50 years later and 14 midwives strong, our first-of-its-kind Nurse Midwife Service

hennepin healthcare midwife staff, 50 years later, 14 midwives strong, first-of-its-kind, nurse midwife service, midwifery history

In the late 60s, Dr. Donald Freeman, Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Minneapolis General Hospital, and a nurse named Margaret Hewitt conducted forums asking women what they wanted their birth experience to look like.

In 1971, Margaret used what she learned at these forums and her knowledge as a Certified Nurse Midwife to develop the first hospital nurse midwife practice​ in Minnesota at HCMC. This new and innovative model directly involved women in decisions about their care and birth experience and was remarkably successful.​

Now 50 years later and 14 midwives strong, our Hennepin Healthcare nurse-midwives continue to nurture the philosophy of care that Margaret instilled, ensuring all expectant mothers have the right to care that meets their spiritual and cultural beliefs, values, and traditions. Join us in celebrating 50 years of caring for women and welcoming babies on Saturday, September 25 from 1-4 pm in the Blue Building Courtyard. There you can connect with​​ our team and enjoy photos and memorabilia from the past five decades.

Read on to learn more about the history of our Nurse Midwife Service and the important milestones we’ve made along the way.


  • Community meeting held to solicit input on birth options
  • Dr. Donald Freeman, Chair of OB/GYN, hires Margaret Hewitt, the first nurse midwife employed in the Twin Cities
    Margaret Hewitt


  • Margaret Hewitt develops first full-scope nurse-midwifery practice in Minnesota


  • U of MN School of Nursing admits first class of nurse-midwifery students
  • The Nurse Midwife Unit was created in a four-bed ward in the old General Hospital
    1973 first birth


  • First VBAC (vaginal birth after cesarean) with the Midwife Service
  • Demand for midwifery care required hiring of a second nurse midwife, Ruth Rabenhorst


  • Nurse Midwife Service staffs their first community clinic


  • Move from Minneapolis General Hospital to the new Hennepin County Medical Center. A nine room Nurse Midwife Unit (first in the US) accommodated families’ desire for a single-room birthing experience
    1976 midwife unit
  • First hospital in the Twin Cities to allow women to labor in water (hydrotherapy)


  • Hmong families, new to the community, were drawn to midwifery care at HCMC due to the service’s respect of traditional birth experiences


  • Margaret Hewitt retires. New co-directors Claire Nelson and Nancy Schamber lead the Nurse Midwife Service
    Nancy Schamber & Claire Nelson
  • “Family Birthing,” a film about the Nurse-Midwife Unit, was honored for promoting family-centered care
    1981 family birthing


  • Due to patient needs, HCMC hires the first Spanish interpreter


  • Many Somali families immigrated to Minnesota and chose nurse midwives as their care providers


  • Nurse Midwife Unit commemorates 25 years of service to families
  • Named by SELF magazine as one of the 10 Best Hospitals to have a baby
    1996 America's 10 best hospitals to have a baby


  • The entire Nurse Midwife Unit was remodeled and updated
    1999 Nurse Midwife Unit remodel
  • First metro-area hospital and unit to offer waterbirths
    1999 waterbirth
  • HCMC begins an on-call, hospital-based doula program – something no other metro hospital offers


  • Fit Pregnancy names HCMC one of the Top 10 Places to have a baby


  • Received With Women for a Lifetime Gold Commendation from the American College of Nurse Midwives for 35 years of caring for women and their families
    2005 Gold Commendation


  • Rita O’Reilly named Director of Nurse Midwife Service
    Rita O'Reilly


  • Opened Centering Pregnancy program for group prenatal care
  • Quarterly Meet the Midwives event​ offered to greet our families in a new way
    Meet the Midwives event


  • Celebration of 21,500 midwife-attended births in our first 40 years



  • HCMC is among the first wave of metro hospitals to offer Nitrous Oxide for labor analgesia
  • Jessica Holm was named Director of the Nurse Midwife Service and Division
    Jess Holm


  • The Clinic and Specialty Center opens; the OB-GYN Clinic undergoes a name change to the Women’s Health and Wellness Clinic
    Clinic & Specialty Center



  • Hennepin Healthcare Nurse Midwives provide care to pregnant patients as a part of the COVID Home Monitoring Program
    Hennepin Healthcare CNMs masked
  • Hennepin Healthcare’s multidisciplinary Birth Equity Task Force was born under the leadership of midwife Emily Fitzgerald
  • Jessica Holm is a recipient of Medical Staff Honors for Advanced Practice Provider achievement


  • Emily Fitzgerald was awarded the Hennepin Healthcare Advanced Practice Provider (APP) Health Equity Champion award
    Emily Fitzgerald CNM
  • Jessica Holm was elected by the Advanced Practice Provider team to serve as APP at Large on the Medical Executive Committee
  • Received a “With Women for a Lifetime” Platinum Commendation from the American College of Nurse Midwives for more than 40 years of continuous nurse-midwifery service
  • Celebration of 30,500 midwife-attended births in our first 50 years
    50th anniversary invite

Thank you to all Hennepin Healthcare Nurse Midwives, past and present, whose tireless dedication to women change lives one baby at a time.

About the author

Jessica Holm, APRN, CNM is the Nurse Midwife Service and Division Director at Hennepin Healthcare. As a leader in maternity care and an advocate for women and their families, she is committed to improving pregnancy and childbirth outcomes for the community, especially for those people who are more likely to die or have poor outcomes during pregnancy and childbirth because of racism. Jess is working to improve these grisly and unnecessary outcomes by leading the Nurse Midwife service at Hennepin Healthcare, the first in Minnesota. Jess occupies a seat on Hennepin Healthcare’s Medical Executive Committee and serves on the Minnesota Department of Health’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee. In addition, Jess’s years of experience as a midwife have shown her evidence that dedicated support in childbirth can improve health outcomes for women and their newborns, especially those who currently experience the worst outcomes. This knowledge led Jess to establish a contracted 24/7 on-call doula program for any person birthing at HCMC free of charge. Care has been taken to create a doula staff that is diverse in an attempt to provide cultural congruency with patients. This program has had a positive impact on community health by ensuring patients’ emotional, physical, and informational well-being are addressed during labor and birth, which provides new families with the best and healthiest start possible.


  1. Nancy Greenwood on September 24, 2021 at 1:49 pm

    My heart is full of love for this wonderful program and all the women who made it was is is today. My baby, born 9/27/76 with the help of midwife Ruth Rabenhorst turns 43 this year. Little did I know that I would work with the midwives as an RN for 36 years at HCMC! Love and gratitude to all.

  2. Marcia Beth VanGorden on October 26, 2021 at 10:36 pm

    It is so wonderful to read the history of the Nurse-Midwife Program and to see so many practitioners who I grew to know when my four children were born there. My experiences were so positive that I told my daughter and daughter-in-law exactly where they needed to go for care when they became pregnant. It was wonderful to continue the tradition that Margaret Hewit made possible. I still remember her addressing my birthing class explaining how they hoped to provide a birthing experience that we each desired: “If you want the Minnesota Orchestra there, it might be difficult to fit them all in, but we’ll try to accommodate.” That elicited a lot of laughter and was a great acknowledgment that our individual birthing plans in fact considered important to the amazing nurse practitioners who helped ease so many children into this world.

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