Day 146: The Ozark Granny Woman

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In the Ozarks and Appalachians the so called “granny women” were often just older women who had experience with home remedies and delivering babies. Acting as midwives was, for the most part, the main domain of the granny women, but they were also known to give out healing remedies. Vance Randolph provides a wealth of knowledge on the granny women in his “Ozark Magic and Folklore” and Otto Ernest Rayburn has an article entitled “The Granny Woman in the Ozarks”. Here’s some info from Randolph:

“The superstitions connected with pregnancy and childbirth are very numerous, kept alive and promulgated by the backwoods midwives who are known as granny-women. Many hillmen will not allow a physician to attend their wives in childbirth, believing that a granny-woman is better. It is surprising, too, how many women do not want a physician at this time. ‘Doc Holton’s all right, in case o’ sickness,’ the mother of seven children said to me, ‘but I sure don’t want no man-person a-conjurin’ round when I’m havin’ a baby!’ Male yarb doctors and power doctors have many remedies for ‘female troubles,’ and some of them try to produce abortions, but they generally leave obstetrics to the granny-women. When a granny-woman gets into difficulties she seldom consults with a yarb doctor or a power doctor, but calls in a regular physician.”

“Granny-women in many parts of the Ozark country used to give a tea made of blackberry root to a woman in childbirth; this was supposed to expedite matters but was regarded as much less drastic than the use of the quill.”

“When a babe is ‘born blue’ the granny-woman makes ‘skilletbark tea’ from the soot off’n the bottom of a kettle or frying pan. She feeds a few drops of this to the child every ten minutes or so over a long period of time, perhaps as much as twenty four hours.”

“A granny-woman in the Cookson Hill country of eastern Oklahoma treated thrash simply by putting crushed green oak leaves in the child’s mouth every three hours, and the babes in her charge recovered about as quickly as those submitted to supernatural spells. If no green leaves were handy, she used sage tea, with some honey and a little alum in it, which seemed to work about as well as the oak leaves.”

“Fred Starr, of Greenland, Arkansas, has a sure cure for leg cramps, learned from a granny-woman in Washington county, Arkansas. All you have to do, he says, is to stick the toe of one shoe inside the other when you go to bed, and leave ’em that way all night.”

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