Labor of Love

Remarkable photos of South Carolina midwife who nursed 1950s community living in crippling poverty that inspired thousands of dollars in donations

Maude Callen
This gripping image of Maude Callen caring for a young boy in South Carolina, 1951, was not published in LIFE

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.’

Maude Callen

Safe under her watchful eye: Maude Callen attends to a woman in labor

Maude Callen

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

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 (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 waterRead more

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

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

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

t 4.30am, Maude Callen has delivered her first baby for the day and will continue working through

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

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

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

13 comments

  1. Reblogged this on Na'ama Yehuda and commented:

    A beautiful story. A work of love, a life of giving. Maude Callen epitomized the notion of a Healer, and she dedicated her life to those in true need with compassion, knowledge, and a loving spirit. I am grateful to have read about her today and to have learned about how she enriched the lives of many with such grace.
    Blessed be.

    Like

  2. This is such a beautiful story! What an inspiration Maude is! Midwives are amazing; I’ve had them for all 5 of my kids and their care has always been supportive, encouraging, and empowering. It takes a special person to be a midwife…I hope many young people will be inspired to persue this noble profession. What could be more awesome than bringing new life into the world?

    Like

  3. Reblogged this on seeking querencia and commented:

    You got me. I am a sucker for the Kindness Blog’s post. This is the type of story that I love to read about, the everyday heroes who for no reason other than their compassion and a need, take action and as a result, make a difference in the lives of hundreds perhaps thousands. The story paints a picture of how one person can and does make all the difference.
    Blessings, Lydia
    All Will Be Well, ~ Julian of Norwich

    Like

  4. This is such a wonderful story of how one gal could do so much for so long to so many people living in grinding poverty. Wow!!

    Thanks for sharing.

    frank

    Like

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