Onnie Lee Logan

Text of paper I originally submitted October 10, 2013 for HIST 184 at Midwives College of Utah

Suggestions for Enhancement of  The History of Midwifery and Childbirth In America: A Timeline

1619 – First black midwife arrives in America (Robinson, 1984).

1840’s – First Latter-day Saint prophet, Joseph Smith Jr., set apart three women – Ann Carling, Vienna Jaques and Patty Bartlett Sessions – to lifelong callings as herbalist- midwives, beginning a short tradition of midwifery in the Mormon faith (Alderks, 2012. Waters, n.d.)

1900-1915 In an arrangement between the Hawaiian and Japanese governments, hundreds of modern, licensed Japanese midwives, called samba, were brought to the islands. The highly educated sanba, trained in Western medicine, had already eliminated the traditional toriagebaba birth practitioners from their own country. In Hawaii, the sanba overran the aboriginal birth attendants: kahunas and pale keikis. However, due to repressive social and political factors, sanbas no longer attended births by 1950. (Ettinger, 2008, Smith, 2005).

1969 – First nurse-midwife enlisted by Indian Health Services (IHS) to work in Alaska (ACNM, n.d.).

1980 – Founding of Midwives College of Utah (previously known as the Utah School of Midwifery) by mother, Master Herbalist and Latter-day Saint, Dianne Bjarnson. (MCU, 2013, Bjarnson, D. n.d.)

1984 – The state of Alabama outlawed lay midwifery in 1976 but allowed black granny midwife, Onnie Lee Logan, to practice for 8 more years, until 1984. She was the last direct-entry, apprenticed midwife to practice in Mobile and one of the last to do so in the state of Alabama. She died in 1995. (Ware, S., Braukman, S., 2004).

1991Montana: Laws regulating midwifery go into effect, including the establishment of the Alternative Health Care Board, for which midwives had actively fought. (Montana Board of Alternative Health Care, 2012, Neal, 2010).

1996 – Establishment of Citizens For Midwifery, an American grass-roots consumerist group that promotes the Midwife Model of Care. (CfM, 2005)

2008 – Abby Epstein and Ricki Lake release the documentary, The Business of Being Born, whose cultural impact is still being felt today. (Owens, 2011, Nagi, 2008.)

2011Kalispell, Montana: Two CPM’s and a CNM form Montana’s first midwife cooperative. Together they opened Community Birth Center, a free-standing birth facility. (Community Birth Center, 2011.)


Perhaps the stories of midwives of color – or midwives of any underrepresented group, for that matter – are absent because they did not record them, or because their written records have not yet been discovered or published. For example, I tried to find the founding date of the Montana Midwives Association but it is not recorded anywhere I searched, even on their own website. However, I acknowledge that the lack of information can more likely be attributed to the simple fact that to the victor go the spoils of writing, rewriting, omitting or selectively retelling history. Today’s midwives should bear these things in mind, and take the time to record the unique histories and milestones of what they have achieved and experienced before it is all forgotten, too.

Seven Barriers Facing Direct-Entry Midwives:

At the turn of the century, traditional midwife Adrian E. Feldhusen described seven barriers direct-entry midwives face that encumber the smooth, upward progress of their profession within the United States (2000). Her first concern, universal legality, is being addressed by The Big Push for Midwives Campaign. Activists have been working since early 2008 to establish legal status for CPM’s in all 50 states, a privilege already held by CNM’s (2013). Perhaps, in another comparison to the status of American CNMs, Feldhusen voiced a second concern that the profession didn’t have national codification or standardization. With the establishment of collaborative efforts like US-MERA in the spring of this year, the desired professional regulation seems imminent. In fact, this historic unification will probably effect future developments in the MEAC and NARM accrediting organizations and their exams, issues which so disturbed the author that two more of her concerns centered upon flaws she perceived in them (Midwives Alliance of North America). Personally, I sympathize with the earthy philosophy of Traditional Midwifery and wish that licensures and certifications were not given so much credence. However, since my final aim is to actually practice midwifery, I concur with the author’s fifth concern that Americans have lost an understanding of the value of old-world apprenticeship (Berryman, n.d.) and have therefore chosen a more reputable and mainstream MCU education as a safer path to practice. Feldhusen’s final worries are about data pertaining to direct-entry midwives and the profession’s hostility toward mainstream medicine. Realizing the value of evidence-based practice, especially in the face of the hubris and fierce self-defense of proponents of the allopathic medical model, midwives are increasingly utilizing websites such as, and as well as social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to unite in collecting and disseminating empirical data which support the cause of out-of-hospital, midwife-attended birth. It is my belief that this level of professional proactivity and excellence in practice will eventually lead to solid, positive evidence on the value and contributions of the profession. As for the love lost between direct-entry midwives and allopaths, I feel that the allopaths have earned every bit of the criticism they engender, and I like the divide. There would be no need for midwives if there were no problem with current birth practice.


The challenges for practicing midwifery in Montana are great. It is a rather large state with constant transportation and communication challenges presented by topography, weather, distance, fragmented repositories of information and – outside of a few cities – low population density. My second and third challenges are interwoven: iatrogenic power is at near-monopoly levels, and the general public have been well-indoctrinated within that paradigm. Fear of birth runs high, and education levels run low, especially self-education levels, so that the triple scourges of xenophobia, provincialism and awe of expertitis rule and reign. My desire is to first become a traveling midwife, possibly finding a way to bring a portable birth center “Birthmobile” with me. If that is successful, I would eventually like to establish my own free-standing birth center, in the Field of Dreams tradition that if I build it, they will come (IMDb). Second, since I believe education is the key to fight ignorance and oppression, I am adding skills to my toolkit, including becoming AAHCC certified by December. I hope to earn my CD(DONA) credential and API Leader designation early next year. Third, though it is a long shot, I am hoping to find a few friends within the medical community with whom I can establish a mutually respectful relationship of trust. Montanans tend to be very slow to change, but I am grateful for the grit, determination and pioneering work of Montana CPM’s who have gone before me and lessened the challenges I must now face. May many Montana mothers and perhaps even some young midwifery student someday say the same of me.


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Neal, M. (2010) Personal verbal communication between Michele Neal, CPM and myself during my fourth pregnancy. Flathead Valley, Montana.

Owens, K. (2011). Reviews and reactions: A rhetorical-cultural analysis of The Business of Being Born. Rhetoric Review, Vol.30, No.3, 293-311. Retrieved from

Smith, S. (2005). Japanese-American midwives: Culture, community and health politics, 1880-1950, p.127. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press.

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