Last updated: April 12, 2021
Orlean Hawks Puckett's legacy of fortitude and goodwill has survived for generations. Her story exemplifies the strength of Appalachian women in the 1800s and the early 1900s.
Born in North Carolina, Orlean Hawks Puckett received little formal education before she married John Puckett at about age sixteen. They settled close to his family near Groundhog Mountain in Patrick County. Her first child was born in 1862 but died a few months later of diphtheria. Of her 23 subsequent pregnancies, none of the children born living survived more than a few days, possibly as a result of Rh hemolytic disease.
Orlean Puckett and her husband moved in 1875 to a nearby farm in Carroll County, where he built a two-story log house. She first served as a midwife in 1889, when no doctor or other midwife could be found for a neighbor. Puckett soon began traveling around the region, sometimes up to twenty miles distant, to deliver babies. She never charged for her services and became known throughout the area for her compassion and skill, having never lost a mother or baby during the more than 1,000 deliveries she attended.
Orlean moved from her home in 1939 because of the construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway. However, she died three short weeks afterward. A small cabin on her property was preserved by the National Park Service, and is known to be Puckett Cabin.
Continuing her legacy of care, the Orlean Hawks Puckett Institute, in Asheville, North Carolina, works to promote and strengthen child, parent, and family development.
The Puckett Cabin is preserved at Milepost 189.1 on the Blue Ridge Parkway in southern Virginia.