By: Kiara Soriano
Roxanna Donaldson was born in Saluda, S.C in Aug 1891. and traveled to St.Petersburg at the time of the first world war. Donaldson received her high school certificate from Davis Elementary and soon after became known as one of Pinellas County’s traveling midwives. During her career, Donaldson, who was known in the community as “Mother Roxanna Simpkins,” delivered approximately 500 babies, including Goliath Davis, former police chief and deputy mayor of St. Petersburg.
Although both her mother and her grandmother were both midwives, Donaldson had no interest in following in the footsteps of the women who came before her. Although she didn’t want to become a midwife, Donaldson was forced to deliver her grandchild when the baby was born before the doctor could arrive.
In a 1963 article of the St.Petersburg Times, Donaldson credits Dr. James Maxie Ponder, who was the first African-American doctor to practice at Mercy Hospital in the mid-1920s as the person who influenced her to become a midwife.
“Dr. Ponder MADE me take it up,” She recalls.
After witnessing her deliver her grandchild when he couldn’t arrive, Dr. Ponder kept suggesting the idea of becoming a midwife to her, and she finally gave in after some time. Donaldson accompanied Dr.Ponder on 15 deliveries, and he then took her to the Public Health Clinic and told the staff she was ready to receive her license. She attended monthly classes at the weekly prenatal clinic in her journey to get licensed.
Donaldson was licensed by the Pinellas County Health Department and was with its midwife program until it was disbanded in 1950. The program served women living in rural areas that could not afford services or who were too far away from a doctor or hospital.
Although Donaldson was a health professional, she did not believe in delivering babies at a hospital. She thought that hospitals should be reserved for people with heart problems and other serious health conditions. She usually delivered at her home, and only went to the hospital when complications arose in which she would take patients to the hospital in her car.
Donaldson’s home was always filled with people as she would usually have around four to five women in her house at a time in various stages of labor. To take a patient’s mind off of her labor pains, she would tell jokes and make the women laugh to ease their troubles. She kept each woman for seven days and would feed them and their babies, as well as clean them. During the week that the mothers and their babies were under Donaldson’s care, visiting nurses would come by and also care and check up on the mothers.
Donaldson’s rate for delivery was $50, but she did not always get paid. Sometimes insurance companies would pay, or women would pay in increments each time they visited Donaldson. Women would also show up at her doorstep in pain with no money, and Donaldson was always willing to help.
When midwife services were discontinued in Pinellas County, Donaldson still wanted to help others so she became a licensed practical nurse in Jan. 1954. She served as a licensed practical nurse for five years at the Lena Anderson Reynolds Restorium.
She retired to help her husband Ed Donaldson-who was a member of one of the pioneering black families in Pinellas County-open a concession stand full of candies and sandwiches at South Mole beach, which was a former all-black beach in St.Petersburg. Along with running a popular concession stand, the Donaldsons raised three daughters and six sons together.
During her career and after, Donaldson was very active in the community. She wore many hats at the Pallbearers Grand Union Lodge Royal Court No.14, that included serving as area officer and being a member of the President’s Council. In addition, she was a member of the American Woodman, Sunshine Court of Calanthes No 105 and the Community Prayer Band No.4. She also had the honor of being the principal speaker for the St. Mark’s Missionary Baptist Church’s Women’s Day on January 16, 1954.
After a fulfilling career and life, Roxanna Simpkins Donaldson died March 18, 1979.