How the Relief Society helped 19th century Latter-day Saint women become midwives and doctors
Latter-day Saint women were set apart as midwives in the mid-19th century, here’s their story
Beginning in the 19th century, Latter-day Saint women were set apart as healers and would administer medicine to members of their community, but they were also set apart as midwives.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints kept records of women who were set apart and blessed as midwives and doctors. One such list from 1873-1888 includes the names of each of these women, the date and who performed the settings apart. For example, Wilford Woodruff set apart Caroline Stauffer “to study and practice midwifery” in Salt Lake City on March 10, 1884.
Church leaders and the Relief Society would send women to study medicine and finance their studies. Romania Pratt became the first Latter-day Saint woman to graduate from medical school in 1877 at the same time that germ theory emerged.
Preceding this list were other women who paved the way for Latter-day Saint women involvement in midwifery and healing.
Who is Patty Bartlett Sessions?
Patty Bartlett Sessions was a Latter-day Saint pioneer woman who was one of the community’s healers and midwives.
In an obituary, Phebe Carter Foss Sessions reminisced on how Brigham Young and Heber C. Kimball set apart Patty Bartlett Sessions “as a doctor for women.” In Winter Quarters in Nebraska, Sessions became instrumental in waiting upon the sick. Throughout her life, Sessions was known as a healer, but also as a woman who brought 3,997 babies into the world.
In her diaries, which were transcribed by Donna Toland Smart, Sessions wrote, “I delivered her of another son (Bernard Llewelyn) a very difficult case as she had a blood vesel broke when the first was born and was badly tore and injured she had a sister Frances with her I staid with her took care of her and the two babies until Satd 11 9 oclock P M.”
Sessions also administered herbal medicine to many members of her community and was trusted as a healer.
Who is Ann Carling?
Ann Carling was also involved in herbal medicine and was a trusted midwife.
Joseph Smith had promised Ann that if she used herbs in her practice of medicine, she would be blessed. Use of herbs was common in 19th century Latter-day Saint healing practices, especially because Smith recorded as a revelation in the Doctrine and Covenants, “all wholesome herbs God hath ordained for the constitution, nature, and use of man.”
About her, Sherry Shephard wrote, “For many years Ann Green Dutson Carling was the only midwife in Fillmore and neighboring towns.” Carling also had her own garden where she grew herbs for teas and medicine. She was a doctor in the community as well as a midwife.
Who is Mary Jane McCleve Meeks?
Mary Jane McCleve Meeks was the wife of the famous healer Priddy Meeks.
In a 1942 interview, her granddaughter, Ellen Meeks Hoyt, spoke of what she learned from Mary: “I put cream in Brigham tea. Pennyroyal sweats a cold right out of you. Oh yes, I go gathering every every spring.”
Meeks not only became a respected midwife but also a respected medical professional — these two positions often went hand in hand in 19th century frontier Utah.