Jewish Midwives - Rosa Fineberg and Lena Barber
Rosa Fineberg and Lena Barber were two of twenty-four midwives listed on the Midwives’ Registry at the Baltimore Circuit Court near the turn of the century. Between them, the two women delivered hundreds of children and maintained detailed records of each child’s birth in volumes that are preserved in the archives of the Jewish Museum of Maryland. Though little is known about these two women’s personal lives, their record books remain an invaluable source of understanding Jewish family life a hundred years ago. Rosa Fineberg, for example, kept thirty-one birth record books for the period 1895 to 1919 — records that document an East Baltimore world of Jewish immigrants.
Most of Baltimore's midwives were Russian and Polish immigrants. Lena Barber arrived in Baltimore from Russia and was unable to write in English, so her daughter and granddaughter assisted her. In a 1982 interview, Lena Barber's granddaughter remembered helping her grandmother. "What kind of equipment did my grandmother use? Her hands — that was her equipment. And she used to wear a big, white old-timey apron with a square bib. She always dressed professionally." Her seventeen birth record volumes cover the period 1892 to1928. Though she lived in South Baltimore, Barber often traveled as far as East Baltimore to deliver a child.
In 1924, the City of Baltimore required all midwives to be licensed as well as registered within the city. This new bureaucracy, as well as the increasing prestige of hospitals, resulted in a marked decline in children delivered by midwives. By the late 1930s, as few as 2.8% of Baltimore children were delivered by midwives.