Honoring two deserving women

Published 6:32 pm Monday, February 1, 2010

Soon Judson College will honor two women who supported life in their own ways.

The college recently announced the two inductees into the Women’s Hall of Fame: Margaret Charles Smith of Eutaw and Mary Ivy Burks of Birmingham.

By the time she was in her mid-70s, Margaret Charles Smith had delivered nearly one-third of the babies born in her county. In 2002 she was recognized as Alabama’s oldest Grand Midwife.

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A Greene County native, Smith attended nearly 3,000 births between 1949 and 1981 before she retired. All of her mothers survived and so did most of her babies. She wrote a book about her experiences “Listen to Me Good, in which she recounted the old birthing ways of midwives who apprenticed under an older midwife.

She delivered babies of African-American mothers during the days when a trip to the hospital was more than 100 miles away.

This is what she said of the women in her care: “If you know how to talk to them. Give ‘em kind words and love. that beats it all.”

The state outlawed Grand Midwives in 1976. Smith delivered her last baby five years after. But she didn’t quit. She shared her knowledge at folk festivals and conventions of midwives.

She was 98 when she died in 2004.

Mary Ivy Burks delivered life of another sort. She drove the founding of the Alabama Conservancy, now the Alabama Environmental Council. She also pushed for the creation of the Sipsey Wilderness Area in North Alabama at a time when people generally believed conservation movements such as these deemed more for the west.

Burks began the eastern wilderness movement, but the effort took many years and attempts to persuade Congress to pass The Eastern Wilderness Areas Act.

As a result of her pioneering work, in 1988 federal legislation enlarged the Sipsey wilderness to 25,000 acres and the West Fork Sipsey River, along with its tributaries, became Alabama’s national wild and scenic river.

Burks retired in 1977, but worked as a volunteer to preserve the Alabama wild until her death in 2007.

Each preserving life; both of these women are deserving of the honor they are about to receive.