Mother George the Midwife who Shocked Grays Lake is a historical novel based on the life of a black midwife who delivered many children both black and white in southeastern Idaho during and after the gold rush on Caribou Mountain in that state.
Mother George delivered Lee Cantwell’s grandmother, Effie Allsop Greene, on June 14, 1889. As a child he heard her tell the story of her birth: “I was delivered by a Negro Mammy on a cattle ranch in Grays Lake, Idaho. My Mother told me that Mother George had the largest hands she had ever seen on a woman and that she wore men’s shoes.”
One day when Lee’s grandmother was telling her story, her cousin from the Grays Lake area was present. She said: “Oh Eff. Don’t tell that story. When Mother George died and they were dressing her for burial, they found out she was a man.”
Years later, Lee had occasion to visit with a group of people from the Grays Lake area. They were all familiar with the story of the black midwife who had turned out to be a man. It was obvious to him that they believed the story to be true. They suggested he contact Ellen Carney, a historian and local author if he had other questions. He talked to her on the telephone several times and even drove up and spent the day with her, her father and other friends who knew the history of that part of Idaho.
One of her friends, Quincy Jensen, had a history of southeastern Idaho ready for publication. He wanted to include Mother George in his book but had not been able to find anyone who would admit being delivered by her. Lee had his aunt, Wanda Greene Nielson, write a letter confirming the story of her mother’s delivery by Mother George. A couple of weeks later, the historian sent Lee the photograph that appears on the cover of his book.
Lee became fascinated with the mysterious Mother George whom everyone in the Grays Lake area seemed to have heard of but about whom no detailed facts were available. Two questions plagued him: How would a black man learn the skills of midwifery during that period of history, and why would he masquerade as a woman for over forty years in a remote community in southeastern Idaho? He decided to apply his skills as a writer of fiction to solving the mystery of Mother George. This book is the result of his efforts.
To avoid confusion and awkwardness in the narrative, the author has elected to use the personal pronoun “her” whenever Mother George is presenting herself as a woman and “him” when, as a child, and at other times in his life, he is being accepted by those around him as a male.
The period in which Mother George lived is rich with historical events that help tell her story. After the first chapter that deals with Mother George’s death and discovery in the year 1919, we flashback to 1856 where we meet the future Mother George in the person of a ten year-old boy escaping from slavery with his parents. It is the pre-civil war period when slavery is becoming the wedge that will shatter the unity of the nation.
We enter the world of the abolitionists and experience the activities of the Underground Railroad.
We meet Dr. Josiah Callahan, a gifted surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital and through him become acquainted with the primitive state of medicine and surgery in that period. We watch as progress is made through the work of inspired real life individuals like: Doctors Semmelweis, Wells, Warren, Lister, Halsted and others. The lives and contributions of these prominent men have been carefully researched and their experiences presented as accurately as possible.
We experience the Civil War, the aftermath of that great conflict, the discovery of gold in Idaho and the methods used to extract it from the mountains and streams. Throughout the entire story we suggest the possible thoughts, feelings and experiences that created from that ten year-old runaway slave the black midwife who became known as Mother George.
About Lee G. Cantwell
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Published August 1, 2012
History, Literature & Fiction.