PENSACOLA, Fla. — Her name was Missouria.
But everyone in these parts — Molino, Cantonment, Barth and Jay — knew her as “Bama.”
And it was into Missouria “Bama” Holley’s loving hands that hundreds of baby boys and girls were first delivered into this world.
The daughter of Alabama slaves, Holley was a midwife, and sometimes had to play doctor, to hundreds of families in the more rural parts of Escambia and Santa Rosa counties from the 1920s until her death in 1970.
Holley was celebrated last month with an exhibit at the Molino Mid-County Historical Society Museum in the old Molino school house.
“We didn’t have doctors around here,” said Robert Kennedy of Molino, who was delivered by Holley at his grandparents’ house near Jay 67 years ago. “It was 25 to 30 miles anywhere you wanted to go those days.”
His mother went into labor at his grandparents’ house, and Kennedy’s father went out to bring back Holley, who was already well acquainted with the family.
“She had already delivered five of my brothers and sisters,” he said.
The small exhibit featured the only photograph of Holley that local historians know of — a gauzy hazy scene showing Holley holding a baby, and surrounded by other children, all their faces a blur of history and mystery.
“Her parents were slaves, we figured that out,” said Richard Nicholson, a member of the Molino Mid-Town Historical Society. “Somewhere down the line, she passed a test to be a midwife. She probably delivered most of the babies in these areas — white babies and black babies. It didn’t matter.”
Holley delivered Betty Pippins, 87, of Molino. Her husband, too.
And when she had pain and trouble walking after giving birth to a doctor-assisted delivery, her family members said “Go get Bama.”
Holley examined her and told Pippins she had a blood clot and needed to go to a hospital. Doctors at the hospital examined her and “that’s what it was.”
“She just wasn’t a midwife,” said Barbara Hendrix, a historical society member. “If a person needed a doctor sometimes, they’d get Bama.”
Bama didn’t deliver Hendrix when she was born in 1932, but she did assist the doctor who did.
“He was a quack,” Hendrix said of the long-gone doctor. “My mother said she did more than he did.”
Holley died Feb. 13, 1970, at the age of 92. She lived in Barth, north of Molino, and is buried at the White Lily Baptist Church Cemetery in Barth.
“She meant a lot to this community and other communities nearby,” Nicholson said. “And we wanted to spotlight the midwives in Escambia because there were a lot of black midwives bringing a lot of white babies into the world, so we wanted to honor her and all the midwives.”
Information from: Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com