Williston, Emiline and Ellen

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                            EMILINE WILLISTON AND ELLEN WILLISTON 
                                       By Lorraine Glazier

If you were born before 1955 in a rural community, there is a good chance a midwife ushered you into the world.

The midwives of this era were a group of gutsy, courageous, generous-spirited women who served their community without complaint and certainly without any monetary gain.

Today, by the time a woman goes into labour, a physician will have consulted with her on a monthly basis. When the time comes for delivery, she steps into a comfortable car and is driven to the front door of a modern hospital.

This is in sharp contrast to the days of the early midwives, who delivered children at home – often without any medical assistance. When she was called to the home of a mother in labour, a midwife was usually on her own. It had to be a terrifying experience to watch a mother deliver a stillborn child, or, worse, watch as both mother and child slip away. The midwife was the only immediate support for the mother and the family.

Without water and electricity in the home, many little babies came in to the world under the light of an oil lamp. Delivering the child was only part of the midwife’s job. Often she stayed at the home to make the mother and baby comfortable and to prepare a hot meal for the mother. Then the midwife would often make arduous treks to the home over the following days to assure the mother and baby were doing well.

The midwife was also relied upon to nurse a neighbour through an illness or prepare a deceased member of her community for the wake.

                              Miramichi Bay difficult to access

The Miramichi Bay area was one of many rural communities in the province that was difficult to access, especially during the winter. The great winds that blew mercilessly filled the roads with snow drifts that challenged the work horses that pulled the sleighs. The midwives relied on horse pulled sleighs or dog sleds for travel.

Such a mode of travel may sound like a very romantic idea to us today, but it could be a perilous journey if a person was ill and needed a medical treatment or was waiting for the midwife to arrive.

Cut off from neighbouring towns and villages, people leaned on each other in times of crisis.

In the 1930s and 40s, the Miramichi Bay area had telephone service that went as far Escuminac, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that the Bay area had electricity.

                          Mrs. Oz, Mrs. Seymour typical midwives of era

Ellen Oralo Williston, of Escuminac, and Emiline Williston, of Bay du Vin, were two midwives who were called upon in a crisis. Emiline and her husband, Seymour, lived in a yellow house on the east side of the Bay du Vin River just at the end of the bridge. They raised 12 children without running water or electricity. The house is still there and is now a summer residence.

Those who remember Emiline referred to her as Mrs. Seymour and say that she delivered many of the babies in Bay du Vin. In later years, Emiline started keeping records of the children she delivered in accordance with government regulations.

Ellen Oralo Williston was born in Escuminac on August 29, 1883. She was the daughter of Elizabeth and John Stewart. She married Osborn Williston and lived in a modest two-storey wood-framed home facing the bay. The landscape has changed over the years. The house is still there but the hay fields in front of the home are gone now, washed away by storms and high tides.

Ellen was known as Mrs. Oz by the community and over the years, she and her husband raised nine children of their own and four of their grandchildren.

                             No safety net 60 years ago

When one of their daughters was widowed with six young children, the family closed ranks around the young widow and took in the children while the widowed mother worked at whatever job she could find to help support the family. The social safety net did not exist 60 years ago and families had to look after each other.

Ellen and Osborne at the age of 59 and 69 raised a second family. The four grandchildren they took into their home ranged in age from 16 months to 11 years. It was with this same sense of duty and unselfish generosity that Ellen served her community as a midwife.

Ellen’s daughter, Thelma, remembers how her mother would slowly climb the stairs on her way to bed at night after a day of cooking and cleaning – and then be summoned in the middle of the night to deliver a terrified mother’s infant.

Thelma said, “I never heard mother complain about the workload or the children. She loved us all and never refused to help a neighbour in trouble.” At a time when real heroes are in short supply, the legacy of these hard-working heritage women is an inspiration. Their legacy is a life that gives real meaning to the commandment, “Love thy neighbour.”

Source: Miramichi Leader - December 8, 2006

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