Maria Milton was raised in a household where knowledge was king. Her mother, Gladys Nichols Milton, was a firm believer in education as she had fought hard for her own high school graduation.

In order to gain the last two credits for her high school diploma, Gladys had to move from Laurel Hill to Baker and live with fellow adult-student Liller Williams. The two women attended Drew School, an all-black school near Lebanon Baptist Church. Then principal O'Dell Brown used his personal time to teach adult lessons in the evening, after the other children had gone home for the day.

“My mom had my oldest brother when she was 16, and during that time, oh no, you didn’t go to school, not a public school (pregnant),” Milton said of her mother. “So that’s how she ended up actually graduating from Baker like that and having to be in the adult school. She wasn't quite an adult.”

In 1949, Gladys and Liller became the first graduates of Drew School. Gladys went on to become a nurse, midwife, and eventually was inducted into the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame in 1994.

“My mother, she wasn’t a rich person, she didn’t come from rich, educated people, but they did know the value of hard work and they knew the value of trying to be a good citizen and get ahead,” Milton said. “That was always what she focused on, and because of her nature that kind of migrated her into the field of nursing.”

In 1959, Gladys began delivering babies in Walton and Okaloosa counties, and in Covington County, Alabama. She was also recruited by the Walton County Health Department specifically to give delivery services to underprivileged women in the area.

“When my mother started in 1959, African American women didn’t have a choice; they couldn’t go to the hospital,” Milton said. “Just about all the babies that were delivered in this area between 1959 and up to around 1972 they were more than likely delivered by my mom.”

In 1976, Gladys opened Milton Memorial Birthing Center, the first birthing center in Walton County. Soon after that, desegregation laws and medical laws drastically changed her midwife clientele. Midwives were under fire from the state to offer more services including prenatal and postpartum wellness checks, and doubts began to arise in the legitimacy of this long-esteemed women’s profession.

“Beginning in the 1970s that’s when African American women in particular started migrating back more to the hospital and have a real negative attitude about midwives, especially African American midwives,” Milton said. “This generation seems to see midwives as a step backwards.”

Even so, Milton decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She said her love for her community and her natural wellness upbringing eventually won her over to share her mother’s love for midwifery.

“Actually, my degree is biology pre-med and when I started college, that was my ambition – to go and become a medical doctor,” Milton said. “When I got in my senior year of college, I didn’t like the direction that medicine was headed. Because it used to be a more natural view of birth, it wasn’t viewed as a sickness where something could potentially go wrong. But by the time I got in my senior year of college they were practicing like that, doctors were more concerned at that time about liability.”

Milton began working at the birthing center with her mother in 1984 and worked with her until Gladys’s death in 1999. Those 15 years, Milton said, were the richest years of her life.

“What my mother did is say, ‘It’s good that you have all the book stuff, but not everything is in the book … try to have a little common sense. That’s what you need sometimes.’ And also, ‘Don’t call women patients because there is a subliminal message that they are sick, call them your clients, call them your women.’”

And so although she has not delivered anywhere close to the 3,000 babies her mother is said to have delivered, Maria Milton said the 600 women that she has served are still her women.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Milton said. “It doesn’t matter how rich or famous you are, what matters is what you do, what difference did you make while you’re here? We are all here for a season and we are all here to make our mark. I feel like my mom made her mark, and I feel like I’ve already made my mark as well.”