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Monday, June 27, 2011

A Manhunt for Mississippi Midwives.

This morning I was on a manhunt. Well, a wife hunt. A midwife hunt, to be exact. A patron was looking for information on the particular midwife who delivered many members of her family in the 1930s. While that element of the search is still ongoing, I discovered many interesting things about early 20th century midwifery. Did you know that word is pronounced mid-wiffery and not mid-wife-ery? (That is not one of the things I learned today. I learned that one from watching Private Practice.)

Mississippi midwives were first granted permission to practice by the state in 1906. According to the Manual of Midwives, first published in the 20s and revised in 1948, “A survey in 1921 showed 4,209 women practicing midwifery in Mississippi. Ninety percent of them could not read or write, and a great number were old and filled with superstitious ideas. They did not understand the meaning of cleanliness and almost never called a physician for abnormal cases” (4). Therefore, the State Board of Health developed a plan in 1921 to improve midwifery in the state, which included training, registration, and frequent meetings of county midwives. “The type of meetings gradually changed from a disorderly group of women in dirty clothing with little interest or attention to a well-organized, eager, clean group with approved equipment and improved understanding of their work. Each year our midwives are more nearly approaching the French meaning of the word midwife -- Wise Woman” (4).

This is lovely.

(However, I checked the OED, and it’s more likely that the word merely takes the definition of mid, meaning with or together and sticks it with wife, meaning woman; a midwife is then the person who is with the woman when she gives birth. I know. The French way is much better. Sorry for being an etymological buzzkill.)

The Manual for Midwives is a really informative little booklet. It contains all kinds of information on the proper tools (proper tools in the 40s = terrifying in the 2011s), how to prepare dressings, the actual procedure for delivery (again terrifying), how to report the birth, etc. My favorite part is how to dress the patient: “The patient shall be covered with a clean sheet and blankets if needed, and wear a clean night gown and clean stockings” (32). CLEAN STOCKINGS! Oh, and p.s., you’re to burn or bury all the waste afterward.

The 1927-29 State Board of Health Annual Report has some interesting figures about midwives (and reverses the order in which the survey and the midwife plan were undertaken; I so enjoy finding inconsistencies like this). It also reveals that 90% of those participating in the original survey were illiterate and that 99% of them were black. An additional survey was taken in June 1929:

Midwives—original survey, July 1, 1921: 4209
Midwives—gave up work: 2495
Midwives—died: 675
Midwives—rounded up: 2001
Total on active list—June 20, 1929: 3040

By June of 1935, the number of midwives was down to 1276. My uneducated guess is that women were starting to have their babies in hospitals.

I took a look at the number of midwives per county with the overall black and white population; it comes as no surprise that Bolivar County, which had 120 midwives (the highest number in 1935), was 78% black and that Lamar County, with a lowly 4 midwives, was 74% white. I have to admit that at first I got my numbers reversed and got all excited that I had stumbled onto something absolutely intriguing in Mississippi health history, but these numbers make a lot more sense.

All of these numbers are interesting, but what I was hoping to find in these Annual Reports was a list of all the midwives in the state -- making my hunt for the 1930s midwife my patron was looking for that much easier. I didn’t find it, but if someone goes into labor in the library, I can whip out the old Manual for Midwives and help out until an ambulance gets here.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Titanic Moments

Alas! One of our favorite people is leaving the Reference Department at the Mississippi Library Commission for other climes. (Never you mind that the clime in question is just down the street!) As a tribute to this momentous occasion, I thought we would send her off with a few nuggets on her favorite subject: The Titanic.
  • The first oddity I ran across mentions that the Titanic, contrary to popular belief, was not the first ship to use SOS as a distress signal. That distinction goes to a ship called the Azaoahoe. It ran into trouble back in August of 1909, a full 2 1/2 years before the Titanic's disaster in April of 1912. (SOS Oxford)
  • Another peculiarity regarding the distress calls that went out April 15? SOS being a fairly new distress signal, the Morse code operator, Jack Phillips used "CDQ," an older signal, at first. Another operator suggested he try "SOS" because "this might be your last chance to send it." (Fran SOS) Ahhh, prophetic last words...
  • Many people know that the Titanic had two sister ships: the Olympic and the Britannic. Both ships were requisitioned during World War I. The Britannic served as a hospital ship. She struck a mine in 1916 and sank, thankfully losing only 30 out of over 1,000 people. The Olympic had quite a different life. Serving as a troop carrier, the Olympic was fired upon twice by a submarine in 1918. Instead of trying to outrun the sub, the captain turned the Olympic and rammed the submarine, gashing a hole in it and sinking it. ( Seems that the captain was determined to keep at least one of the trio afloat!
Although I'm sure that Brandie had prior knowledge of my Titanic nuggets, I had fun tracking them down for her. We all wish her the best of luck at her new job. We know it won't turn out anything like the Titanic!

