Remarkable photos of South Carolina midwife who nursed 1950s community living in crippling poverty that inspired thousands of dollars in donations
She was a ‘doctor, dietician, psychologist, bail-goer and friend’ to thousands of mostly African Americans crippled by poverty in the 1950s.
Yet tireless South Carolina nurse-midwife Maude Callen – who delivered hundreds of children, cared for the elderly and educated midwifery students in a 400-mile area ‘veined with muddy roads’ – never considered herself a hero.
W. Eugene Smith’s 20 picture-strong essay, splashed across a dozen pages in December 1951, was considered ‘one of the most extraordinary photo essays ever to appear in [LIFE] magazine.’
Safe under her watchful eye: Maude Callen attends to a woman in labor
Maude Callen handing over 17-year-old Alice Cooper’s son after a difficult birth
Contemplative: Maude Callen received donations and kind letters from hundreds of people after LIFE published Smith’s photographic essay
Maude Callen (left) holds a baby as she teaches midwifery students how to look for abnormalities
Maude Callen preparing a solution in front of an incubator made from a box and whiskey bottles full of warm water
Store bought food donated by Maude Callen, standing in doorway, fascinates youngsters outside a log cabin
Maude Callen, center, tenderly caring for an old chair-bound paralytic who is wiping tears from his eyes because he is so touched by her kindness
At 4.30am, Maude Callen has delivered her first baby for the day and will continue working through
A bouncing baby cared for at some point by Maude Callen
Healthy twins, who were delivered a day apart by Maude Callen, get a quick once-over when she stops in to see them and pump herself a drink of water. Only about two percent of her patients were white
The gripping images and Callen’s own incredible story triggered a flood of awe-struck letters to the publisher, calling the work ‘one of the greatest pieces of photojournalism I have seen in years.’
In Callen’s work, Smith saw something noble and extraordinary.
And so did hundreds of LIFE subscribers who sent donations, large and small, to help Callen in what one reader called ‘her magnificent endeavor.’
LIFE magazine reported Callen was so overwhelmed by the response, she often sat in silence.
‘Halfway through a recent day’s mail, [Mrs. Callen] said to her husband: ‘I’m too tired and happy to read more tonight. I just want to sit here and be thankful,’ she said, according to LIFE.
Eventually, more than $20,000 in donations helped to build a clinic in Pineville, where Mrs. Callen worked until her retirement in 1971.
Callen received the Alexis de Tocqueville Society Award in 1984 for six decades of service to her community, and in 1989 the Medical University of South Carolina awarded her an honorary degree, while the MUSC College of Nursing created a scholarship in her name.
Maude Callen died in 1990 at the age of 91 in Pineville, South Carolina.
Source: Daily Mail