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Statement on the Death of ACNM Past-President Dorothea Lang

The American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) is saddened to learn of the passing of Past-President Dorothea M. Lang, CNM, MPH, FACNM. Dorothea’s career in midwifery spanned decades, and drew from her colleagues the respect of being elected to the ACNM Board of Directors for more than 12 years culminating as ACNM President (1975-77), and being named President of the A.C.N.M. Foundation, Inc. (1977-84).  Over her life, the profession granted her its highest honors, including the inaugural class of ACNM Fellowship (1994) and the Hattie Hemschemeyer Award (1986) for contributions to the development and advancement of midwifery. The most distinguished honor bestowed by the A.C.N.M. Foundation is named the Dorothea M. Lang Pioneer Award, for which she was its benefactor since 2002.

Ms. Lang completed her bachelors in nursing at Albright College (1957) and Reading Hospital School of Nursing (1956) and her nurse-midwifery education in 1959 from the combined Maternity Center Association / Johns Hopkins University affiliate program. In 1965, she received a master’s of public health degree from Columbia University.  From there her courageous pioneering spirit was made evident through her tireless promotion of the value of midwives for women and families in New York State. In 1965, when fewer than 50 U.S. midwives practiced full scope midwifery, beginning as a nurse educator in the New York City Maternal-Infant Care (MIC) Project, she convinced the city that midwives were integral to improving maternity care. She developed a separate department and developed programs that provided midwifery care from prenatal clinics, through the hospital, and back to the community. Expanding midwifery coverage from two hospitals to 23, and leading the most comprehensive midwifery care in the U.S. at the time, Dorothea overcame the problems inherent in big city finance, politics, and logistics to provide health care to underserved populations.  She later courageously stimulated discussion of non-nurse pathways in the 1970s and into the late 1990s when a single standard of midwifery, entered through post-nursing or post-health science pathways, became the law in New York with enactment of the Professional Midwifery Practice Act of 1992. She was honored with NY Midwife License #001.

Her leadership and influence extended worldwide. Born in Japan to missionary parents, Ms. Lang returned to Japan in the early 1960s. There she observed midwifery in a hospital setting, with the midwife an integral part of the maternity team. She was determined to replicate this model in MIC. She later served as a midwifery consultant in Puerto Rico, throughout the U.S. and the world. In her long relationship with the International Confederation of Midwives (ICM), she co-chaired the fundraising for the only ICM Triennial Congress held in the U.S. (1972), represented the ACNM and North America as an Executive Committee member of the ICM, and represented ICM as a nongovernmental organization at the United Nations.  Her commitment to interprofessional education and practice was demonstrated by her serving as a member of the committee that developed the first ACNM Joint Statement with American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

As a leader in midwifery and the ACNM, she mentored countless midwives into and through their professional education and practice.  The 62nd ACNM Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, May 21-25, will be noted by her colleagues as being the first Annual Meeting that Dorothea Lang missed attending since she began her professional career in the late 1950s.  Her mandate to midwives stated: “Yes, go where opportunities are already great! But, also go to places where conditions are terrible! That is where you will show what you as a midwife can truly bring to health care and the community.”

She died peacefully in the late afternoon May 16, 2017, age 84, leaving numerous siblings, nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews, and countless memories among her grateful colleagues and women for whom she provided care. Funeral arrangements are pending and a memorial service will be planned. It was her request that any donations in her name be made to the A.C.N.M. Foundation, Inc. Donations to the A.C.N.M. Foundation, Inc., may be made online at www.midwife.org/Charitable-Contributions. Among its “Midwifery Legacies Project Interviews,” the Foundation hosted an appearance by Ms. Lang in 2013 that is available for viewing at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppXE-1iSNl8 .

 



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