Fran, Y. (n.d). SOS: the signal that has saved thousands turns 100. Times, The (United Kingdom). Retrieved from EBSCOhost.
"‘SOS’" The Oxford Companion to Ships and the Sea. Ed. I. C. B. Dear and Peter Kemp. Oxford University Press, 2007. Oxford Reference Online. Oxford University Press. Mississippi Library Commission. 14 June 2011

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mississippi Library Commission Awards 2012 Federal Grants

Jackson, MS—The Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) Board of Commissioners has approved 24 grants totaling more than $345,000. The federal funds, awarded to 14 public library systems, will support projects ranging from technology, to public library programming, to library development, to public library scholarships. The funding was made possible under the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA) through the federal Institute of Museums and Library Services.

Libraries receiving grants include Mid-Mississippi Regional Library System, Central Mississippi Regional Library System, Dixie Regional Library System, Union County Library System, Columbus-Lowndes County Library System, Laurel-Jones County Library System, Harriette Person Memorial Library (Claiborne County), Lincoln-Lawrence-Franklin Regional Library System, South Mississippi Regional Library, Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library, Hancock County Library System, Sunflower County Library System, Lamar County Library System and Golden Triangle Regional Library Consortium/Tombigbee Regional Library.

“Public libraries are critical to education, economic development, and quality of life in Mississippi communities. These grant projects allow public libraries to better serve local residents. Federal LSTA funds enhance library services for all Mississippians”, said Library Commission Executive Director Sharman B. Smith.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

I Think That I Shall Never See, A Poem Lovely as a Mississippi Tree



I know, I know. I've thrown the meter of Mr. Kilmer's sweet poem completely out of kilter. You see, though, one of our Meebo patrons wanted to know which tree(s) are most common here in the Magnolia State. Different types of trees began running through my head, interspersed with Trees. I knew that the Magnolia is the state tree, but I doubted that they outgrow every other tree. Mimosas are my least favorite tree, but even though there seem to be more and more of those spiky pink flowers blooming every spring, I didn't think they're number one either. I set my thinking cap straight and checked the Mississippi Forestry Commission. Surely they would be able to help (and they did!) According to them,

Forestland covers 19.6 million acres in Mississippi or about 65 percent of the land area. The majority of forests are classified as timber. One hundred and thirty-seven tree species were measured on Mississippi's forests in the 2006 inventory. Thirty-six percent of Mississippi's forestland is classified as loblolly-shortleaf pine forest, 27 percent is classified as upland oak-hickory forest and 19 percent is composed of bottomland hardwoods.

I should have figured on the pine tree. What a true Mississippi poem! 
Shortleaf Pine

Loblolly Pine


Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mississippi Casinos Support Adult Library Program and Literacy

The Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) announces an added incentive to this year’s Adult Summer Library Program. Eight Mississippi casinos: the IP Casino and Resort in Biloxi; Bally’s Casino – Tunica in Robinsonville; the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Biloxi; the Isle Casino-Hotel in Biloxi; Diamond Jack’s Casino in Vicksburg; Resorts Casino –Tunica in Tunica Resorts; Riverwalk Casino Hotel in Vicksburg; and Sam’s Town Hotel and Casino – Tunica in Robinsonville have donated prizes to the adults who participate in the programs. The values of the prizes range from $100.00 to $430.00, and include free nights stay at the hotels, meals, and spa services. Check with your local library to find out about their registration dates and times and how to qualify for the statewide drawing to be held, Monday, August 1, 2011.

“Novel Destinations,” is the theme for the Adult Summer Library Programs. Each library system or branch will provide different types of programs around the theme and many will provide local prizes in addition to the statewide prizes. All adults are eligible to participate; however, to be eligible to win a statewide prize, you must be 21 years of age or older.

Winners are selected from participants of the Adult Summer Library Programs at participating public library systems. Participating library systems include: Jackson-George Regional Library System, with eight libraries; Central Mississippi Regional Library System, with 20 branches; the Yazoo Library Association with one library; the Dixie Regional Library System, with eight branches; the Sunflower County Library, with five branches; the Waynesboro-Wayne County Library System, with one library; and the Library of Hattiesburg, Petal and Forrest County, with two branches.
About the Mississippi Library Commission

The Mississippi Library Commission is a state agency with the mission to ensure all Mississippians have access to quality library service. The agency operates a large library providing direct and indirect library services, consults with and advises local entities on library issues, supports electronic access to information through public libraries, and manages state and federal grant programs for public libraries. For more information, visit the Library Commission’s website at
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