Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2017/Fall/Section 26/Josie Fleming

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Josie Fleming
Midwife going on a call Greene County, Georgia, October 1941
BornJosie Hunter
circa 1876
Aswell County, Alabama
DiedUnknown
NationalityUnited States
EthnicityAfrican American
OccupationMidwife
Farmer
SpouseGeorge Fleming
ParentsAbe Hunter
Bella Thompson

Overview[edit]

Josie Fleming (born 1874-1880 Josie Hunter) was an African American midwife and farmer in Alabama.[1] Fleming was interviewed as part of the Federal Writer’s Project between 1936 and 1940 by an unknown writer.

Biography[edit]

Josie Hunter was born around the year 1876 to Bella Thompson and Abe Hunter. Bella Thompson was a slave under Marse Eli Thompson and Abe Hunter worked for Doctor Hunter in Aswell, Alabama. Josie married George Fleming around the year 1891. They had nine children, of whom seven survived to adulthood.[2]

Work Life[edit]

Farmer[edit]

Josie Fleming, along with her husband and children, worked on the eighty-acre farm where George Fleming was raised. Their farm consisted of “two mules, two cows, lots of pigs en chickens.”[3] Josie Fleming peddled vegetables throughout the year. If she were out on a case, as she called a birth, her son would peddle them in her place. The Fleming farm raised livestock and grew crops year-round, canned vegetables, and made preserves in the summer in order to save money for the winter when they needed to buy non-perishables. George and Josie Fleming also received federal agricultural subsidies during the Great Depression.[4]

Midwife[edit]

Fleming worked as a midwife for at least eight births, though the number of mothers she worked for in total is unknown. Many mothers did or could not pay her, and her life as a midwife often isolated her for being “scandalous.”[5] In her work, she used natural herbal remedies to treat children, and practiced hygiene to prevent the spread of syphilis. She promoted the opening of a Syphilis Clinic in Alabama which provided vaccinations to children and was opened to African Americans once a week. While she endorsed the medicine of the clinic, she also held superstitious beliefs regarding the spread of disease and childbirth. One of these beliefs was that she could predict how many children a mother would have in total by counting the knots on the umbilical cord of the mother’s first-born.[6]

Late Adulthood and Death[edit]

Josie Fleming worked well into adulthood. At the time of her interview she was around 62 years old and working on the farm and as a midwife. All of her children were married and had moved away except for one. Fleming’s death date is unknown.[7]

The Typical Farm Economy[edit]

Government Subsidies[edit]

A typical farm economy during the Great Depression took part in annual practices that were intended to produce year-round revenue. Beginning in the Hoover administration, farm production rates increased and resulted in many borrowing money for new machinery and land.[8] When the market crashed in 1929, many farmers who bought on credit were unable to repay their debts, and “some 750,000 farms were lost between 1930 and 1935 through bankruptcy and foreclosure.”[9] Some received subsidies from the government under the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) as part of the New Deal. These were the first federally-funded agricultural subsidies. [10]

Federal Farm Regulation[edit]

The Dust Bowl of the 1930s ravaged the American midwest and south with dust storms resulting in hazardous health conditions and the destruction of crops. It was caused by a major drought coupled with insufficient root systems underneath the soil of plowed fields.[11] As a result, the Roosevelt administration established the Soil Erosion Service, later named the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). These measures intended to preserve natural resources and prevent farm lands from becoming susceptible to another dust bowl.[12] They “gave farmers subsidies to plant native grasses and trees or raise vegetables rather than commercial crops that depleted soil nutrients.”[13] Roosevelt’s farm bills were the first of their kind, changing the process and standards upheld by private farmers.

The Decline of the Midwife[edit]

Midwives prior to the modern era were chosen “based on [their] skill in the birthing chamber of course, but also on [their] wealth, piety, and neighborliness.”[14] The decline of the midwife can be attributed to several medicinal, cultural, and financial influences. Infant mortality rates in hospitals decreased “ever since the 17th century, following the invention of the obstetric forceps.”[15] Many who could afford a hospital birth chose to do so all over the world. In the rural south following the Civil War, and especially during the Great Depression, African Americans often gave birth at home for financial or cultural reasons. Because many hospitals were segregated and resources were not allocated equally, midwives were still used by many. Thirty years following the Great Depression, “perinatal mortality [was] nearly twice as high for the Negro baby as for the white baby.”[16] Some women became midwives as part of a “generational continuity, as women followed their mothers or mothers-in-law into the practice,” and sought to pass on traditional parts of their culture.[17] Largely society was moving away from the use of midwives by the mid-twentieth century, but there were still many who chose to maintain the traditional image of labor and birth at home.

