Olga Blanche (Seward) Smith

Reprinted from Labours of Love: Midwives of Newfoundland and Labrador
by Esther Slaney Brown

 

Olga Smith 001

Olga Blanche (Seward) Smith (1899-1943). (Photo donated by her grandson Larry Coady)

 

Olga Smith was an intelligent woman who accomplished much in the short few years she had on this earth. Her life, spent in a tiny parameter of the island of Newfoundland, has left an amazing legacy. Within the time allotted to her she was a wife and mother of three children. She also operated a general store and was the postmistress for about eight years. (Post offices at that time changed hands with each change of the government.) She opened her home to out of town teachers and ministers of her church. She sang and played the organ in the Anglican Church in Gooseberry Cove, Trinity Bay. She also gave music lessons.

Of all her accomplishments, she would probably say that apart from caring for her family, her greatest love was that of caring for the women of Gooseberry Cove and surrounding communities in her capacity of midwife. Traveling miles by food, horse and cart and open boat, she tended all in need of her expertize. Her medical abilities extended to the community at large. She was famous for her ability to ‘stop blood,’ a gift possessed only by certain individuals.

In the twenty or so years she practiced midwifery she delivered more than four hundred babies. She spent five of those years training another midwife, Aunt Fanny Avery of Southport. Not content with her own knowledge, she took a correspondence course in nursing from the Chicago School of Nursing, receiving her diploma in 1942. Sadly, this was just a little over a year before her death.

In the winter of 1943, she was summoned to attend to a woman in the community of St. Jones Without. In her haste to be at the women’s bedside, she did not properly dress for the trek in an open boat during the miserable winter weather and subsequently contracted pneumonia. She never recovered and passed away that following spring. She was forty-four years of age.

Olga, daughter of William and Lydia Seward, was born at Gooseberry Cove on September 12, 1899. She married Joseph Edward Smith (a World War I veteran) of Southport in the winter of 1918-1919. They had three children: William, Mary, and Blanche. They lived in Southport until 1926 when they moved to Gooseberry Cove. She passed away May 20, 1943.

 

Information taken from The Role of Newfoundland Midwife in Traditional Health Care 1900 – 1970
by Janet Elizabeth McNaughton,  1989. (PhD. Thesis)

Olga was urged to become a midwife by a nurse in her area. She decided to assume the role against her mother’s wishes and was remarkably active in seeking education. Olga took a three year correspondence course from the Chicago School of Nursing, and received public health training at the Grace Hospital in St. John’s and the Come by Chance cottage hospital. (page 227)

Olga obtained an obstetric book by mail. When Olga died, her book was passed on to Fanny Avery.  (page 238)

Olga’s family owned a hardware store in Gooseberry Cove. Her husband’s family operated a similar business in the nearby community of Southport. After their marriage, they took up residence in the seven bedroom home which had belonged to Olga’s parents. The school teacher boarded with the Smiths, and the Anglican priest stayed with them on his regular visits to their community. The fact that Olga charged no fees for midwifery or healing is a reflection of her family’s affluence. (page 303)

Olga was a midwife from 1926-1943. She was 28 when she delivered her first baby. She delivered 1000+ babies. (page 351)

 

Click here to listen to a taped interview between Janet MacNaughton and Olga’s daughter, Blanche (Smith) Coady – special thanks to the Coady family for providing us with a copy of the interview.