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Women's History from the
Helaine Victoria Press Collection

Phyllis Carter

photo of Carter siting on her porch with her quilts


Phyllis Carter (1880-1980), midwife, storyteller, sage, quilter, and oral historian from Tift County, Georgia, was known as "a woman who never forgot." Aunt Phyllis had clear recollection of the post-reconstruction period of her childhood, when fear of lynch-mobs and desperate poverty drove her family to flee their home late one night. One favorite tale concerns how a small poisonous snake was left inside the leaves of a large cabbage. Because Black cooks working for oppressive white families were not allowed to taste from the pots or cut up vegetables, the snake was undetected. "I remember once the colored woman cooked the cabbage whole, kilt the whole family out. I been here a long time, Sister." Carter bore 10 children and outlived four husbands, "two good ones and two devils." Deeply religious and unembittered, she grew up to a wide friendship with and encyclopedic knowledge of her community, both blacks and whites. They said of her: "She was one of the very best midwives," and "She can tell you anything you want to know and never forgets a name or face." She went to school three days, and acquired her vast lifetime knowledge without literacy. She charged very little for her midwifery and quilting, believing that all her skills were divine gifts, not meant for personal gain.

© 1982 Helaine Victoria Press, Inc. A nonprofit educational organization.
Photo (at age 99) courtesy of the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Photograph and fieldwork by Beverly l. Robinson. Information and quotations are from her interviews (1977-79) and subsequent report on the project.

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