Gender, Wellness, and Spirituality: An Archaeology of African American Midwives



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Historically, African American midwives held leadership roles in their communities, nurturing and establishing Black womanhood through shared cultural heritage and stability. Religion and spirituality played an essential role in African American wellness and birth, and during enslavement, this role most often included forms of conjure. This magical tradition which invoked spiritual powers for healing and protection, is best illustrated through the crossroads ritual that signified the embodied power created through ancestral connections. Archaeologists can identify this past spiritual behavior through testing behavior models. A comparative analysis of crossroads ritual deposits recovered from three nineteenth century southern plantation sites indicates modifications were made to the crossroads ritual based on the vocation and use of space through time. Applying a Black Feminist framework reveals the gender specific spiritual innovations made by African American midwives. By the early twentieth century, health reform, laws, and regulations further changed midwifery's ritual and spiritual aspects. These innovations are distinctly connected to the sociopolitical context of each period that shaped the unique experiences of Black women and, more specifically, those of African American midwives. Research and questions about African American spirituality should explore ritual practice as more than religious acts and focus on how these behaviors and beliefs encompassed identity and personhood through everyday life.



African American Midwives, Feminist Archaeology, Black Feminist Thought, Crossroads, Magic, Ritual, Historical Archaeology, Archaeology, Gender, Twentieth Century Midwives, Conjure, Childbirth, Midwifery, Black Midwives, African American Spirituality