Purdue University Graduate School

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Conjure, Care, Calls, and Cauls: Histories of Black Folk Health Beliefs in Black Women's Literature

posted on 2024-06-21, 00:34 authored by Kaylah Marielle MorganKaylah Marielle Morgan

Conjure, Care, Calls, and Cauls centers the histories of Black and southern conjuring midwives in life, lore, and literature. I argue that these conjuring midwives are practitioners of wholistic care who employ conjure work as a method to access wholeness. This avenue to access Black wholeness was intentionally disrupted by 20th century physicians across the United States and the South. These physicians espoused disabling racist rhetoric to attack Black midwives’ bodies and beliefs as dangerous, casting them as unreliable and unsafe caregivers. Widely circulated in US medical journals, physicians articulated a national and regional “midwife problem” that led to the overwhelming removal of Black midwives from US medical care. This successful displacement of Black midwives by Western medicine and its physicians created and perpetuated what I name the crazy conjure lady trope, the disabling stereotype that considers the Black folk health practitioner or believer as crazy, insane, or otherwise unwell in Black women’s literature and lives. Using Black feminist literary criticism and a Black feminist disability framework, I consider Toni Cade Bambara’s The Salt Eaters (1981), Gloria Naylor’s Mama Day (1988), and Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017) alongside Black midwives’ ethnographies and autobiographies to center and consider the Black southern conjuring midwife in Black women’s literature and US history.


Degree Type

  • Doctor of Philosophy


  • American Studies

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Jennifer Freeman Marshall

Additional Committee Member 2

Marlo David

Additional Committee Member 3

Rayvon Fouché

Additional Committee Member 4

La Marr Jurelle Bruce