Granny women

Posted by | March 1, 2012
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.”

John Caldwell
b. 1901 Harlan County, KY


appalachian+history appalachian+culture appalachia history+of+appalachia

4 Responses

  • Granny women are interesting characters. I wonder what she’s going to make with that cabbage? Black vinegar stew? We forget how important the elderly are to help us remember where we’ll all be one day. The give us, the young ‘uns, who are running around all day doing nothing much important a sense of perspective that we all need in life.
    Cheers for the good posts.

  • james watkins says:

    There is one service the granny women performed that is not mentioned in the articles I have been reading. After a person in the community died, the granny woman would do what was known as laying out the corpse, preparing it for burial. After this was done, it was customary to sit up all night with the body. I was told that this was done for two reasons. One reason was in case the person revived before the corpse was buried. Since there was no air conditioning at that time, doors and windows had to be left open. Sitting up with the body was a way of making sure no animals got in the house.

  • Erica Chiles says:

    I am curious if anybody knows who this lady might be? She looks exactly like my Aunt Phyllis Craft Pace

  • Jack Montgomery says:

    My great-grandmother Montgomery was a “granny” and during her life, delivered an estimated four to five hundred babies in the rural community of Camden, S.C. She had remedies and healing ways that made her much beloved in the community. I still miss her angelic presence even today.

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