I’ve conducted many oral histories for the library archive over the years. They are all available in print at the library and on our website if you are interested in reading them. A quick survey of the transcripts reveals that most of the people I have interviewed were born at home, not in a hospital. When I interviewed Bill Olsen in his home, he said, “I was born right here in this house in this bedroom….”
It’s hard for me to imagine living my whole life in the house where I was born. I have lived in 10 different places, but it was common for farm families. When labor began, a relative, friend or the doctor was called to the home. Hospital births did not become the norm until the 1940s.
Doctors kept a record from 1911 to 1943 of the births in Edwards County in a ledger which is still located at City Hall. Several years ago, we transcribed it, and it is available online in the Genealogy and Local History section or our website under Birth Records. There you will see the names of the babies, their parents and the date. It also records the doctors’ names: Dargatz, Meckfessel, Pearson, DeTar, Stolenberg, Mosher and several others.
When conducting Fern Myers McBride’s interview, she informed me that she was born in 1915 in my farmhouse located southeast of Kinsley, but she did not tell me why. It was not the home of her parents, Otto and Pearl Myers. I decided to investigate and began by looking at my land abstract which records James and Mae Shera Zimmit as the owners at that time. (Ten years later it would be purchased by the Schaller family who lived there until 1989 when Jerry and I bought it.)
Digging in library resources, I discovered that Fern’s mother was Pearl Shera Myers. Mae and Pearl were sister and probably Pearl had gone there for the birth. Baby Fern’s birth is not recorded in the above mentioned records, so perhaps there was no doctor in attendance. I did see that Fern’s cousin, Lelia Opal, was born to the Zimmits four years earlier with Dr. Mosher attending. It is fun to know this history about my 113-year-old farmhouse.
The whole reason I got started on this topic of babies was because I had asked Ed Carlson, who knows nearly everything about Kinsley’s history, for suggestions for articles. Ed retired this year and has been purging his files – no small task. His father Leonard served as chief of police or sheriff for many years. Ed sent me a file about a birth story that his father was involved with.
It was July 7, 1962. Gladys and Jack Nelson of Vallejo, California were onboard the train traveling to Chicago for an Elks convention. Near Syracuse, Kansas, the train hit a weed sprayer injuring the fireman and engineer and damaging the train. After sitting for 3 ½ hours in over 100 degree temperatures, the unairconditioned train finally got underway again.
Somewhere between Dodge City and Kinsley, Mrs. Nelson realized that the baby she was carrying was ready to be born prematurely. The train made an unscheduled midnight stop by the Kansas Power and Light plant, and the good people of Kinsley sprang into action. Police Chief Carlson responded to the train’s distress whistle and cleared the way for the stretcher to move Mrs. Nelson by flashlight to the ambulance and on to the Edwards County (Lutheran) Hospital (the Fifth Street Apartments).
Dr. Dale Atwood was summoned and he called in Dr. McKim to assist if needed in the premature delivery. He also had a compatible blood donor and technician standing by. All went well, and a healthy baby boy was born breech at 2:30 a.m.
Now Mr. Nelson had been through this before. He went, as was California custom, to the desk to make a deposit on the bill. He was told that it would not be necessary at that time (and it was never brought up afterwards).
Meanwhile, Chief Carlson left to arrange for Mr. Nelson’s hotel room, took the luggage there, and then went home and made two big roast beef sandwiches which he delivered to the father in the waiting room.
Mrs. Nelson would later reveal that the chosen name for the baby had been Richard Kenneth, but due to the place and people where he was born, they changed their minds, and he was named Richard Kinsley Nelson.
The Kinsley Mercury reported that “no fellow bearing the name of Kinsley could go to California in the without (i.e., naked), and several ladies of Kinsley decided to dress Kinsley for his trip home.” A tea was held in the emergency room at the hospital and Mrs. Nelson was presented with a layette and clothing for her son.
Many other kindnesses and comforts were provided to the Nelsons during the several days they were in Kinsley before flying back to California. They never forgot the hospitality to strangers that they were shown. When Richard Kinsley was ten years old, they returned to his birthplace and visit again the people who had been so kind.
We can be proud of the treatment Kinsley provided these strangers in the past, and I’m certain that kind of generosity is still alive and well here today.