NOTE: This story was submitted by Mary Jo Haywood, the first black female Mayor of Camilla, Ga. and a dedicated listener of “The Tom Joyner Morning Show.”
In Camilla, Georgia on “The Hill” sits the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home. The building was owned by Georgia midwife Beatrice Borders, or “Miss Bea.” Between 1941 and 1971, Ms. Borders delivered over 6,000 African American babies at the home. Prior to the civil rights era, black women of Camilla were not allowed in the larger hospitals. For 30 years, this was the only place black women could give birth in Mitchell County.
Beatrice Borders was born in 1892. She began delivering babies around 1918. She would go house-to-house to deliver babies until she was able to purchase the nursing facility. Patients were drawn to the Williams home from miles around. Mothers would stay at the facility for three days after delivery and were cared for as if they were in a hospital. At one time there could be up to four patients recovering or delivering at the home. If there were any issues with a patient’s birth, a nearby doctor was on call.
Midwives in the early 20th century were licensed by the state. In the state of Georgia, midwives were required to pass a test through the Georgia Health Department. In addition, women who were to give birth by a midwife had to be given a ‘thumbs up’ by a doctor, usually in their seventh month of pregnancy.
The Georgia B. Williams Nursing home charged between $25-$55 for delivery, but no one was turned away because they couldn’t pay. Borders also accepted barter payments, although she was in debt herself with the home. The facility had a birthing room, recovery, office, nursery, laundry room and a side entrance for the mothers. The front of the home was for living quarters. The building only had one bathroom that all the women had to share.
The Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home remained a working facility until its close in 1971, the same year that Borders passed away. Borders was recognized as one of the top entrepreneurs in the city. While many of the items in the facility are still within the building, it is now abandoned, with hopes of being restored by the city of Camilla. The home is listed in the Georgia Register of Historic Places. It is currently awaiting recognition by the National Register for cultural heritage and its placement in women’s history. Jacquelyn Briscoe and Brenda Smiley nominated the facility for designation into the registry.
The Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home Committee Inc. has launched a restoration project to honor Mrs. Beatrice Borders and to save and restore this historic birthing home that she owned and operated. Once restored, the facility will be made into an interactive museum and community resource center. In addition to teaching tours, the center plans to award scholarships to students who are studying midwifery, nursing or child care. The cost of restoration is $300,000. City officials fear that deterioration will occur if the facility is not restored in a timely fashion.
Contributions are to be made payable to GBWNC and mailed to GBWNHC, 23 East Beacon Street, Camilla, GA 31730.
For more information contact Chairperson Mary Jo Haywood at 229.336.5728 or committee member, Jackie Briscoe at 706.817.8512 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Donations of any size are accepted and appreciated.