Sunday, March 31, 2013

Fascinating Allies of the Colored Maternity Ward of Ft. Smith, Arkansas

Image of Mrs. Rose Weinberger's engagement photo from
Image of Mrs. Beatrice Robertson from Chicago Defender, March 1936

My recent blog post about the 17 babies saved by the "Colored" Maternity Club has generated much interest. One of the reasons is that so little is known about it, and now seven decades later, it's history is not  known, and it has been basically forgotten. But thanks to the efforts of fellow genealogist Dr. Shelley Murphy, a small piece of the history of the Maternity Club or Maternity Ward has surfaced.

 It is known that the founding director of the Maternity Ward was Mrs. Beatrice Robertson, who operated the ward from her home someplace on North Division Street. Fellow genealogist and researcher, Shelly Murphy of  Fluvanna County, Virginia, read the piece closely, and she noticed that I made a reference to Twin City Hospital, and she decided to see if that would lead to some additional clues.

Well she found one.

Clues Found:
The clues for Dr. Murphy came from the fact that in the previous article, I made a passing remark about Twin City Hospital. And readers may also recall the listing that I located from the city directory of Ft. Smith in 1936 that mentioned that Mrs. Robertson was active in the YWCA. These were the clues.

She decided to conduct a Google search, and she pulled up an interesting book that provided an interesting reference to the works of the Jewish community in Civil Rights and in race relations. There was a reference to the city of Ft. Smith in that book as well. And one interesting reference referred to a woman who was a leader in the city, a leader in the Jewish community, and one who advocated for a number of changes also in the Black community. Today, many remember in Ft. Smith for her volunteerism. Well it appears that she may have also had an impact on the maternity ward.  Mrs. Rose Wienberger assisted in the establishment of  a nursery for black children, and later she was a supporter of the establishment of Twin City Hospital and also served on its board. And understanding the little known history of the Maternity Ward, the nursery grew out of the efforts of the maternity ward itself.

Mrs. Weinberger was also a leader with the YWCA of Ft. Smith. Now most people who grew up in Ft. Smith recall that there were two YWCA facilities in the city. There was one on Lexington Avenue for whites and there was the one for many years on North "H" street for the black community. Well Mrs. Beatrice Robertson was quite active in the YWCA, which is quite possibly how she met Mrs. Weinberg.

So on her Google search, Shelley Murphy found an interesting passage that might lead to more information, and she sent me the following message:

          ".....there was a Jewish connection to Twin City, (The Quiet Voices: Southern Rabbis and Black Civil  Rights, 1880-1990) maybe something in there."

Well I decided to look at the book that she referenced.
(This book published in 1997 contained a small mention of Ft. Smith, Arkansas 
and the role of Mrs. Rose Weinberger, who was known for her volunteer efforts.)

 I read the small but significant reference to Ft. Smith and to Mrs. Rose Weinberger of the city of Ft. Smith and realized that she is another one of the people whose actions are not fully known. Although Mrs. Weinberger was honored by the city for her outstanding volunteer work, I am not sure if the city was aware of how greatly she also worked for the betterment of lives in the Black Community during the Depression. However, the book Quiet Voices did reveal something significant and it became clear to me, that Rose Weinberger and Beatrice Robertson had to have interacted with each other, and they were somehow fascinating allies.

 Note this excerpt from the book:
Source: Excerpt from Book Quiet Voices. Southern Rabbis and Black Civil Rights, 1880s to 1990s.
University of Alabama Press, November 1997 p. 104

It is quite clear that for Mrs. Robertson's maternity ward to operate, some assistance from the white community would have been needed, and it appears that the voice of support and influence would have been Mrs. Weinberger.  And there was a great need for the maternity home, because none of the hospitals in the city served black patients, so if a woman was in dire need of medical care, this birthing facility would have been an essential place, and it is not hard to conceive that truly lives would have been saved when a clean place was provided for women to give birth and mostly likely the newborns' lives were indeed saved.

Looking at the history of the YWCA in Ft. Smith, there is no question that these two ladies worked together. Rose Weinberger and Beatrice Roberston  were truly fascinating allies in the effort to bring quality medical care and infant care to the community, during the demanding years of the Depression.

So, my interest in the Maternity Ward continues. And now, even more questions have arisen:

-Where exactly was the Maternity Ward? Was it really on the part of Division Street that Google pulled up, or was it possibly on the other side of Division, near St. John's?

-Could there be any photos or records of the facility? Could there be records or photos among the papers of Mrs. Robertson? Does anyone in Ft. Smith remember her, and know who her descendants might be?  And could there be photos or documents among the private papers of Mrs. Rose Weinberger that could be located? (Does anyone have contact with the descendants of Mrs. Weinberger?)

-And just who were those babies saved? If someone knows people who were born in either 1935 or 36, then they just might be candidates for one of those babies. Can they be found? And is there anyone living today who might recognize the faces of any of the 8 babies in the photograph?

Photo from Chicago Defender, March 1936.

The answers will have to come from the community and from those who can still remember.


Root Digger said...

This is such an intriguing ongoing story. I hope someone contacts you that knows more and has photos.

MissDazey said...

I love this story, not sure why it touch me, but it has. Angela, I am assuming back in the 1930's that type of thing would not have to be licensed? I

robert said...

I am a descendant of the Weinberger family. Rose's husband, Louie, was my great Uncle, the brother of my paternal grandfather. I probably can find some photos of them and you're welcome to contact me to connect. rjw

Meridith Dahlin M.Ed., L.P.C. said...

The Weinbergers bought the house on 24th St. in Fort Smith that had been built by my maternal great-grandparents Edward Lawn Porter and Selma Krone Porter. I am so proud to know that Mrs. Weinberger was such an advocate for civil rights. My late father, Dr. Donald McMinimy,was a great believer in equality for everyone and was proud to practice medicine along side a fine African-American nurse who later became a vice-president at Sparks Hospital. I am sorry I cannot recall her name. Meridith McMinimy Dahlin