Federal Writers' Project - Life Histories/2018/Fall/Section 3/LulaRusseau

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Lula Russeau[edit]

Overview[edit]

Aunt Granny (Lula) Russeau worked as a midwife for the vast majority of her life and was interviewed for the Federal Writers Project on December 15, 1938[1].

Midwives Ft. Myers, Florida circa 1944
Midwives from Ft. Myers, Florida in 1944
Profession: Midwife
Born: August 15, 1861

Eufaula, Barbour, Alabama

Died: October 15, 1946

Eufaula, Barbour, Alabama

Biography[edit]

Early Life[edit]

Lula Russeau was born to American Indian parents, her mother was Virginian Chickasaw and her father from tribe in South Carolina, on August 15, 1861 in Eufaula, Alabama on Mr. and Miss. Andrew Mackenzie’s slave plantation. Her father died when she was a few months old, therefore she was raised by her mother. She taught Russeau the ways of midwifery, along with cooking, cleaning, sewing and spinning. After the Civil War ended and she was freed, she decided to continue living with her former masters, whom she described as “quality”[2].

Middle Life[edit]

She married Dave Russeau in 1878 and had eleven children with him in Fort Browder, Alabama[3]. Apart from the practical skills taught to Russeau by her mother, she learned many superstitions. During her interview with the Federal Writers’ Project, among a lengthy list of omens, she said a foot itch correlates to being in a “strange land” and a rooster's crow in the early evening will result in “hasty news.” These are just two examples of superstitions that guided her life, and shaped her worldview. She was also guided by her calling as a midwife, and according to her she delivered over 500 children. She considered her gift in this field from God, and said she had the “sight”[4]. “Lula Russeau stated that she could foretell the future and see spirits. The caul covering her face at birth, she explained, was a sign of her second sight and her gift of healing.” This element of mysticism is common in the life stories of many African American midwives[5]. She was also big believer in herbal remedies such as “bitter weed for chills and fever”, and scorned modern medicine[6].

Late Life[edit]

By 1930 Russeau was widowed and living in Eufaula[7]. Eight years later, when she was interviewed for the Federal Writers’ Project she had worked as a midwife for over 50 years[8]. She died on October 15, 1946 in her hometown, Eufaula[9].

Granny Midwives: a Life of Hardship[edit]

The tradition of African American midwifery came to America in 1619, on the initial slave-boats from Africa. The vast majority of African American children from that point until the mid-1900’s were delivered by one of these midwives. This gave them a position of power and were revered in their communities. They lived gruelling lives, those enslaved suffered from the physical and emotional conditions that encompassed their environment. Those that were free often struggled financially due to low pay, and many were illiterate, keeping them from doing other compensatory work[10].

Changing Standards for Midwifery[edit]

New regulations in the 1930’s changed the world of midwifery for African Americans, as their positions generally became obsolete. However, the regulations were intended to create safer conditions for pregnant women and birthing. There were four distinct steps were created to gauge a midwives level of ability:

"1. Construction and preliminary trial of a test for the measurement of a midwife's knowledge and practice.

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.

3. With the techniques developed in steps 1 and 2, the measurement of a sampling of midwives in each of a number of communities,and the recording of the health departments' activities for those communities.

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[11].”

From here an index was created, to nationally rank midwives according to their adherence to policies set forth by Public Health Services. Midwives who based their practice on superstition and home remedies were required to register at a lower index[12], decreasing the amount of work they received because, “African American healers pointed to spiritual insight as a legitimating source of their abilities.” They used christian language when describing their work, for example referring to Jesus as “doctor Jesus” and believed it was he, or God, who guided their careers[13]. This method flourished greatly in a more strongly religious era of history, but as people began to place greater faith in science than in God, Granny Midwives work declined rapidly[14].

“Familial” Connections: Servants and Masters[edit]

There are multiple forms of relationships between slaves and masters, the form less commonly considered is a more “familial” relationship. For example, slaves who were the caregivers to their masters children often formed loving bonds with their “non kinfolk”. Although these bonds cannot be interpreted as equality, they made the lives of some slaves more tolerable. Furthermore, there were the slaves who did not face extreme suffering at the hands of their masters. These slaves were the ones who were more likely to continue working for their masters, after their emancipation[15].

  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. lbid.
  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. Fett, Sharla M.. Working Cures : Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Accessed September 25, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  6. 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.
  7. Year: 1930; Census Place: Eufaula, Barbour, Alabama; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 0007; FHL microfilm: 2339736
  8. 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.
  9. Year: 1930; Census Place: Eufaula, Barbour, Alabama; Page: 9A; Enumeration District: 0007; FHL microfilm: 2339736
  10. Graninger, Elizabeth. Granny-Midwives: Matriarchs of Birth in the African-American Community 1600-1940. The Birth Gazette, Dec 31, 1996. 9, http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/203168652?accountid=14244 (accessed September 25, 2018).
  11. 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.
  12. lbid.
  13. Fett, Sharla M.. Working Cures : Healing, Health, and Power on Southern Slave Plantations. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 2002. Accessed September 25, 2018. ProQuest Ebook Central.
  14. 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.
  15. Ryan, B. T. (1994). "Uneasy relation": Servants' place in the nineteenth-century american home (Order No. 9429453). Available from Dissertations & Theses @ University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304132352). Retrieved from http://libproxy.lib.unc.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/304132352?accountid=14244