Mountain midwife Orlean Puckett (1844-1939) endured many trials during her lifetime. A bride at the age of 16, she had given birth to and buried 24 babies by the time she was in her mid-thirties. When John Puckett, her husband, deserted the Civil War, Orlean was besieged by Home Guard Troops. Still, she secretly carried food to John and others who hid out near her home. Orlean became a midwife when she was 45 years of age. During the next 49 years, she successfully delivered over a thousand babies.
Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife (Parkway Publishers), by Karen Cecil Smith, is the only biography of this fascinating woman. Traveling on foot or by horse, Orlean never failed to make her way to a birthing. When ice covered the mountain paths, she hammered nails into the soles of her shoes to assure proper footing. A year after Orlean “caught” her last baby, construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway forced her from her home. Three weeks later, at the age of 95, she died. You can view the marker honoring the life of this remarkable woman now stands at milepost 189.9 along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway.
Thanks to her heroic actions in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, Orlean Puckett left her mark on the people she worked and lived with and the generations following. This year, she is celebrated as a Virginia Women in History honoree by the Library of Virginia.
Women have played an integral part in Virginia from its beginnings, yet their contributions have often been overlooked in the history books. Until well into the twentieth century, written histories tended to focus on the historically male-dominated fields of government and politics, the military, and large-scale landholding to the virtual exclusion of all other venues of leadership or achievement. They ignored women’s critical roles as wives, mothers, educators, nurses, lay leaders, farmers, artists, writers, reformers, pioneers, business leaders, laborers, and community builders. But this National Women’s History Month, join us in celebrating these Women in History Honorees. Visit the Virginia Women in History website for more information.