“The midwife was respected and loved but there was no status or yikhus involved. She was paid. If it was a boy she usually got more pay because at the circumcision all the guests left something for her. She was paid according to the means of the family. The child will stand in a special relationship to the woman who attends his mother at his birth. He pays her visits and she participates in all the festivals and celebrations of his life. He gives her gifts, especially when he is married, and he mourns at her funeral. She calls the children she delivers her ‘babies’ and she in turn is known to all the community as ‘granny,’ di Bobeh.” (Mark Zborowski and Elitzabeth Herzog, Life is With People: The Jewish Little Town of Eastern Europe, International Universities Press, 1952)
In June of 1990, I joined the Cleveland Jewish Genealogy Society. The time seemed right to pursue a childhood dream: to investigate stories my mother had told me about her mother, Chana Fleischmann Reiter, 1851-1939. Were they exaggerations or facts?
My mother, Lena Reiter Blitzer, talked about her mother, Chana, with an air of pride that seemed to say, “you can’t know what my family was then and how many people came to pay their respect when she arrived in New York in 1913.” And mama would tell me that her mother was a graduated midwife who, at the age of 65, when she came to the US, traveled to Columbus, Ohio, and took an examination to be re-certified to practice midwifery. Lena did not mention where the test took place or the exact year; she just added that Chana practiced about 10 more years.
Pictures of my grandmother delivering babies, baking at holiday time, and sending my mother on the trolley to deliver baskets of pastries to clients were rich images to feed my imagination. The idea of a professional woman fascinated me, too, as I was beginning to think about my future. The thought of a girl, especially a Jewish one, in the 1800s having the opportunity to be educated (Chana had graduated from a gymnasium), build a career, contribute to and hold a responsible position in the community, and of course, provide additional income for her family, whetted my appetite to know more about this woman I had never met, for Chana had died in Cincinnati, age 89, when I was about 7.