Maude Callen died nearly 30 years ago, but her legacy as a pioneering caregiver for the poor in Berkeley County is alive and well at Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital.
The road into the hospital campus is named Callen Boulevard in her honor, and a display paying tribute to her work hangs in the lobby of the new hospital.
“There is no one better to represent our new hospital than a medical nurse who changed our community and brought exactly what we want to bring – compassionate care,” said Brenda Myers, administrator of the Moncks Corner Medical Plaza.
Myers led the effort to secure the new display in honor of Callen.
“It’s important to involve her story in our hospital for future generations to understand what an impact one person can have in a community," Myers said. "We should strive to give back like she did.”
Callen began working out of her home as a nurse-midwife in Berkeley County in 1920. At the time, the county was among the poorest in the state, and Callen traveled roughly 400 square miles to care for thousands of needy, mostly minority residents. Historians estimate she delivered between 600-800 babies over more than 60 years while teaching many women to be mid-wives.
In 1951, Life magazine photojournalist W. Eugene Smith spent weeks following Callen, and he published a 12-page photo essay of her work.
The idea to honor Callen on the new Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital campus has been in the works since the earliest day of the planning process. Myers approached Chelsy Proper, director of the Berkeley County Museum, which had a display dedicated to Callen, about the possibility of partnering on a tribute. The museum agreed to loan a portion of its collection to the hospital while keeping some artifacts, such as Callen’s bag and medical equipment, on hand for visitors.
Proper described the arrangement as a win-win because the hospital’s display raises awareness of both Callen’s contributions in the community as well as of the museum’s wealth of information and historical exhibits.
“It was a great idea because, for better or worse, a lot of people are at the hospital at any given time, so it’s getting her name out there,” Proper said. “I hope that by highlighting Callen in the hospital setting that more people will become interested in looking at other aspects of the county’s rich history.”
Gene Williams, a county resident and member of the Moncks Corner Medical Plaza board, was working at a local bank when he met Callen more than 50 years ago. He was part of the team that advocated for honoring her work on the new hospital’s campus.
“Everyone knew her back then, particularly poor African Americans who she provided care for,” Williams said. “She was a public servant like you’ve never seen. She’s a lady who lived in anonymity most of her life and was never given the credit she deserved. She never wanted the credit.”
Patrick Bosse, chief administrative officer of the new Roper St. Francis Berkeley Hospital, said it was important to honor Callen on the new hospital campus.
“The Callen display will serve as a daily reminder of our responsibility to serve the community with the same compassion and expertise as she did,” he said.
Myers described Callen as a hero and an icon. She hopes that visitors and patients take time to learn more about Callen, a woman who gave her life in service to others.
“We’re following in her footsteps,” she said. “Her legacy continues through us.”