The Life of a Mountain Midwife, 1844-1939
Karen Cecil Smith
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.
Karen attended Guilford College and holds a BA in English from Salem College. During her last semester at Salem, she became a freelance writer for a local magazine. After graduation, Karen worked as a newspaper reporter, photographer, and editor. Her stories and poetry have been featured in national magazines and literary journals.