Edward H. Nabb Research Center for Delmarva History & Culture Enduring Connections: Exploring Delmarva's Black History


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Delmarva Folklife Project: Interview with Leola and Maude Smack, 31 July 1998

Audio Recording

About This Recording

This interview was conducted by Kelly Feltault with Leola and Maude smack in Berlin, MD. in this interview, Leola and Maude describe their lives as African American Midwives. Leola describes the rooms where they would treat their patients and the various procedures they would implement in order to properly help with the birth, comparing it to modern births. They describe how they received their training, mostly from the local clinic but also through working with aunt Jenny Dale Tingle, an experienced midwife. They also describe their home town of Whaleysville, MD, and the culture/ daily life around there.

This interview is part of the Delmarva Folklife Project. For more information, see the Edward H. Nabb Center Finding Aid.


Interview Log

Interviewee: Leola and Maude Smack Tape #: MAAF/KF/MD/FT7.31.315/419

Interviewer: Kelly Feltault # of Tapes: 1 Date: 7/31/98 # of Sides: 1

Location: Berlin MD; in Leola's living room

Topic: mid-wives; African American community; home rememdies; Whaleysville MD; shirt factories

Corresponding Photography Log #: none

Comments: Filename: Mdft315.doc. See Fieldnotes: FN07.31.98. Italics indicate emphasis; [brackets indicate additional information not on the tape or asides by fieldworker]; “quotations indicate direct transcription.”

Diana and Gabe Purnell recommended Maude Smack because she lived with her aunt who was a mid wife and could tell stories about that time. I had spoken with Leola Smack, Maude's neice, the day before and she confirmed this. However, when I arrived I quickly realized that Maude was not going to tell stories. She is in her mid-90s, and not up to this endeavor. I recorded her anyway, Leola had some good moments on tape.


BIRTHING ROOM: was in the house, had up to 3 patients in there; large; could have 4, one in living room; come from all over and sometimes she would visit their house; go out nights too; stay a week or so;

PROCEDURES: first thing she did was ask for her money; [laughter]; stirrups for hands and legs; ones for hands helped bear the pain you could pull on them; no anesthesia; made from muslin; rubbed alcohol on babies;

Maude didn’t like the room it was too bloody; helped once and didn’t like it; her aunt wanted her to take that job as mid wife but she didn’t want it;

Doesn’t remember when she started but she birthed Josephine who is 70 now and Josephine wasn’t the first baby; started before 1920;

[Leola starts prompting Maude with questions]

Copyright 1996 Kelly Feltault

TRAINING: go to clinic on certain days and learn things; Aunt Jenny wouldn’t train anybody else, you could work for her like Mildred did but she wouldn’t train you; Jenny loved that work;

Getting water at that time was diff. Had to go out to a pump and spicket; most patients were black; a few white ladies;

Maude lived right beside Aunt Jenny; [another reference to doctor Sully, see interview with Dorris and Harley Pierce too]

LS: if had diff. Sent them to the hospital;

MS: kept delivering babies until she died; one woman had already paid her to deliver her baby and Aunt Jenny died; $10 she thinks to deliver the baby

LS: her first daughter was bom by Jenny and it was $60

MS: how men and husbands wouldn’t pay it, the women had to pay the fee;

OTHER MID-WIVES: Maude says that Leola’s grandmother used to be one too; Annie Annstrong; only one other mid wife in area; Leola’s grandmother was Jenny sister; but didn’t have the same scale of business like Jenny had;

AFTER-BIRTH: had to bury the after-birth; Maude recalls digging the holes; had to be deep; buried behind the house;

Jenny Dale Tingle was her full name; died in early 1960s; Leola gave birth to her daughter Vela there in 1958; Jenny was the last one; Mildred Purnell practiced after Jenny died but only for a little while;

Diff in birthing today; women stayed in bed longer; Jenny had to feed them; Leola would visit the babies when she was younger;

Feeding the patients; babies breast fed; don’t recall fixing bottles; people would nurse other people's babies still too; recalls a woman who did that;

WHALEYSVILLE: town had a shirt factory and saw mill; tomato factory; 3 stores; hat maker lived there; had own school; she worked at a strawberry basket factory; quart baskets for picking strawberries; and the crates for the baskets;

baskets were wooden; women made baskets men made the hoops and handles;

people stopping to buy strawberries; brought in lots of money;

changes that happened gradually over the years

Copyright 1996 Kelly Feltault

[this part is very slow, Maude is getting tired. She begins to tell me how nice it is to have someone listen to her memories]


Copyright 1996 Kelly Feltault