On November 17, 2021, Alferdteen Harrison presented “Midwives in Mississippi History” as part of the History Is Lunch series.
For decades midwives were a vital component of Mississippi’s healthcare system. In 1921, some 5,000 midwives were practicing in the state. In the 1920s and ‘30s, those midwives helped deliver more than four out of every five births to Black families.
“These women—most of whom were Black—apprenticed to established midwives to learn the trade,” said Harrison. “Their role extended far beyond the actual birth to in-home, post-partum care to mothers and public-health education. But after programs such as Medicaid made hospital-based deliveries affordable and refused to cover the costs of midwives, the practice nearly went away.”
Mary Green Scott, a formerly enslaved woman, was an early homeowner in the Farish Street district of Jackson. Scott saved enough while working as a maid to buy a plot of land. Her house, built in 1891, and the house next door of her daughter Virginia Ford, a practicing midwife, and her husband still stand on the property today.
Harrison is executive director of Scott Ford Houses, Inc., a group that aims to transform the houses into a museum that will pay homage to Mississippi’s midwives and chronicle their accomplishments. “The homes are historically significant,” said Harrison. “They are the only ones in the state known to be tied to midwifery and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.”
Author and historian Alferdteen Brown Harrison earned her BA from McPherson College, her MA from Wichita State University, and her PhD in history from the University of Kansas. She is the former director of the Margaret Walker Center at Jackson State University and the co-founder of Smith Robertson Museum and Cultural Center in Jackson. Harrison is a co-founder of the Mississippi Heritage Trust and a former president of the Mississippi Historical Society. She is the author of A History of the Most Worshipful Stringer Grand Lodge and Piney Woods School: An Oral History and editor of Black Exodus: The Great Migration from the American South. Harrison received the Mississippi Historical Society’s lifetime achievement award in 2021 as well as the 2021 Richard Wright Award from the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration.
History Is Lunch is sponsored by the John and Lucy Shackelford Charitable Fund of the Community Foundation for Mississippi. The weekly lecture series of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History explores different aspects of the state's past. The hour-long programs are held in the Craig H. Neilsen Auditorium of the Museum of Mississippi History and Mississippi Civil Rights Museum building at 222 North Street in Jackson.
MDAH livestreams videos of the program at noon on Wednesdays on their Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/MDAHOfficial/. The videos are posted on the department’s YouTube channel, https://www.youtube.com/MDAHVideo.