Medical Center Archives Receives a Trent Grant to Document Maternal Health in Durham through Oral History Interviews

The Medical Center Archives, in partnership with Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections at the Rubenstein Library and Josephine McRobbie and Joseph O’Connell, local oral historians, received a grant from the Josiah Charles Trent Memorial Foundation Endowment Fund in the amount of $5,400 to document the history of maternal health in Durham through oral history interviews with members of the Duke Midwifery Service and Durham County Health Department. The title of this project is “Documenting the Duke Midwifery Service and Durham Maternal Health Through First Hand Narratives”. The idea for this project was spurred by the 2021 donation of the Duke Midwifery Service (DMS) Records by Amy MacDonald, CNM and former DMS Director (1999-2013).

The materials contained in the DMS Records document a program and type of medical care that was previously not represented in our archival holdings. The maternal mortality rate is a serious crisis in healthcare today. Duke Obstetrics & Gynecology cites that “Black women are three to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related complications and twice as likely to lose an infant to premature death”. This is a large and complex problem that requires a variety of interventions--one being midwifery. The Surgeon General's Call to Action to Improve Maternal Health advises that the leveraging of midwives into obstetric care can support mothers by offering additional variety of support options to meet diverse preferences and needs. The Duke Midwifery Service (DMS) was established in 1999 under the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine. It provides obstetric and gynecologic services to low-risk pregnant women and education to first-year residents, medical students, physician assistant students, midwifery students, and nursing students. In a proposal written in 2000 to expand their services, the DMS explicitly outlines their intentions to “address two risk factors for poor birth outcomes in the community: access to care of underserved minority women and low birth weight/preterm delivery (“A Proposal to Expand the Nurse-Midwifery Service at Duke University Medical Center”, Duke Midwifery Service Records, Duke University Medical Center Archives).

Duke Midwifery Service

While the donation of the DMS Records provides the Archives with an opportunity to examine further the relationship between maternal health in Durham and the role that Duke has played, they only tell a partial story of maternal health in Durham. With the financial funding provided by this grant, the Archives can capture and preserve a more full and nuanced history through long-form interviews of the often undocumented profession of midwifery. It is imperative to collect the unique stories and the context in which they took place from the individuals who participated in this work. Oral history, the primary method of inquiry for this project, is a format that allows for both. An oral history is an interview that records an individual’s personal recollections of the past and historical events. Using this method of gathering, preserving, and interpreting ensures that the voices and memories of people, communities, and participants are added to the historical record. These interviews will provide first-hand accounts of the history of the DMS, social and institutional relationships between Duke and Durham, and maternal health, as well as focus on the interviewees’ personal histories, experiences, and insight.

Over the next year, the Archives will work with our partners in this grant to interview 4-6 key community members to document the DMS and its relationship with the Durham community. These interviews will be transcribed and the audio recordings, transcript, photograph of the interviewee, and a short biographical description will be deposited at the Archives where they will be available to future researchers and add to our diverse holdings as we strive to build a world-renowned archives in the field of medicine. Additionally, we will publicize through our blog, newsletter, and social media channels to ensure that our patrons and the broader Duke community are aware and able to take advantage of these resources.

This blog post was contributed by Medical Center Archives Assistant Director Lucy Waldrop and Research, Outreach, and Education Librarian Rebecca Williams