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Orlean Puckett: The Life of a Mountain Midwife, 1844-1939

Karen Cecil Smith

Parkway Publishers
$14.95 paperback
6 x 9  
166 pages
black-and-white photos throughout
Published in 2003

Mountain midwife Orlean Puckett 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. 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. A marker honoring the life of this remarkable woman now stands at Milepost 189.9 along Virginia’s Blue Ridge Parkway.


“This superbly documented, painstakingly researched, very highly recommended biography offers a clear glimpse into a truly remarkable turn-of-the-century life and would make an excellent addition to Women's Studies reading lists and American History biography collections.” —Midwest Book Review
“Karen Cecil Smith gives us a full picture of one of the legendary people of the Blue Ridge, midwife Aunt Orlean Puckett, who delivered more than a thousand mountain babies while losing 24 of her own. Smith answers so many questions I’d wondered about and offers a plausible reason for the loss of Aunt Orlean’s own children. More than that, she gives us a beautiful picture of a way of life now gone in these mountains I love.” —Jerry Bledsoe, author of Just Folks and Blue Horizons
“This well-researched book about the tragic life and times of the region’s most famous midwife deserves a place beside The Man Who Moved a Mountain for bringing the hard-scrabble life of a century ago in and around Carroll County, Va.—especially for child-bearing women to contemporary readers.” —Wanda Urbanska, co-author with Frank Levering, Simple Living and Moving to a Small Town
“Karen Cecil Smith, through the telling of Orlean Puckett’s life story, gives us back some of our rich midwifery roots. Although she lost 24 of her own, Orlean Puckett delivered over a thousand babies. Being a midwife refreshed her soul. She never asked for money for her services. ‘She enjoyed helping others.’ Snow and blizzards didn’t stop her from her calling. The bonus in Orlean’s story is the sense that it rings true throughout Ms. Smith’s pages. This is a great contribution to the history of our dedicated foremothers. As midwives we can be proud to be Orlean Puckett’s spiritual daughters.” —Jan Tritten, editor, Midwifery Today magazine