Saturday, March 30, 2013

Who Were the 17 Infants Saved in Fort Smith Arkansas?

Source: The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967) [Chicago, Ill] 07 Mar 1936: 5.

While exploring some old newspapers a fascinating article caught my attention from the Chicago Defender, as it pertained to my hometown of Ft. Smith, Arkansas. Apparently the 1930s were years of many health issues facing children nationwide and newborns were clearly the most vulnerable. This was the heart of the Depression and it was also an era when there were no antibiotics and many vaccines simply did not exist. As times were difficult, many would die from disease and lack of good nutrition and most likely many babies died as well.

There was apparently an effort made by an industrious woman in Ft. Smith Arkansas, who was interested in seeing that the most vulnerable children would survive during those critical years of the Depression, when health care was sparce and particular for those who were poor and Black.  The headline from the The Defender was clear, as the lives of 17 infants were saved by the acts of the Maternity Club.

But exactly what was this "maternity club"?
Is there anyone still living in Ft. Smith who might recall hearing of this maternity home?
And who were the babies?

If they were born in 1936, the year the article was written---they would now be about 77 years old.

Well upon careful examination, of this article in the Chicago Defender it appears that this was a birthing facility, a birthing home for women established in 1935. The founding director of the home referred to as the Maternity Ward, was Mrs. Beatrice Broy Robertson.

Founder of the Maternity Club was Mrs. Beatrice Broy Robertson

Not having much information about Mrs. Robertson, I took a look at the Ft. Smith City Director of 1938 and noticed that the address was actually the residence of Mrs. Robertson. it is noticed that she was quite active in the early days of the YWCA in Ft. Smith as well.

I don't live in Ft Smith, but this story deserves to be told---as there are possibly some elders still in the city of Ft. Smith, who were the very infants who were saved! And their descendants are here today--because of the actions of the Maternity Club and Mrs. Robertson.

Location of The Maternity Ward

According to the article, the Maternity Ward was located at 828 Division Street in Ft. Smith which is now occupied by part of the Nelson Hall Homes. However, in the 1930s the Maternity Ward was located there, and was operated under the direction of Mrs. Beatrice Broy Robinson.

Looking Down Division Street, and the pin shaped marker points to the site where
the Maternity Ward was once located. Today it is in the vicinity of Nelson Hall Homes in Ft. Smith
Image Source: Google Street View.

It is not known how long the Maternity Ward existed. It is most likely that once Twin City Hospital was opened, the maternity ward was moved there.

However for those residents with a strong sense of history and preservation, this can be one of those wonderful historical challenges.

Are there people still living in Ft. Smith, who remember Mrs. Robertson and her legacy?  
Are there any images of the Maternity Ward or of the old homes along Division Street?  
And who were the 17 babies born at the home in 1935 and 1936?

When the article in the Chicago Defender appeared in 1936, there were plans to expand the tasks of the Maternity Club, and to engage in outreach to serve the community.

History is sometimes more than the stories of the famous leaders, but it is often the story and the preservation of the memories of the small communities from which we come.  I was delighted to see the article and hope that the work of Mrs. Beatrice Robertson will be strongly remembered and cherished in Ft. Smith where 17 babies lived because of her. They are now elders and but Mrs. Robertson's work to save the babies should not be forgotten.


Ms Vicky said...

As always Angela you have a way of opening our eyes. I hope that one of these babies or their kin will come forth. That would be a halleluya day within itself.

Carolyn Schriber said...

Your research efforts yield fascinating stuff, Angela. When are you going to put them in a book?

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Thank you so much! I truly appreciate your kind words, I guess I have to find the element to link the stories under the same cover.

Angela Y. Walton-Raji said...

Indeed, Ms. Vicky, I would love to meet one of the elders who was possibly delivered at the Maternity Ward. Indeed it will be one truly special moment. Chances are, that I probably knew one or more of them. I just did not know the circumstances of their birth.