Maude E. Callen was born in Quincy, Florida. She was one of thirteen sisters. She was orphaned by the age of six and then was raised in the home of her uncle, Dr. William J. Gunn, a physician, in Tallahassee, Florida. She graduated from Florida A & M University in 1922 and then completed her nursing course at Tuskegee Institute in Alabama.
Callen then moved to Pineville, South Carolina in 1923, where she set up practice. She was one of only nine nurse-midwives, at the time, in the area. Callen operated a community clinic out of her home, miles from any hospital. She provided in-home services to “an area of some 400 square miles veined with muddy roads”, serving as ‘doctor, dietician, psychologist, bail-goer, and friend’ to thousands of desperately poor patients.
It is estimated she delivered between six hundred and eight hundred babies in her years of practice. In addition to providing medical services, Callen also taught women from the community to be midwives. In December 1951, Life magazine published a twelve-page photographic essay of Callen’s work, by the celebrated photojournalist, W. Eugene Smith. Smith spent weeks with Callen at her clinic and on her rounds. The photos were visually arresting, both as a haunting record of the time but also as an ongoing testament to the power of nursing and midwifery to effect social change.
On publication of the photo essay, readers donated more than $20,000 to support Callen’s work in Pineville. As a result, the Maude E. Callen Clinic opened in 1953, which she ran until her retirement from public health duties in 1971. Callen worked as a nurse and midwife in Berkeley County for over 60 years. She was inducted into the South Carolina Hall of Fame, was honored as the outstanding Older South Carolinian by the State Commission on Aging, and was presented the Order of the Palmetto by then-Governor Richard W. Riley. Callen was also featured in “On the Road with Charles Kuralt” in 1983, and a year later she received the Alexis De Tocqueville Society Award for her 60 years of service to Berkeley County.
Even after retirement, Callen continued to serve the community through her volunteer work such as volunteer manager of the Senior Citizens Nutrition Council. She dedicated her life to helping people, young and old. The newly built Callen-Lacey Children’s Shelter bears her name along with the name of a well-known physician. Maude E. Callen died on January 23, 1990.
Reflections of Nursing