What’s in a Name? Documenting Duke Health’s Involvement in Maternal Health in Durham

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  • In United States healthcare, maternal mortality is in crisis, with pregnant people of color facing the highest rates of pregnancy-related death. As archivists at the Duke University Medical Center Archives (DUMCA), we strive to document the day-to-day activities of Duke Health and its affiliated schools, but we had limited resources on contemporary maternal health and the services offered by Duke. Then, in 2021, due to a simple spelling error, the DUMCA received the Duke Midwifery Service (DMS) Records. The DMS, established in 1999, under the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine, provided obstetric and gynecologic services to low-risk pregnant individuals and education to first-year residents, medical students, physician assistant students, midwifery students, and nursing students. We quickly made the processing of this collection a priority, which was not a simple task. The collection had to be carefully screened for protected health information (PHI) and handled in a way that optimized access for researchers. While this archival collection provided the Archives with an opportunity to examine further the relationship between maternal health in Durham and the role that Duke has played, they only tell a partial story of maternal health in Durham. In partnership with our collection donor, colleagues at Duke, and local oral historians, we applied and received a grant to fund oral history interviews with 4-6 key community members to document the DMS and its relationship with Duke and the Durham community. Through this project on maternal health, we found a renewed commitment to our careers by the timely donation of the DMS Records and growing collection of oral histories of midwives because we value the importance of capturing, preserving, and making available the stories of underrepresented groups in our collections. This presentation will outline the serendipitous way these materials were transferred to our holdings, the processing of this collection and its unique challenges, the Duke Midwifery oral history project, and future outreach related to the documentation of maternal health.
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