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. In addition, 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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22 thoughts on “Mary Francis Webb”

  1. Is Mary Francis Webb ‘s son John Francis Webb from Stephenville Crossing NL ?
    Please let me know
    Thank you!
    Bernice Webb from Calgary AB

  2. Hi Dorothy, Mary Webb was my great grandmother. My grandmother was her daughter Susan. My dads name is Kevin Webb , Sylvia in the comment above is my aunt (my dads sister). When I was younger I was greatful to hear the stories about my great grandmother. This piece written was beautifully done and it makes me feel very close to my dad , grandmother and great grandmother. Thank you very much for sharing.

    1. Hi Crystal, thanks and I’m glad you like this. As I remember, it was you commenting on a photo I’d posted of Mrs. Webb that caused me to write more about her. So thanks for that too.

    2. Hello,
      I would love to know where I can get a copy of The Healer for my husband. Mary Webb was his great grandmother, He actually met her as a young child before she passed.
      Please post information where I may if pops or find a copy for him.
      Thanks so very kindly.
      B Martin

      1. Hi B – with luck, Crystal will know where you can find a copy. I googled it and can’t find it for sale. It’s by David Robertson and Donovan Yacluk, published by Highwater Press, part of Portage and Main Press. But I couldn’t find it, or any of the series it’s part of, on their site. The series is Tales from Shadow River.

    3. Kwe’ to all of Mary Webb descendants. When I was organizing the Mi’kmaq people on the west coast in the early 1970 I stayed with Ms Webb on a couple of occasions. Her memory was quite sharp and she told me about growing up in the Codroy Mi’kmaq community. She told me her father was the leader of the Mi’kmaq group there. She said he went by the missionary name of George. She told me that he and some of the other Mi’kmaq men would attend the St Anne’s traditional Mi’maq gathering at the traditional annual meeting of the Mi’kmaq saqamaw on St Anne’s Day, every July 26. I already knew this to be true as the elders in Conne River had schooled me on this bit of history. Old Ms. Webb knew quite a lot of Ta’kam kuk Mi’kmaq oral history.

      Later, I found that the old colonial gov. of NF had actually set up a reserve for the Mi’kmaq community in Codroy. The old colonial gov. also set up reserves in Gamboa, Halls Bay (near springdale) in Conne River and at Indian point near Peter view. Personally, I belive many of the Mi’kmaq families who lived in these areas had intermarried with Pi’taw people and we’re using Pi’taw family territory for hunting, fishing and trapping.

      Dorothy, if you are still on the go can you contact me, at, or at 709 538 7788

    4. Hi Crystal, came across this website and read the story about our grandmother Mary Webb. I met Mary about 1974, when I was organizing the first Indigenous political organization in NL. Mary had so much information about the old days. She told me about how her father and grandfather with other older Mi’kmaq from the Codroy Mi’kmaq settlment canoed back to Cape Breton each summer for St. Anne’s Day at the reserve in Cape Breton where the missionaries would get the Mi’kmaq to gather for St. Anne’s day, every July 26. Mary could speak English, French and Mi’kmaq and she was very fluent in Mi’kmaq. Mary was someone who could have passed on (and I hope there were people in Flat Bay who did get Mary to do that) a lot of traditional knowledge about NF Mi’kmaq history, language, medicine and tradtions. I will always count myself lucky to have met her and listened to her stories of how Mi’kmaq people lived and survived in the NF in the past. I think of her often, when I come across an issue I would like to have talked with an elder about. I wish I had spent more time with her. When I met her, she was phyisically active and had a sharp mind and memory. If you did not get a chance to meet her and spend time with her, I hope my recollections bring you closer to her.
      Jerry Wetzel, Conne River, NL (

  3. Mary frances webb was my great great great grandmother ..on my grandfather’s side his mother was Angelina webb her daughter ..thanks for the info I have the family tree..Angelina married Jack samms from black duck siding in nl..

  4. Thank you for sharing I have learned much about my family from Calvin White .My Grandmother was Jane (Francis ) Perrier Mary Webb was her sister. To see history written about Mary Webb helps keep Part of them alive in our hearts and for the future generations to come .

  5. I like to thank you for sharing your stories. I really enjoy each one. Now I know where our people get there strength.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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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