My grandmother’s grandmother (which makes her my great great grandmother?), Augusta Natalie Nelson Anderson, was a midwife. She was born in born in Sweden we think in 1860, and died in Clear Lake Minnesota at the age of 95. When Augusta was 18, she moved to Stockholm to become a midwife at the local hospital. At this time her childhood sweetheart moved to Cleveland, Ohio. She saved her money and then followed him to the United States and married him. She took a job working in a hospital, although was barred from working as a midwife due to the fact that she didn’t speak English yet as well as the myriad of laws preventing women in this era from practicing as midwives (for more information on this, read Judith Pence Rooks’ incredibly informative book Midwifery & Childbirth in America).
Six years later she married Charlie Larson and had three children with him in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. Her youngest died from pneumonia and Charlie died in an unfortunate and horrific train accident. Augusta then married Lars Anderson and had 5 children with him in Clear Lake, Minnesota. They all continued to live in Minnesota until the dust bowl struck and Lars and his sons (the stories I could tell you about those bootleggers) drank all of their money away and they lost the family farm. The sons piled their families into two Model A Fords and drove to Montana where they resettled. Augusta, Lars, and their daughter Alma remained behind in Minnesota until their deaths although Lars and Augusta went to visit their children and grandchildren in Montana often.
If I remember correctly, Augusta’s spinning wheel is still in the family somewhere and makes its appearance at periodic family reunions.
I didn’t even know that I had an ancestor who was a midwife until my father’s cousin (the unofficial family historian) sat me down to tell me the whole family history. Augusta is fascinating to me in part because of her employment history, but in part because there’s so much we don’t know about her. There is a story about her grandfather who was a general under Napoleon. While he was living in France, he fell in love with and married his housekeeper, which was unheard of for someone of his rank. He was promptly dismissed from the army and returned to Sweden with his new wife and had a happy family. I was told that there may have been some controversy around this housekeeper as well because she may have been Jewish (this was told to me with great solemnity and not a little bit of embarrassment and would-be denial, thank you deep-seated familial racism and anti-semitism). Truthfully, we have no idea her ethnic heritage and it is interesting to me that Augusta looks so different from my other very Swedish-looking relatives on this side of the family. She has a much darker complexion and a much more square face than any of the other Andersons. Unfortunately due to the passage of time (and likely her grandmother’s status as a lower-class woman), I will probably never know the truth behind this story. Regardless, we do know that this grandmother’s name was Natalia and the name was passed down as Augusta’s middle name and the name of her first daughter who went by Nettie. I’ve also been told that although Augusta was born in Sweden (we think), her ancestry is Bohemian and her family came from the area that is now the Czech Republic.
Sometimes I stare at these pictures of her and wonder what this woman was like, whose hands caught babies once upon a time in a hospital in Stockholm.