Jewish Midwives - Hannah Sandusky
Midwifery is an age-old trade, often passed from mothers to daughters. Like Shifra and Puah so many years before, midwives in the 19th and 20th centuries calmed the mother during labor and cleaned and cared for newborn babies. During this time, in European Jewish communities, people affectionately referred to a midwife as "bobba" (Yiddish for granny). This title comes from the Yiddish expression "bobbska refuas" which means granny remedies and refers to the various folk remedies midwives used to help ease the pains of childbirth. Bobba Hannah Sandusky, known as "the angel" or "the saint" to those whom she helped, brought her title and her midwifery skills to America becoming not only one of the first American Jewish midwives, but possibly the first credentialed American midwife.
Bobba Hannah was born in a Lithuanian province of Kovno in 1827, and Hannah learned her trade by observing her mother at work. Since there were no doctors in their small village, midwives would be called on to help mothers in labor. After marrying Louis Sandusky, Hannah came to America with their son in 1861 and settled in Pittsburgh. There, Hannah continued her work as a midwife and more generally cared for the health and well-being of the growing population of Eastern European Jewish immigrants.
Hannah’s work as a midwife soon became well known throughout the Pittsburgh area. A local doctor, who was particularly impressed with Bobba Hannah, began to call on her to help with his difficult deliveries. He thought that her method was so impressive that he brought groups of young doctors to watch her during deliveries so they could learn from her techniques.
After some years in Pittsburgh, Bobba Hannah traveled to Germany seeking treatment for her son’s eye troubles. There, Hannah attended a school of midwifery and worked in hospitals as both a midwife and a nurse. After a year of schooling Hannah received her degree and returned to Pittsburgh.
Hannah was known for being very generous. She never accepted fees for her services. Often if a family was really impoverished, Hannah would buy things for the newborn out of her own pocket. She also acted as matchmaker for poor Jewish girls, advised people in trouble, sewed shrouds for the dead and consoled those in mourning.
Hannah delivered 3,571 registered births, but there were many births that she preformed that never were registered because The Birth Registration Act didn’t go into effect until 1870. She delivered her last child when she was 82 in 1909, and died on November 15, 1913.