Friday, November 12, 2010

Louisa Obray: Pioneer Midwife

You've heard of early pioneer women who were doctors and midwives. And you recognize the names of Zina Young and Patty Sessions. Well, how about Louisa Obray? No? Let me tell you about her.

When looking back on her life, Louisa Obray had a great deal of which to be proud. In 1890, at the age of 35, she attended the Columbia Hospital for training as a nurse. She had already trained in Utah as a midwife under Dr. Ellis Reynolds Shipp. During Louisa's career she delivered an estimated 800 babies. She charged just $3.00 for her services which included bathing both mother and child and nine days of post-natal care.

Her biography tells a story of how she handled herself under pressure.

“She came home one day to find Joseph Obray waiting to tell her not to unhitch the horse as his wife was in labor with her first child. She had already been in attendance on other mothers for twenty-four hours. Just then her daughter, Boston, ran out of the house begging her not to leave as she was about to give birth to her first child. Louisa looked at her daughter and said, “be at ease—you will be all right.”

She was described as "dignified and queenly in her bearing." And many of the people in Paradise sought out her wise counsel "for help with their personal problems."

Along the way she raised three children without a husband. And served in several church callings. She accomplished this much in her life because of what she decided she could do, not based on what others told her to do. When her husband died she could have allowed her ward family in Paradise, Utah take care of her. She could have let the Church in Salt Lake City take care of her. After all her husband died while on a mission. And since he was killed by a mob in a very well publicized incident, donations were made to cover the expenses of the widows and children of the missionaries who died at Cane Creek, she could have lived off of their generosity. But she didn't. Instead she thrived. And for that I admire her.

On December 27, 1927 Louisa Obray Gibbs passed away at the age of 72.


J. Stapley said...

I always love to hear about the pioneer midwives and nurses. Thanks for the write-up.

Ardis E. Parshall said...

I was not at all familiar with her. Thanks for introducing us.

S.Faux said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S.Faux said...

Midwives are heroes too often unsung. Thanks for posting this. Here is a piece I wrote on Catherine Jensen Nelson.

BruceCrow said...

J. Stapley,
I thought you might find this interesting.

You do this for me far more often that I can return the favor.

S. Faux,
Thanks for sharing your post on Catherine. Here's to a little bit of singing on their behalf.

Wendy said...

Louisa's half-brother (and my great-great grandfather), Joseph Brenchley Obray might be the Joseph referred to in this story. Joseph's wife Margaret Oldham Tams gave birth to a daughter, Melba Elizabeth Obray on 15 June 1903. Louisa's daughter Boston gave birth to her oldest son Orson Donald Miles on 17 Jun 1903 just two days later. If, in fact, Joseph is the same, Louisa still may have made it to deliver her grandson.

Do you have any additional information on the Joseph from this story?

Wendy Tams Hickman

BruceCrow said...

Thank you for adding to this, Wendy. You are right, she did make it back to deliver her grandson. But without benefit of sleep between the two deliveries. In fact she was already going on 24 hours without sleep when she went to help Joseph's wife. If the source is to be believed, that makes about 72 hours with sleep by the time her grandson was born.

My source doesn't reveal anything else about Joseph, not even indicating he was her half brother. But I think your educated guess is correct.

Wendy said...

One detail that I failed to notice: Melba is not Margaret's first child but is her second. This creates problems with the connection.

Wendy said...

I did a search for any Obray born in 1903 in Paradise. Melba is the closest birth to Boston's oldest son by a long ways - and is the only Obray born with a father named Joseph Obray for up to two years. I think it is likely that Joseph Obray was actually Louisa's half-brother (Joseph Brenchley Obray).

BruceCrow said...

It would not be unheard of for biographies like the one I am using as my source, to have errors. A detail like this not realy being Joseph's wife's first child is typical of the kinds of mistakes biographers make. So I am good with your connection even if it doesn't match every peice of the story. Plus, ferreting out these small errors is part of what I like about historical research. And in the process we learn a great deal about real people. Thank you again.