Callen is best remembered for her work as a nurse midwife, delivering more than one thousand babies and providing prenatal and postnatal care to mothers. Recognizing that lay midwives provided the only care for many of the African Americans in rural South Carolina, Callen sought opportunities for educating women in midwifery.
Nurse. Callen was born on November 8, 1898, in Quincy, Florida, one of thirteen children born to Harrison and Amanda Daniel. She was orphaned by age seven and raised by an uncle. She married William Dewer Callen in 1921 and graduated from Florida A&M College the following year. Callen continued her studies at the Georgia Infirmary in Savannah and completed nurse midwife training at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. In 1923 Callen, now a registered nurse, arrived in Berkeley County, South Carolina, as a missionary with the Protestant Episcopal Church.
Callen was often the sole health-care provider, teacher, and nutritionist for the remote and dispersed population of a four-hundred square-mile area. She taught children how to read and write and held vaccination clinics at local schools for smallpox and diphtheria (one of these clinics inoculated fifteen hundred children). Callen also collected and distributed clothing and helped transport the very sick to the few hospitals that would treat African American patients. She developed clinics to help families maintain proper nutrition and held the county’s first venereal-disease clinic.
Callen is best remembered for her work as a nurse midwife, delivering more than one thousand babies and providing prenatal and postnatal care to mothers. Recognizing that lay midwives provided the only care for many of the African Americans in rural South Carolina, Callen sought opportunities for educating women in midwifery. Many lay midwives clung to superstition and outdated traditions, such as using potions made from wasp nests or requiring new mothers to leave their hair unbrushed for a month after giving birth. Callen began a lecture series in 1926 and later organized a two week program to train women on basic medical practices. Once a student completed the program she received a license and a uniform, which gave the women a sense of accomplishment and pride.
Callen worked long, irregular hours. Although some patients came to her, some traveling more than 50 miles, she easily logged over 36,000 miles a year in her own car. During the Depression, Callen worked with only church and community support. In 1935 the Social Security Act established the Division of Maternal and Child Health, which hired Callen as a public health nurse to supervise midwives. As one of the first nurses in Berkeley County to receive training in the delivery and care of premature babies, Callen was an important resource for new midwives.
In the 1940s Dr. Hilla Sheriff joined the Division of Maternal and Child Health. Unlike most doctors, she recognized the importance of lay midwives to the poor and disenfranchised. Callen and Sheriff worked together to train midwives to provide responsible medical care. Sheriff depended on Callen to help educate the illiterate lay midwives. The duo soon secured the Penn Center as a place for their Midwife Training Institute. Midwives returned every four years to renew their licenses.
Callen retired in 1971. Her work and generosity were recognized with an honorary doctorate from Clemson University and induction into the South Carolina Hall of Fame. She died at her home in Pineville on January 25, 1990, and was buried in White Cemetery, near St. Stephen.
Hill, Patricia Evridge. “Maude E. Callen.” In Doctors, Nurses, and Medical Practitioners: A Bio-Bibliographical Sourcebook, edited by Lois N. Magner. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1997.
“Maude Daniel Callen–Nurse and Nationally Recognized Humanitarian– Dies.” Moncks Corner Berkeley Independent, January 31, 1990, p. B2.
Smith, Eugene W. “Nurse Midwife.” Life 31 (December 3, 1951): 134–45.