'Call the Midwife' on PBS shows the beauty of serving others

One of the most compassionate shows on television returns this Sunday, April 2, for its sixth season. “Call the Midwife” on PBS follows lay and religious nurses as they treat the people of Poplar, a lower-class neighborhood in the East End of London. Set in the 1950s and ‘60s, the show is based on the memoirs of Jennifer Worth, a nurse who worked with the Community of St. John the Divine, an order of Anglican nuns. Reviewing “Call the Midwife” for America in 2015, Paul Johnston wrote, “Episode after episode, 'Call the Midwife' is a study of what love can overcome and achieve.”

The nurses travel about London treating patients. They step into domestic dramas in media res, playing a minor but important role in the lives of the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. In season 5, the seriestackled some of its most challenging material yet, including the fallout of the Thalidomide scandal of the 1960s, which left thousands of infants with significant birth defects. The show has also shed light on social issues like prostitution, sexual assault and labor discrimination.


The sisters in “Call the Midwife” must contend with thorny issues at the intersection of church and state. Among the dilemmas they face are whether to distribute government-provided contraception, how to treat a woman who sought an illegal abortion with mercy and the ethics of working with a hospital that left a disabled infant to die.

It will be interesting to see how the nurses’ lives continue to change as a result of the modernization of the 1960s, particularly with the popularization of oral contraception, which one sister described anxiously as, "a miracle with moral implications.”

Depicting women helping women, and bringing attention to the hardships faced by lower- and middle-class women in mid-20th century London, “Call the Midwife”is an inspiring, at times heart-wrenching, program with an important feminist message. It reveals the beauty inherent in following a vocation to serve those in need.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Richard Booth
11 months 3 weeks ago

The new sister superior is going to be a hum-dinger!! She is worse than my grade school teachers. Just a bit rigid, I'd say.


Don't miss the best from America

Sign up for our Newsletter to get the Jesuit perspective on news, faith and culture.

The latest from america

Long before Pope Francis earned the nickname, St. John Paul II was known as “the people’s pope.” St. John Paul II recognized the value of modern travel and mass media in spreading the Gospel and a global message of good will.
The EditorsMarch 22, 2018
Retired New York Auxiliary Bishop Gerald T. Walsh distributes Communion during a Mass on the March 17 feast of St. Patrick, patron of the Archdiocese of New York, at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)
“It is clear that what matters to Pope Francis is the transformation of individuals and communities through their attentive and communal participation in the sacramental mysteries."
Surveys suggest that younger Americans are turning away from religion, but they may not have been properly introduced to the church in the first place.
Robert David SullivanMarch 22, 2018
Photo: R2W FILMS
A feel-good film that actually reaffirms one’s faith in humanity
John AndersonMarch 22, 2018