The Story Behind the Movement
Mrs. Beatrice Borders (1892-1971) was the founder of the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home located on the corner of Beacon and Dyer Streets in Camilla, Georgia. She was a third generation midwife. Miss Bea, as called, began her service as a midwife in the community of Mitchell County as early as 1918 with the help of her mother, from whom the shelter was named, and grandmother, Mrs. Katie Jones. These women went into the homes of the mothers-to-be to deliver babies during a time of segregation. In most cases the living conditions of the expecting mothers often posed health problems to them, their infants as well as the midwives themselves. In addition to these unvarying problems transportation hindered the midwives from getting to many mothers in time. Mrs. Borders believed that there must be a better way. There was no hospital serviced to Blacks at this time, so she and her mother decided to use their home as a birthing center.
The message of this maternity shelter spread across south west Georgia. Women from surrounding communities such as Pelham, Meigs, Cairo, and as far away as Bainbridge gave birth at the shelter. Though she never turned anyone away, racial conditions of that day caused the majority of her patients to be African American women. Her nursing home served thousands of black mothers. According to written records of the late entrepreneur these birth records date back to 1947. However, oral reports from some born there go back even earlier. It is estimated that approximately six thousand babies where delivered at this dwelling. According to the records kept in her home, the GBWNH, at least four thousand birth records were hand counted. This count does not include years before 1947, nor does it include those that Miss Bea delivered outside of her home.
After the death of Mrs. Borders in 1971, the state of Georgia closed the shelter due to new health rules and regulations in the early part of 1972. The building then served as a daycare center for thirty-three years under the management of Miss Bea’s granddaughters’ mother, Mrs. Arilla Smiley, who was among the dozens of midwives who trained under and worked for Mrs. Borders for many years. Many of the children whom Mrs. Smiley cared for at the center parents or grandparents were born at the edifice when it was a maternity shelter. This building has truly served the community of Mitchell County. For these reasons the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home, Inc. was formed, not only to preserve the dwelling’s past history, but to continue its history by keeping it operable for continuous community service for future generations.
In 2011, the Georgia B. Williams Nursing Home was individually listed to the National Register of Historic Places.