Aunt Hon

Isabella "Aunt Hon" McNair
A Daughter of Archibald and Nora

May 29, 1975

Long-time Ladies Aid President Recalls Day of "Old Doctors"
Her sisters call her "Hon". Her nieces and nephews call her "Aunt Hon", and everybody else calls her Isabella.

She is Isabelle Donnell of Coffee Springs and she celebrated her 91st birthday this month. For 64 years she has been the president of the Ladies Aid Society of the Pleasant Valley Baptist Church.

She lives now in her family home at the edge of downtown Coffee Springs with her sister, Ila Matthews. She has, she says, been active in the Ladies Aid and "everything else that's here in Coffee Springs" for as long as she can remember.

One of the most interesting parts of her life began when at age 18 she started to work for Dr. Henry Clayton Riley, Coffee Springs doctor. "He trained me and used me a nurse and midwife, " she said.

Isabella was honored on Mother's Day at the Pleasant Valley Church when the members gathered for their traditional homecoming and Ladies Aid Day. Isabella made the annual address. She explained that Mother's Day is "the day that the Pleasant Valley Church members set aside to give thank to God for taking care of us through the year. On that day we meet to thank God and to have fellowship one with another."

And she also explained that the work of the Ladies Aid throughout the years has been to "care for the sick and those in distress and to bury the dead".

The Ladies Aid was organized in a church in Troy, Isabella said, and its work spread rapidly all over this are. "There were so many poor people and in time sickness and trouble and death, they had to have some help. And this is what we did and still do - help them when they need it."

Isabella was Pleasant Valley's first president of the Ladies Aid and in 1924 she was elected as the Grand Treasurer of the organization.

But the part of her life that she likes the most to talk about are the years she spent as a nurse with the "old doctors" of the country. "When all the old doctors quit, I quit too", she said. She worked for Dr. Riley, Dr. Carley McEachern, Dr. J. W. Beasley, Dr. C.P. Gay and Dr. Millard F. Fleming.

And she remembers them: "Dr. Beasley. He always me to help him, 'specially when he went out to deliver a baby. He was the last doctor I worked for. When he quit, I quit nursing and went to being a mid-wife. Dr. Gay, he was good ... a good man and a good doctor both. Dr McEachern - I nursed his daughter when she had a baby and I thought lots of all of them.

"I'd go when they'd send for me or when they'd come get me. I helped them in all sorts of sickness. I never worked in a hospital, but I've delivered lots of babies at home and I've nursed all of things - typhoid fever, slow fever, child birth and all. That slow fever, it was terrible. It was the kind of lingering ... lingering ..."

But the new babies were favorites. "I love babies. Them little things is so sweet and sweetest of all when the first wake up in the early morning."

She recalled that the babies she remembers the best art those who were the sickest. "I remember one - we thought we'd lose him for sure. the doctor said he was going to die. It was his lungs. they just weren't working right. But I worked and worked with the little thing and he lived just fine and grew up to be a big fellow - wore a number 13 shoe when he was full grown."

And she remembers the twins, "I never did nurse many twins, but the few I had, I sure do remember. I'd always put one on one side of my be and one on the other. Then when it was time, I'd dry one and feed him, then I'd dry the other one and feed him. then we'd all go back to sleep."

She explained. "I always put my babies on a schedule and kept them on it. Then if anything the matter I'd know about it."

Isabella has no idea how many babies she has delivered. She had a book with all their names in it, but a child staying with her several years ago tore it up. " I just don't know how many I've brought, but there was lots of them", she said.

But she does remember that in the last years she was nursing, she made $10 a week when she stayed with new mothers and their babies. Her midwife fee, she recalls, was $5. "My mama (Nora McNair) always charged $3. I charged $5 and most folks were good to pay."

She does remember on man coming to get her for his wife. "I told him to pay me for that other one and I'd go with him for this one. But he didn't. So I didn't go either. That's what the doctors told me to do. So I did it. But just about everybody paid me."

Isabella has strong ideas on mothers and babies. She thinks that mothers today get along just as well "getting up and about" rather than staying in bed for a week or two. But she does not like it that many mothers today don't nurse their babies. "It's better for the little babies to have their mother's milk. It's better for the mothers and the babies. It makes families closer. An I believe it makes people more human. Too much cow milk too early makes people act like cows."

(Note by Lavinia Helms: I am certain that Isabella attended my mother as a midwife when my brother was born August 19, 1939. She also attended me as an assistant to Dr. Paul of Geneva when my first child was born March 6, 1948. I will never forget how happy I was to see Isabella when she entered my home and drew me into her arms and comforted me.)