Saturday, July 21, 2007

Midwifes in New Solum Township

It occurred to me before I can talk about some of the grandparents as children, like Lloyd Anderson and Newell Anderson, we need to talk about Andrew Anderson, the first born of Nina and Reverend Olaf. There was no doctor in attendance at his birth; only a midwife. Although most babies were birthed without complications and could be delivered and the mother cared for by a midwife, sometimes, like in Andrew's case it was not so.

Let's look at child birth in New Solum in the 1890's.

Most of the homesteaders were young couples, with a child or two, and possibly another on the way. Children represented one of the biggest and most dependable crops. And after the age of seven or eight, they were often one of the most valuable: cleaning barns, watering horses, herding cattle, hoeing, picking potatoes, making evening smudges against mosquitoes and many other chores.

Sometimes at night a buggy or wagon could be heard moving at high speed on some urgent errand. Someone living near a main road, might remark, "Sounds like someone's going for Ingeborg. Wonder who it is this time?" And his wife, Bridt, might remark, "Likely Marit. It's near her time, the way she looks."

Ingeborg was Mrs. Halvor Hellem, wife of a Civil War Veteran. Some foolish person might ask, "Are you going to have a doctor?" What a stupid question! No, thank you. The women would take Ingeborg every time. After all, she'd had nine children herself, hadn't she?

Besides, look what a doctor charged, compared with the modest $2.00 Ingeborg expected. Anyway, no doctor was available on short notice. It was years later that a doctor set up practice in the village of Thief River Falls, about twelve-fifteen miles away.

When Berger Sevalson, husband of Marit, arrived with Ingeborg, the latter didn't wait to be helped down. With her little black bag in her hand, she climbed down over the wagon wheel, and hurried into the house. She changed into her "work clothes" and immediately took command.

Ingeborg could not stop the rising waves of pain, as they grew worse and closer together, but her presence was an assurance that all would shortly be well.

Berger's buildings were like those of most neighbors — a two-room cabin, single story, the logs hewn flat inside and outside, then whitewashed. The stable, too, was made of logs, likewise the granary. All his buildings had sod roofs.

Years passed and the population grew. Pole fences gave way to barbed wire, log cabins and stables were replaced by frame buildings, patches of cleared land became fewer, and finally ceased. The trading post became a busy town.

And there was a doctor with a light buggy and a fast team. He responded when called, and he delivered babies, even miles out in the countryside. Thus an era ended.


New Solum was blessed with many pioneer women who had the confidence and compassion to help other women in childbirth and were the midwives of the frontier. They were intelligent, sympathetic, supportive, inventive, and willing to go day or night, winter or summer. They were strong, physically and emotionally, to take the stress of raising their own families and still help and often bear the burdens of the neighboring women as new lives were brought into the world. Most of the midwives learned their art from an older relative or friend and were prepared to be teachers of the next generation of young wives. Until the early 1920's, almost all of the children in New Solum had been born at home with the help of a midwife. It seemed as if each of the four corners of the township usually had some dedicated midwife the other women trusted to help them.

Marie Anderson, no relation to the family tree was delivering babies into the 1940's. The oldest midwife known in the area was Christina Olson who was still bringing babies into the world in her seventies.


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