Mary D. Osborne (1875-1946) 1996 Inductee

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Mary Osborne
ANA Hall of Fame Inductee

Born in Ohio on April 27, 1875, Mary D. Osborne graduated from the Akron City Hospital School of Nursing in 1902. Her early interest in the field of maternity nursing brought her to New York City, where in 1912, she became supervisor of nurses for a voluntary agency concerned with improving conditions for the poor.

Her simultaneous involvement with the American Red Cross of New York provided the impetus for her relocation to Mississippi in 1921 and her acceptance of a position as supervisor of the Division of Maternal and Child Health for the Mississippi State Board of Health. Soon after, Osborne was named supervisor of public health nurses for the same agency.

At that time, midwives delivered approximately 80% of the black babies born in Mississippi. Called "granny" midwives, most of the women were black, had little education, and played central roles in the provision of perinatal care in rural black communities. Critical of the midwives' lack of formal preparation, state officials enacted regulatory mechanisms through which standards were established and maintained. Under the direction of Osborne, a collaborative network of public health nurses and "granny" midwives was begun in which the nurses implemented training programs for the midwives, and the midwives in turn assisted the nurses in the delivery of improved maternal/infant services. In 1922, Osborne authored Manual for Midwives which contained guidelines for the appropriate provision of care, and which continued to be revised as recently as the 1970s.

During the 1930s, more than one hundred public health nurses were employed by the Mississippi Board of Health. In addition to teaching midwives, the nurses reinforced cleanliness, the need to prevent infection, and compliance with state regulations. Through Osborne's model partnership, "granny" midwives gained wider recognition and were empowered to provide health teaching in local areas, help control venereal disease, and disseminate information regarding the importance of pre- and post-natal care. Osborne's strategies have been credited with markedly reducing maternal and infant mortality rates in Mississippi, as well as in other states where her innovative ideas were adopted. In June 1946, Osborne resigned her position and died on July 7 of the same year.

Mary D. Osborne's devotion to the care of mothers and babies, and her profound regard for the needs of poor, predominantly black, rural communities, saved many lives in Mississippi. The healing alliance she created endured for more than fifty years and provided a vital link between the people and access to public health services.