Mary Francis Webb

Mrs. Mary Webb was a midwife, one of the best known and most respected on Newfoundland’s west coast. She was also a healer using traditional Mi’kmaq medicines. She was a craftswoman. She farmed, raised animals, fished, hunted, trapped, and cut wood. She raised children and grandchildren.

midwife mary webb obit
Page 31, newspaper unknown. Click to enlarge.

Her first language was Mi’kmaq. In school, she learned English. From her Codroy Valley neighbours, she learned Scots Gaelic. As an adult living in Bay St. George, she learned French. These were the languages of early 20th century west coast Newfoundland. Her fluency meant she could speak with clients in their own language.

A “lay midwife”, Mary Webb had no formal training or accreditation. She started as an assistant and learned by experience. There were other midwives in Bay St. George: Susan Benoit and Emily Ann Paul in Flat Bay; Minnie Blanchard, Philomena Ryan and Philomena Sheppard in St. George’s; Rose Curnew in Stephenville Crossing. Formally trained midwives worked for the Grenfell Mission (see my Tempting Providence). Mrs. Webb was noteworthy for the great distances she travelled in her work. In all seasons at all hours, she went as far south as the Codroy Valley and north to Corner Brook and the Bay of Islands.

Midwife or doctor: social change

Until the mid-20th century, women in outport Newfoundland had their babies at home. The midwife arrived shortly before a woman’s due date and she or her assistant stayed for several days after the baby’s birth. A doctor was called if necessary. Emergencies happen, of course, so the midwife might be called early and she had to deal with complications if a doctor could not get there in time.

In the 1950s and ’60s, cottage hospitals, clinics and doctors’ offices opened in rural areas. More vehicles and new roads made travel to larger centres easier. Hospital births became the norm. Health care became professionalized. mary webb in kitchen, from her grandson FrankInformally-taught midwives and healers were longer central to it. Mrs. Webb was among the last generation of lay midwives in Bay St. George.

She passed on her knowledge of traditional medicines to those interested in learning. And she embodied being Mi’kmaw. Her fluency with the language and traditional skills, her pride in her heritage, her self-respect. All these things were noted by those who knew her. For those who were part of the Mi’kmaq cultural and political revitalization in the 1970s, Mrs. Webb was a reminder of who they were and what they were fighting for.

She was born in 1881 in the Codroy Valley, daughter of Ben François and Mary Young. In 1903 she married John Webb of Flat Bay in Bay St. George. He died about 1930. She remained in Flat Bay, with Norman Young as her life companion. She died June 3, 1978.

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9 thoughts on “Mary Francis Webb”

  1. Hi. Mary Webb was my great grandmother.she was my mom s grandmother we all called her grammy.she raised my mom from 7 yrs old when her mom died.she lived with us many months.she was with us the winter before she passed.she lived to see 4 generations.a remarkable woman.

  2. Thank-you for posting this story. My great grandmother was one of the other midwives in the story, Philomena Sheppard. I would so love to know more about these amazing women.

    1. Hi De-Ann, yes, all these women, including your great-grandmother were amazing. I’ll look through my files and see what I have about her. I’d like to know more about them as well. Thanks for writing.

  3. very remarkable woman my grandmother very proud of my hertiage my mom would be very proud to see this about her mom my heart goes out to the most important people in my live i miss them so much in my heart forever

    1. Hi Sylvia, thank you. Yes, your grandmother was indeed remarkable in strength and accomplishments. She will not be forgotten. I’m glad you wrote, it’s nice to hear from her family and those who knew her well.

    2. She was my great aunt. Her sister was Jane Mcissacc, Married to Francis Perrier. They were my grandparents. My parents were Richard and Marguerite Perrier. So, I guess that makes us relatives!

    3. my name is Sylvia Francis Webb(Ough) My grandmother is Mary Francis Webb midwife and healer using traditional Mi’kmaq medicines also hunter trapper craftswoman. am very proud and honoured to be her grandchild […] Thank you very much and have a nice day and lots of Happiness proud and honoured to be native

      1. Thanks, Sylvia, I put the names you gave me in my database. I didn’t have them so it’s a great help in expanding Mrs. Webb’s descendants.

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