Mary Francis Hill Coley

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Mary Francis Hill Coley (August 15, 1900 – March 1966) was an American lay midwife who is best known for being featured in a documentary film used to train midwives.


Coley was born Mary Francis Hill in Baker County, Georgia. She was her parents' youngest child, her twin sister having died at birth, and was raised by relatives after her parents died. She received almost nothing in the way of formal education.[1]

In 1930 she married Ashley Coley, a carpenter. She moved with him to Albany, Georgia, where she began training as a midwife under the tutelage of Onnie Lee Logan. Coley went on to practice across Georgia as a midwife for more than three decades. As an African American, she became an advocate for the health of Georgia's black population and was known for her willingness to work with women regardless of race in a time of segregation.[1] It is estimated that she delivered over 3,000 babies in her career,[1] and she offered additional services to families such as assistance in cooking, cleaning, childminding, laundering, and helping new parents file official forms and birth certificates.[1][2] She was known affectionately by her patients as "Miss Mary".[2]

Coley served as President of the Women's Auxiliary in the Church of the Kingdom of God, and taught Sunday school classes.[2] She died in Albany in March 1966 after a career of over 30 years as a midwife.[1]

All My Babies[edit]

In 1952 documentary filmmaker George C. Stoney was recruited by the Georgia Health Department to produce an instructional film for midwives in training.[3] Upon the recommendation of Hannah D. Mitchell, nurse-midwife consultant on the project, Coley was chosen to be featured in the film.[3] Over a four-month period, Stoney accompanied Coley as she went about her work of visiting women and delivering babies in the Albany area. He filmed her, her patients and their surroundings, and her interactions with patients and medical professionals.[1] Stoney became impressed with the skill, ingenuity, and high standards for cleanliness that Coley brought to her work, as well as the strong influence she had with her patients and their families.[3][4]

The resulting film, All My Babies: A Midwife's Own Story followed Coley through the births of two babies.[5] Its use for the training of midwives expanded from Georgia to other parts of the American South and eventually the rest of the world, via UNESCO and the World Health Organization.[3] The film was critically acclaimed as a documentary. In 1953 it was honored with a special Robert J. Flaherty Award for documentary film.[3][5] In 2002, the Library of Congress selected it for preservation in the National Film Registry, calling it a "landmark".[1][5] A 1999 retrospective of the work of George Stoney described All My Babies as having made Mary Coley "one of the towering figures of the documentary tradition".[4]

In 2007, Stoney produced a second film about Coley, a reunion of 150 people whom Coley had delivered as a midwife.[1]


Coley was featured in the 2005 exhibition "Reclaiming Midwives: Pillars of Community Support" at the Smithsonian's Anacostia Community Museum,[1][6] and in a traveling photograph and film exhibit entitled, "Reclaiming Midwives: Stills from All My Babies", which ran from November 13, 2006 to April 2, 2007.[7] In 2005 she was also featured in exhibitions at the Columbia University School of Nursing and the Mailman School of Public Health.[1] In 2011 she was inducted onto the list of Georgia Women of Achievement.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Coley, Mary Francis Hill". Georgia Women of Achievement. 2011. Retrieved June 14, 2014.
  2. ^ a b c Cannon, Rose B. (August 1, 2006). "Enduring echoes". Georgia Nursing.
  3. ^ a b c d e Ettinger, Laura Elizabeth (2006). Nurse-midwifery: The Birth of a New American Profession. Ohio State University Press. pp. 137–138. ISBN 0814210236.
  4. ^ a b Barnouw, Erik (March 1999). "Honoring George Stoney". Wide Angle. 21 (2): 123–125. doi:10.1353/wan.1999.0014.
  5. ^ a b c Glick, Josh (October 10, 2012). "Glick's Picks: A look back at George Stoney's All My Babies". Docs In Progress Documentary House. Archived from the original on July 1, 2014.
  6. ^ Merritt, Brinase (2013). I Ain't Noways Tired: Grandma Hands. Xlibris Corporation. p. 258. ISBN 1483634531.
  7. ^ Carney Smith, Jessie (2010). Encyclopedia of African American Popular Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 939. ISBN 0313357978.