MRS. ROSA ETTA ANDERSON BAILEY, LICENSED MIDWIFE
By Lois Barefoot Mays
In 1883 a little girl, Rosa Etta, was born in Charlton County [now a part of Brantley County], just north of Winokur, into the family of Jessie and Ansel Anderson. When just a very young child, her parents died and the responsibility of raising her was undertaken by her extended family, her grandparents, Daniel and Nancy Anderson and her uncle, Peter Anderson.
As she grew she developed a more than ordinary interest in the welfare of babies and women of childbearing age. This natural concern for those around her would almost certainly have resulted in a nursing career but no such training opportunities were available to her then. Instead, she followed the older midwives wherever they delivered babies in the community and she gained valuable experience from this.
When she was twenty years old she fell in love with Henry P. Bailey. They married and two years later she became the mother of her own precious child, the first of thirteen children. Three of these died when infants and she raised ten children to adulthood. Ellen, Jessie, Aaron, Virdell, Cedar, Sylvester, Luevessie, Eddie, Henry and Julia were her children and she also raised a granddaughter, Rose Mary Hill.
Her interest in the health of newborn children and her determination to be of service increased when she lost the three young babies of her own. She knew the heartbreak of the new mothers when a baby died, but she was so busy raising her own children to the responsible adults that she did not act on that determination until she was about forty-three years old. Then, for the next thirty-four years, while she finished raising her family, she began a career of her own, one that was vital to the health and welfare of her community. By that time most of the older midwives, and there never were very many of them, had died and women were depending on Rosa Anderson Bailey to help them when it came time for their babies to be born.
Mrs. Bailey’s last child was born in 1926 and that is the year she began her midwife career. When she left her home to tend to mothers and new babies, her oldest children took charge of the housekeeping and cooked and tended to the younger children. Their father was gone nearly all day working in the pine forests cutting crossties for the railroad. They lived on a farm near Winokur and most of the children worked in the fields and garden, producing much of their food.
Beginning in 1926 she was called the community midwife, but in 1942 she trained for the profession of Registered Midwife in Nahunta under the direction of Dr. Campbell and Dr. Moody and later in Folkston, she worked with Dr. W.R. McCoy and Dr. J.M. Jackson. She was awarded a Midwife License and this certificate is now a treasured family keepsake.
Her concern for her family usually was foremost but if a women in labor was depending on her to come and assist in the childbirth, the expectant mother immediately became Rosa Bailey’s first priority. But she loved coming back home best of all. Her children rejoiced when they saw her returning a week or two later and she excitedly told them of her experiences with the new baby.
Her children can recall the sound of horse and wagon coming toward their home awakening their family late at night and their mother jumping out of bed and gathering up her clothes and doctor’s bag of midwife supplies, leaving her family for as long as two weeks. But the children grew up with the satisfaction of knowing that their mother was a very special person and was one of the most important people in their community.
She knew that she was held in high esteem and was very professional about her job. As soon as she returned home after each birth she emptied her doctor’s bag and sterilized each instrument and repacked them along with fresh supplies that she would need on her next job. And she laundered her white nurse’s cap and gown. Then she was ready for the next baby. Only then could she relax and enjoy her family.
When the women first learned they were expecting babies, they engaged “Aunt Rosa” or “Good Mama” as she was affectionately known, to be their midwife. The expectant mother paid a visit to Mrs. Bailey and the midwife, using her pencil and tablet, jotted notes on the paper and predicted with great accuracy, the date the baby would be born. After agreeing to be the midwife Mrs. Bailey impressed on the mother the importance of going to the county health clinic. In fact, it was against the law for her to attend to any expectant mother unless she was enrolled at the clinic for instructions on good health and eating habits. When Mrs. Bailey first began her career as midwife, there was no county health clinic, but after it was established, healthier babies were born because of the instructions given to expectant mothers.
Occasionally about a week or two before the bay was due to be born, the woman would visit Mrs. Bailey and tell her she thought the baby would be born in a day or two. Mrs. Bailey checked her notes in the tablet and told the mother to be patient and then nearly always predicted the exact day the infant would be born.
She delivered babies in most of the communities of Charlton County including Toledo, and families in Kings Ferry also used her services. When she was needed at homes away from Winokur or Folkston, that family usually sent someone with the horse and wagon to get her about a week before the child was due to be born. She helped with the housework and cooking and did other chores for the expectant mother and was instantly available at the first sign of the new baby’s arrival.
She stayed with her patients until the mother was able to be up and doing some light housework. She cooked for the family and sent the children off to school but her biggest responsibility was tending the baby until the mother was able to do that.
Sometimes the women lived close enough to Rosa Bailey’s home for her to walk to their house to help them. At those times she came home at night to take care of her own family but went back every day for a while to take care of the baby and new mother. When the baby’s navel cord dropped off she felt the child was off to a good start in life and she could return to full-time mother and wife.
Mrs. Bailey never did lose a mother in childbirth. Her training and many years experience taught her to look for signs of trouble and when she knew the mother needed a doctor’s help, she immediately made plans to get her to the hospital. Once there she worked alongside the doctor in accomplishing the birth of the baby.
Most of the time she did not receive her midwife fee in cash but she was given farm-grown products such as pigs, chickens, sweet potatoes or cured meat which she took to her family. In some cases she didn’t receive a fee of any kind and instead used her own money to buy food and clothes for the new babies and their mothers.
One of Rosa Anderson Bailey’s dreams was being able to influence one of her own children to follow in her footsteps as the community’s licensed midwife. None of them did but her daughter, Luevessie Bailey Vaughn, did help her in many childbirth cases. She was with her once, helping during the birth and as soon as the baby was born, someone drove up and said they were needed at a home across town where another woman was already in labor. They bundled up the first baby, made sure the mother was all right and ran out the door to the second mother. After she was taken care of, they returned and finished bathing the first baby!