“Bubbe” Hanna Sandusky (1827-1913) was born in Kovno, Lithuania, and learned the traditional art of midwifery from her mother. She married Louis Sandusky, a window glazer, who immigrated to Pittsburgh in 1860. Hanna Sandusky arrived the following year after visiting England to seek medical attention for their son’s eye. While in London, Sandusky met Queen Victoria. “I know I shouldn’t wash the hand the queen shook,” she later told her granddaughter Jennie Raphael Lencher, according to a profile by historian Ida Selavan, “but in my profession, I have to be careful about sanitation.”
In Pittsburgh, Hanna Sandusky volunteered with the Hebrew Ladies’ Aid Society, which brought her to the attention of a local physician who would occasionally call on her to assist with difficult deliveries. Impressed by her skill and grateful for her help, the physician paid for Sandusky and her son to travel to Germany to see an eye specialist. They stayed for two years while the child underwent treatment. During that time, Sandusky worked as a midwife in a hospital and attended a school of midwifery.
After she returned to Pittsburgh, diploma in hand, Sandusky quickly became an institution in the Hill District, which was growing rapidly as a wave of Eastern European Jews and southern blacks arrived in the city. She traveled through the neighborhood wearing a bonnet and cape made by a friend and a black apron with a big pocket full of candy for children. “My mother told me that when I saw Bobba Hanna I should run and make hot coffee because she was our honored guest,” former Hill District resident Etta Meyers Katz told Selavan in an interview. Sandusky never charged for her services and often provided food and blankets for families, according to her obituary.
By the time she retired at age 82, Sandusky had delivered more than 3,500 babies.
While maintaining this busy career, she raised seven children. Louis Sandusky was a charter member of Congregation Beth Hamedrash-Hagodol. Their daughter Rachel Sandusky married the early Zionist leader Ralph B. Raphael.
In 2010, her descendants dedicated the Bubbe Hanna Sandusky Fund at the Midwife Center for Birth and Women’s Health in Pittsburgh.