The Frontier Nursing Service

America’s First Rural Nurse-Midwife Service and School


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About the Book

There was a time when the average American woman was more likely to die from childbirth than from any other condition except tuberculosis. This was especially true in areas where hospitals and quality medical care were scarce or nonexistent. But deep in the rolling hills of eastern Kentucky’s Cumberland Range, one woman almost single-handedly changed those dismal figures. Her name was Mary Breckinridge, and her goal was to introduce quality, professionally trained midwifery to the United States. The Frontier Nursing Service, opened in 1925 in Leslie County, Kentucky, set out to meet the health needs of women and infants in one of the poorest regions of America. This book tells the story of Breckinridge’s unparalleled dedication to midwifery and provides a historical overview of the first 40 years of the Frontier Nursing Service.

About the Author(s)

Marie Bartlett is a writer and communications consultant with hundreds of articles to her credit. This is Bartlett’s fourth nonfiction book. She lives in Hendersonville, North Carolina and can be reached at

Bibliographic Details

Marie Bartlett
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 260
Bibliographic Info: 22 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2009
pISBN: 978-0-7864-3342-1
eISBN: 978-0-7864-9004-2
Imprint: McFarland
Series: Contributions to Southern Appalachian Studies

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      viii

Preface      1

1. In the Beginning      5

2. From Socialite to Activist      11

3. Laying the Groundwork      18

4. The British Connection      27

5. Growing Pains      39

6. Building an Organization      50

7. Hard Times      61

8. Setback      74

9. Life in the Mountains      81

10. Animal Farm      89

11. Ambitious Plans      97

12. Suspended Dreams      101

13. War Comes to the Mountains      111

14. Money and Other Troubles      118

15. Coming Home      125

16. Unsung Heroines      137

17. A Day in the Life of a Courier      148

18. Changing Times      156

19. Social Services to the Rescue      164

20. Spreading the FNS Story      175

21. A New Era      181

22. Brownie and Breckinridge      189

23. Fire, Loss and Other Mishaps      196

24. Growing Older      204

25. The Explosion      210

26. Death of an Icon      218

Epilogue      228

Chapter Notes      233

Bibliography      241

Index      245

Book Reviews & Awards

“Bartlett is an excellent storyteller…valuable…refreshing”—Asheville Citizen-Times; “the adventures of the nurses provide entertainment for the interested reader while providing some statistical and historical content for the scholarly”—ALCAlines; “a heroic narrative”—The Journal of Southern History; “Bartlett creates a human connection between reader and subject that is both compelling and informative”—Journal of Midwifery & Women’s Health; “Mary Breckinridge was one of those earth angels God gave to the Appalachian people of Eastern Kentucky. The Frontier Nursing Service is an incredible story of a life of service and sacrifice”—Stella Parton, singer and owner of Attic Entertainment Music.