Women’s History Month: Orleana Puckett

It’s Women’s History Month so we’re adding to last year’s series on women who have made an impact on medicine. Up next is Orleana Puckett.

Puckett was born in 1837 and married her husband at 16. They farmed at the base of the Groundhog Mountain. She gave birth for the first time in 1862, but her son died a few months later of diphtheria. She gave birth 23 more times throughout her marriage, yet none of her children lived through infancy. Many were stillborn. Today, it’s thought that Puckett had a blood protein incompatibility, which caused her miscarriages or infant deaths.

Despite her own personal heartbreak, she helped other local women with childbirth, helping to deliver more than 1000 babies. She charged between $1-6 for delivery, but never turned away a mother because of an inability to pay. In many instances, she accepted trades or bartered for her services. Although she wasn’t formally trained as a nurse or a midwife, none of the 1000 mothers or babies that she helped delivery died in childbirth.

Puckett was known for her kindness and witty, cheerful personality, despite her own personal heartbreak. If someone was hungry, she would share what she had with them. She often traveled up to 20 miles to deliver babies.

When construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began, Puckett moved out of the two story home her husband built and into a tiny cabin nearby. There, she delivered her last baby before she died a couple weeks later. The cabin was preserved by the National Park Service. If you’re ever on assignment in Virginia, consider a trip to Groundhog Mountain and the Blue Ridge Parkway to visit the Puckett Cabin. It’s located at milepost 189.1 in southern Virginia.

Puckett died in 1939. Her headstone is next to her husband’s and nearby are many of her infant children.