|Helen Dana, a practical nurse and midwife, opened a maternity home in her Mesa home in 1924 to make ends meet after her husband became an invalid. She had assisted Dr. Benjamin Moeur, a Tempe physician, in childbirth and nursing cases for several years prior to working as a midwife. In all, Helen Dana delivered more than 1,250 babies for Euro-American, Mexican American and African American women and is credited with never losing a mother or baby during her career as a midwife from 1924 to 1959.
Region: Phoenix and Central Arizona
Theme: Women in Science, Medicine and Health
|Helen Millett Grey Dana was born in a bush shelter, a little dwelling made of branches from trees and bushes, in Mesa, Arizona, on April 8, 1885. She grew up in a Mormon family who taught her a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility. As a young woman, Helen married and had a daughter in 1905. Her own mother had given birth to a baby just three weeks earlier, and Helen's mother was very ill. Helen nursed both her mother and new baby sister through the illness, and both lived. The attending physician was Dr. B. B. Moeur, who later became governor of Arizona.
Helen was left a widow soon after her daughter was born. Dr. Moeur suggested that she study nursing, and she did so in 1918, traveling all over the area by horse and buggy, assisting the doctor and those in need. When Dr. Moeur had a very hard case, Helen nursed the patient, working around the clock.
In 1919 she married Hugh Dana, a widower with seven children. Five years after her marriage to Hugh, he fell and fractured several vertebrae and was an invalid for three years. Helen later recalled, "I had to do something. I had those seven children to rear and Hugh to care for. Dr. Joseph Greer asked me why I didn't start a maternity hospital at home so that I could take care of the children and Mr. Dana." That is what she did. She ran the Dana Maternity Home at 1312 S. Country Club Drive in Mesa for 35 years to help maintain the family. At the same time, she helped pregnant unmarried girls and arranged adoptions for their babies.
Helen Dana allowed her midwife license to expire in 1959 but worried about turning away expecting mothers. She said, "I just don't know what I'm going to do when some of these poor men bring me their wives who are just ready to have their babies. Many times there just isn't time to get them to the hospital, even by ambulance."
Despite these concerns, Helen Dana retired at the age of 74 in 1959. She died two years later after a full life of helping others. The building which housed her maternity clinic is no longer standing.
For more information, consult materials in the Mesa History Room, Mesa Public Library.
Photos courtesy of the Dana Family