Green Lake’s Very Own Pioneer Midwife

March 26, 2015 8:32am


Alice and her daughters, Courtesy of the author

Alice and her daughters, Courtesy of the Susan Fleming

Green Lake’s history is full of inspiring men and women who, at the turn-of-the-century, sought a fresh start and better life in our neighborhood. One such fascinating woman is Alice Ada Wood Ellis (1868-1936), the subject of the book: Seattle Pioneer Midwife: Alice Ada Wood Ellis Midwife Nurse & Mother to All.

HER great-granddaughter, Susan Fleming, a registered nurse who for more than 30 years has worked with moms and babies, tells Alice’s story.

I read this captivating book in record time and was thrilled to chat with the author:

SG: Congratulations Susan, can you tell me a little about your book? 

Susan: In 1900 my great-grandmother, Alice Ada Wood Ellis, had one year of nurses’ training, no license and called herself a nurse. She was a single mother with two small children Myrtle 2 ½ years of age and Marie a 6-month-old baby.  She traveled to Seattle on a locomotive steam train. She placed two beds in her front parlor and ran a birthing service, for a fee, in her own home in Green Lake. She fulfilled her calling as a pioneer midwife and this is her story.

SG: Her story is full of Seattle’s rich history – including the Alaska Yukon Pacific Exposition, women’s suffrage , bubonic plague- as well as many compelling characters, including doctors and the women/children Alice cared for.  How much of your book was fact and how much was fiction?

Susan: Nearly every story was based on true stories mostly from Alice’s time or my time as a labor and delivery nurse. However, the names (outside the family) were made up. Definitely more fact than fiction, however, the intricate details of the stories I created.

SG: How and when did you first learn about the story of your great-grandmother?  Was it always part of your family’s history?

Susan: Ever since I can remember. My father and his mother (my grandmother Marie, Alice’s youngest daughter), told me most of these exhilarating stories. In 1967 I was 10 years old and I traveled to Seattle with my grandmother. I spent the whole summer with her and my dad’s cousin Iris Ramey. They loved to talk about Alice. In the early 1980’s I was in nursing school and my grandmother lived very close to my school and I would drive over there and I asked my grandmother to tell me those stories again! She was happy to do this.  In addition, my cousins and Aunts gave me confirmation to many of the stories, which was extremely valuable to writing this piece.

SG: When did you first formulate the idea of writing her story?

Susan: Ever since I was 10 years old. At least it feels that way. I was so impressed I kept writing them in my mind. However, most of the writing started in 2008, when I started my PhD program, all the way up to 2014.

midwife greenlake photosmall

Alice and others. Courtesy of the Susan Fleming

Were there any surprises or discoveries along the way?

Susan: Many! All of the newspaper articles I retrieved opened my eyes to new discoveries.  And one of the most remarkable stories was one my Grandmother Marie had told me about her mother, Alice, being called to help take care of a few men in downtown Seattle with bubonic plague and that one of the men died that she cared for. It was a very secretive undertaking.  I was very young and in Nursing school; and I brashly replied, “Grandma, bubonic plague was not in Seattle, it was a medieval disease.”  My poor grandmother just shook her head. And lo and behold, I found stories of the bubonic in Seattle in 1909 right before the Seattle’s World Fair and from what I read, it was very secretive, so not to scare off future visitors.

My grandmother Marie and her sister Myrtle attended the old Green Lake School from about 1903. They lived very close to the school and the two original homes they lived in are still in Green Lake, but are remodeled of course.

You seem to have followed in your great-grandmother’s footsteps!  Did she inspire you to become a perinatal (childbirth) clinical nurse specialist?

Susan: Yes I did. You bet, we all have an impetus that led us to where we are today. Mine was my grandmother’s stories. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a nurse; moreover, a mother & baby nurse.

I just moved over to the Seattle area this year and I will be teaching nursing at Seattle University this spring and summer. They have a fabulous nurse-midwife graduate program. In addition, I will be presenting my research on birthing at the American College of Nurse-Midwifes Annual Meeting in the Washington, D.C. area this summer and they had a call for historic pictures of midwifes, I answered the call. They were thrilled to have them.

Do you have any other books in your future?

Susan: I already started a prequel, which is called: Seattle Pioneer Midwife Alice Ada Wood Midwife Apprentice: The Early Years. I believe Alice learned her midwifery skills from her mother Clara. Clara was known for her home remedies and caring for the sick.

Where can we find your book?

Susan: Several Seattle bookstores, including: University Book Store, Elliott Bay Book Company, Third Place Books and others.

Thank you Susan!

For more information about Susan’s book, go to www.seattlepioneermidwife.com