“Granny Women” Saved Lives During Childbirth
Prior to the 20th century, a period marked by significant maternal health risks during pregnancy and childbirth, Southern Appalachian women emerged as the stalwart healers of their communities. Armed with inherited knowledge of regional botanica, along with practices encompassing divination and prayer, these formidable women took on the responsibility of safeguarding the well-being of those under their care.
These women wore many hats; they served as pharmacists, cultivating and tending to healing herbs while sharing the secrets of their applications. They were midwives, traversing from one home to another, and village to village, bringing their expertise to expectant mothers in need. For generations, these women functioned as doctors without formal degrees, excluded from the halls of academia and medical institutions, yet they thrived as a supportive network, learning from each other and passing down their wealth of experience, wisdom, and healing practices from neighbor to neighbor and from mother to daughter. Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English aptly captured this legacy in their book, “Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers,” underscoring the pivotal role these women played in the healthcare landscape of their Appalachian communities.