At its annual meeting on February 28th, the Birmingham Historical Society celebrated its 80th year. James White first shared a report on its financial history and its founders, as well as the current safeguards that protect its financial future. The Society’s stated goals of research, publication, and education often provide new owners with information that can enhance their property with unexpected historical perspective. Slossfield Maternity Center is an example of just that and three speakers highlighted its importance from their unique perspectives.
Slossfield is a complex of concrete buildings at the Finley Avenue exit off I65, built in the 1930’s and surrounded by industrial facilities including ACIPCO, Sloss, US Pipe, coal mines and quarries. One of the buildings, The Slossfield Maternity Center, was constructed in 1939 by WPA labor to train black physicians and nurses and improve prenatal care and delivery in one of the most underserved and poorest areas of Birmingham at that time. Under the leadership of Dr. Thomas Boulware, Jr., Slossfield became the most successful of four demonstration centers built by the U.S. Public Health Service in the late 1930’s.
The first speaker, Sharon Holley, is Director of the new nurse-midwifery program at UAB School of Nursing, and is passionate about the role that midwifery can continue to play in providing safe births and healthy babies. In researching Slossfield via UAB archives, she presented statistics illustrating that Slossfield had become a model of good prenatal and obstetric care reducing the infant and mother mortality rate in that area by up to 92%.
At that time, blacks could only be admitted to hospitals in Birmingham by white physicians. The few black doctors were not able to admit patients to hospitals until 1952 when Holy Family Hospital was built in Ensley. Consequently, most black births prior to that time were at home, assisted by midwives, as the Slossfield Maternity Clinic was reserved for high risk deliveries, or first time mothers. Holley spoke about how we can use Slossfield’s historic example in creating a program for today’s mothers.
Dr. Thomas Boulware, Jr. came to Birmingham from Missouri in 1929 to serve in Norwood Clinic (soon to be known as Carraway Hospital) under Dr. Charles Carraway. He was quite young and immediately became interested in caring for the underserved communities of Birmingham. Dr. Boulware established the first indigent maternity clinic at Hillman Hospital (UAB), and served as medical director of Slossfield Maternity Clinic, training all the doctors and nurses on staff there.
The second speaker, Dr. Boulware’s son, Thomas Boulware, III, told stories of his father’s commitment to his patients, in one instance, traveling back & forth from North Birmingham to Woodlawn to deliver two babies born on the same evening. He told of his father delivering three generations multiple times, and another in which he had delivered eighteen members of the same family. And he highlighted many of the achievements of his father over an esteemed 60-year medical career in which he delivered over 26,000 babies.
The last speaker, John Stamps, is Director of Operations at the Salvation Army. He pointed out that the Salvation Army is actually a Christian outreach church despite being known primarily for their humanitarian efforts. The Salvation Army purchased the abandoned and deteriorating Slossfield in 2018. They have taken on the challenge of restoring it as a core community center, bringing back many of its original services. John Stamps outlined their plans, and with his new understanding of its origins, hopes to re-establish its significance to the community.
Research and history once again come full circle.