Notes[edit]

  1. Interview, subject Josie Fleming, folder 92, Coll. 03709, Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid., 2
  4. Ibid.
  5. Ibid., 6
  6. Ibid., 5
  7. Ibid.
  8. Sam Moore, “U.S. Farmers During the Great Depression,” Farm Collector. Ogden Publications, Inc., November 2011. http://www.farmcollector.com/farm-life/u-s-farmers-during-great-depression.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Edward Lotterman, “Farm Bills and Farmers: The Effects of Subsidies Over Time,” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, December 1, 1996. https://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications/the-region/farm-bills-and-farmers-the-effects-of-subsidies-over-time.
  11. Kimberly Amadeo, “How the Dust Bowl Environmental Disaster Impacted the US Economy,” The Balance, The Balance, April 20, 2017. https://www.thebalance.com/what-was-the-dust-bowl-causes-and-effects-3305689.
  12. David B. Woolner, “FDR and the New Deal Response to an Environmental Catastrophe,” Roosevelt Institute: Reimagine the Rules, Roosevelt Institute, June 3, 2010. http://rooseveltinstitute.org/fdr-and-new-deal-response-environmental-catastrophe/.
  13. Andrew Glass, “FDR Signs Soil Conservation Act, April 27, 1935,” Politico, Politico LLC, April 27, 2010. http://www.politico.com/story/2010/04/fdr-signs-soil-conservation-act-april-27-1935-036362.
  14. Samuel S. Thomas, "Early Modern Midwifery: Splitting the Profession, Connecting the History." Journal of Social History 43, no. 1 (2009): 115-38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20685350.
  15. Paul H. Jacobson, "Hospital Care and the Vanishing Midwife," The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 34, no. 3 (1956): 253-61. doi:10.2307/3348527.
  16. Leslie A. Falk, "The Negro American's Health and the Medical Committee for Human Rights," Medical Care 4, no. 3 (1966): 171-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3762642.
  17. Samuel S. Thomas, "Early Modern Midwifery: Splitting the Profession, Connecting the History."

References[edit]

Amadeo, Kimberly . “How the Dust Bowl Environmental Disaster Impacted the US Economy.” The Balance. The Balance, April 20, 2017. https://www.thebalance.com/what-was-the-dust-bowl-causes-and-effects-3305689.

Falk, Leslie A. "The Negro American's Health and the Medical Committee for Human Rights." Medical Care 4, no. 3 (1966): 171-77. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3762642.

Glass, Andrew. “FDR Signs Soil Conservation Act, April 27, 1935.” Politico. Politico LLC, April 27, 2010. http://www.politico.com/story/2010/04/fdr-signs-soil-conservation-act-april-27-1935-036362.

Jacobson, Paul H. "Hospital Care and the Vanishing Midwife." The Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 34, no. 3 (1956): 253-61. doi:10.2307/3348527.

Lotterman, Edward. “Farm Bills and Farmers: The Effects of Subsidies Over Time.” Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. December 1, 1996. https://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications/the-region/farm-bills-and-farmers-the-effects-of-subsidies-over-time.

Moore, Sam. “U.S. Farmers During the Great Depression.” Farm Collector. Ogden Publications, Inc., November 2011. http://www.farmcollector.com/farm-life/u-s-farmers-during-great-depression.

Southern Historical Collection. 03709. The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Thomas, Samuel S. "Early Modern Midwifery: Splitting the Profession, Connecting the History." Journal of Social History 43, no. 1 (2009): 115-38. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20685350.

Woolner, David B. “FDR and the New Deal Response to an Environmental Catastrophe.” Roosevelt Institute: Reimagine the Rules. Roosevelt Institute, June 3, 2010. http://rooseveltinstitute.org/fdr-and-new-deal-response-environmental-catastrophe/.