in-law exited a house shortly before a tree crashed through the roof because of heavy winds. In her telling of the story, she denied influence of the supernatural but mentioned spirits extensively.[7]

Carrie Dykes died on December 17, 1955 and was buried in Coatopa, Alabama.[8]

Social Issues[edit]


Midwifery is the practice of women helping pregnant mothers deliver. Generally, midwives would go to the mother’s home to assist in the childbirth.[9]

The use of midwives heavily declined in the twentieth century. Factors for this included improving hospitals, better obstetric physicians, and an increasing “ability to meet the hospital expense.”[10]

In 1947, the percentage of babies delivered by midwives in the state of Georgia dropped to 20 percent from the previous average of 35 to 40 percent.[11]

Midwifery as an African-American woman became especially more difficult during the twentieth century. The policies which eliminated the profession as a whole sometimes used “racist healthcare initiatives” to ensure the elimination of African-American midwives. African-American midwives found it more difficult than others to be certified because of their race as more regulation was necessary to be a midwife. Also, racist attitudes left many people wary to hire African-American midwives if they hired one at all.[12]


Spiritualism is the belief in the ability for spirits of those who are deceased to be able to communicate with and return to the physical world. This movement, sometimes referred to as a religion, gained popularity in the United States at the end of the nineteenth century and carried into the early twentieth century.[13]

Much of the movement’s popularity is linked to the growing industrialization and scientific advancement of society. Many followers appear to have needed a sense of security that was provided by the belief in Spiritualism. Followers ranged from the average person to political leaders of the time.[14]

Alongside affecting people’s everyday beliefs, the movement significantly bolstered social movements surrounding it. For example, Spiritualism “offered the first popular platforms for female speakers,” allowing them to voice opinions on issues and inequalities affecting them, bolstering the women’s’ rights movement.[15]


  1. Interview of Carrie Dykes by Ruby Pickens Tartt, October 4, 1938, folder 73, Coll. 03709, Federal Writers’ Project Papers, 1936-1940, The Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.
  8. United States, Congress, House. Alabama, Deaths and Burials Index, 1881-1974. Government Printing Office. Ancestry.com
  9. "Midwifery Declines; State has Only 1,500." The Atlanta Constitution, Jan 30, 1949.
  10. Ibid.
  11. Ibid.
  12. 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, http://www.jstor.org/stable/27919104.
  13. Moore, R. Laurence. "Spiritualism and Science: Reflections on the First Decade of the Spirit Rappings." American Quarterly 24, no. 4 (1972): 474-500.
  14. Ibid.
  15. Hewitt, Nancy A. The Journal of American History 77, no. 4 (1991): 1367.