Granny women. Appalachia’s midwives. They are usually elder women in the community, the ones people come to with their problems. They do not wear any special garb or have any physical attributes, other than being elderly, that a person can identify them by. The Granny women are recognized throughout the community by their actions. For example, Granny women do not expect to be paid for their services. Furthermore, they are expected to be ethical, and never do harm to another human being. Many Granny women are fundamentalist Christians and are looked to as religious leaders in their communities. Yet they are not in control over anyone. Instead, they are just looked at as wise, good women who unselfishly help the community.
The wisdom of a granny woman is passed down to a family member. Traditionally the arts are given to one female per generation. One belief is that the magical power of a woman is increased during her menstrual cycle; thus, during a woman’s period is the best time for her to learn the ways of a granny woman. Most of the teachings consist of potions from herbs.
“At that time around the `20s and on up through the `30s and all, they had what they called the “midwife,” and they’d go and get her and she’d stay around the home until the . . . with the mother till the kid was born. She was just a woman from the country around here at that time. [The granny women] were just trained by experience. Had several kids theirselves and then they’d help someone else to have it, as far as I know. I don’t think [babies died in childbirth] any more then than they do now, but might have been more. A lot of time a woman would have a kid by herself right at home. Her man would be away and nobody close and had . . . I know of a few cases like that. They didn’t know anything about a nurse at that time, I don’t imagine. I never heared much talk about it.”
b. 1901 Harlan County, KY