Raising families in the 1890s amid national instability was tenuous. The country's resources were drained, exports dwindled, construction faltered, and jobs were impossible to find. In 1901, Nikos traveled alone to the American West. Reaching Utah, his efforts to open a boarding house were thwarted he was burned out three times. But in 1909, the family reunited in neighboring Snaketown, west of Magna. There, Nikos opened a saloon and Magerou assessed their new surroundings.
There was widespread disease, unsanitary housing conditions, poor medical care, greedy labor agents and hostility towards immigrants. Company doctors were feared.
"A dollar a month was deducted from their wages for medical care, [but] the men felt they were coldly treated, like animals, not human beings," historian Helen Z. Papanikolas wrote in "Magerou: The Greek Midwife." "Amputations were hastily performed, and as uneducated as the laborers were, an amputation was the end of self-reliance and the beginning of descent into penury."
Magerou treated ailing workers relaying advice first through her husband until they (Greek, Italian, Austrian and Slav men) trustingly asked for her counsel. When she saved a baker and a judicial officer from doctor-recommended leg amputations, her reputation soared.
By the 1920s, immigrant communities swelled with weddings and births. Industry improved both housing and medical care. But women wanted only Magerou.
"Scream! Push! You've got a baby in there, not a pea in a pod!" the midwife, with seven children of her own, was known to shout. She prescribed mothers butter to regain strength and bathrobes and ample coal to keep warm. She insisted on cleanliness.
Early on, the midwife blended specific aspects of modern medicine with folk healing. She warmed olive oil and baby blankets in coal ovens and sterilized cloths in boiling water. She trimmed her fingernails, thoroughly scrubbed her hands, and wore gloves. Detecting birthing abnormalities, she'd call for a doctor and willingly assist.
Magerou also had favorite remedies: store-bought leeches used for bleeding cured most maladies, soap scraps pressed into wounds stopped bleeding, and crosses cut into swollen flesh drained off "bad" blood.
She treated pneumonia and bronchitis with cups of heated red wine and cloves or whiskey and tea, and applied mustard plasters on backs, chests, and soles of feet. She alleviated rickets by touching patients' joints with the stem remains of a burnt bay leaf during three separate, moonless nights. She used whiskey as an anesthetic, and set bones with a powdered resin, egg white and "cleaned sheared wool" cast bound over with cloth.
Magerou practiced midwifery par excellence for over 60 years. She never lost a mother or a newborn child.
Historian Eileen Hallet Stone is the author of "Hidden History of Utah," a compilation of her Salt Lake Tribune columns. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.