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South Carolina nurse midwife, made famous by LIFE Magazine, lives on through scholarship

By Allyson Bird
Office of Development and Alumni Affairs

Nurse Juliette Satterwhite remembers riding with her aunt, Maude Callen, in Callen’s unmistakable big white Chevy on the way to deliver a baby in rural Pineville.

Satterwhite, now senior staff nurse at Claflin University in Orangeburg, was only 8 years old. By then her aunt had taught her how to check her uncle’s pulse and administer a heart pill when he needed it.

Maude Callen, known as the “Angel in Twilight,” was famous in Pineville for providing tireless medical care to a desperately poor community. Satterwhite wanted to understand just what her aunt did on those long visits to homes out in the community.

 “When we started out, the sun was shining,” Satterwhite remembered. “When we went back, I had to sleep in the back of the car. It was the end of a long day.” 

Maude Callen

Another time, one Sunday after dinner at Aunt Maude’s home, a man drove up to the gate and yelled, “Nurse! Nurse!” Callen ran out to find the man’s wife in labor inside their truck and ordered her niece to go fetch some newspapers.

“As a little girl, I thought, newspapers? What are you going to do with newspapers? This lady is about to have a baby!” Satterwhite said. “Then I thought I saw the baby’s head coming, and my aunt told me to give her the papers. I felt like I had something to do with delivering the baby, because I brought the newspapers.”

Satterwhite went on to spend every summer with her aunt, working alongside her at the Maude Callen Clinic in Pineville. “I can always remember her telling me I was going to be a good nurse,” Satterwhite said.

Callen was born in 1898 in Florida. Orphaned as a young girl with 12 sisters, she went to live with her uncle, who numbered among the country’s earliest black medical doctors. She learned techniques from him and studied at Florida A&M University and the Georgia Infirmary in Savannah. She moved to Pineville in the early 1920s as a medical missionary and remained the catch-all health-care provider for residents there for the next 50 years.

Her work was captured in a 1951 photo essay in LIFE Magazine, which showed, in stark black and white images, Callen’s lifesaving heroism and dedication. Readers donated enough money to open the clinic in her name. In 1989 the Medical University of South Carolina awarded Callen an honorary degree and established a scholarship at the College of Nursing in her name.

Mary Beth Byrd, a student in MUSC’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program, earned the Maude E. Callen Scholarship this year. She works at Conway Medical Center in the surgical unit with plans to become a family nurse practitioner. 

Byrd, who pursued nursing as a second career, tries to take on minimal student loans each semester but faced a challenge with the number of books that her most recent coursework required. The Maude E. Callen Scholarship helped offset that financial burden.

“I had heard of Maude Callen but didn’t know her complete story,” Byrd said. “I realized she was a midwife. One of my first thoughts out of school was to go into midwifery, so it was pretty incredible to read about her.” 

Juliette Satterwhite

Before nursing school, Byrd earned a degree in economics and worked as a bank manager. “What I liked about banking was talking to people and learning about people, but I did not like dealing with people’s money,” she said. “It’s interesting that I moved from people’s money to people’s health. You’d think that would be just as stressful, but something about it is different. It’s amazing to me how deep a relationship can get in the 12 hours you work as a nurse for a patient. That’s the part of being a nurse practitioner that’s really exciting to me.”

Satterwhite said the scholarship honors the work ethic and compassion of her late aunt, who always cautioned against complaining and suggested taking action instead. Maude Callen often quoted a Sam Walter Foss poem: “Let me live in a house by the side of the road/And be a friend to man.”

Satterwhite said her aunt also advocated for health-care education. “The scholarship can help carry on her legacy,” she said, “and teach health professionals who make this world a better place."