Under the direction of Dr. Walter A. Plecker, Virginia’s first registrar of vital statistics, public health nurses began supervising midwives in the 1920s. Their supervision extended to the bags that midwives like Mary Jett Austin carried. A midwife’s bag was only supposed to contain certain items: soap, clean towels or cloth, a white apron and hat, scissors to cut the umbilical cord, silver nitrate to prevent blindness, and birth certificate forms.
But Bedford County midwife Mary Lucy Miller carried spirits of turpentine because “sometimes you come to a place where someone’s had a bee sting.” She also carried disinfectant, cotton, and simple household remedies. “Aunt Lucy” delivered babies in Bedford County until 1963.
Loaned by Mary Belle Hicks