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1 The Frontier Nursing Service The Frontier Nursing Service was founded in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge in Hyden, a small town in Leslie County, Kentucky. As the director of the FNS for forty years, Mrs. Breckinridge traveled around to mountain counties in the area, talking to judges, doctors, local midwives, and others, asking them to provide various types of services to family and community members who needed help. Mrs. Breckinridge was also responsible for service outposts at Beech Fork, Confluence, Red Bird, Flat Creek, Burlington, Burgess, and Wendover. The stories in this chapter provide information about services performed by FNS nurses, nurse-midwives, and couriers. Couriers were not nurses, but they assisted FNS nurses in any way possible. They acted as escorts for visitors, treated sick and crippled horses, and rode horses to receive and deliver messages, including postal service mail. FNS staff not only assisted people who were sick but also helped them obtain food, clothing, and other daily necessities and saw to it that children were able to attend school, which could involve a long walk or horse ride to get there. Many stories also tell about early nurses who likewise rode horses or walked along secluded walking trails to reach the homes of their patients. Frontier Nursing Service Origins It was May 28, 1925, when the lobby of the little Capital Hotel in Frankfort, Kentucky, was buzzing with activity. Not even during a session of the General Assembly of the commonwealth were there more people going and coming. The hotel was the scene of a meeting called by Mrs. Mary Breckinridge for the purpose of founding the Kentucky Committee for Mothers and Children. The meeting was under way behind closed doors in the assembly room of the hotel. At Mrs. Breckinridge’s request Judge Edward O’Rear, a well-known Kentucky jurist who had opened the meeting, briefly 6 Tales from Kentucky Nurses stated its purpose to the audience, which included many prominent Kentuckians (and a number of Mary’s relatives) and called for an election of officers. Mary’s eyes danced as she looked about her and reflected that more than half the people present were related to her by bloodlines or marriage. . . . In his opening remarks Judge O’Rear prophesied success for the program because of its “sublime audacity.” He said that he knew the mountains, because as a young man he had lived in them. His forebears had been a part of them. He liked to think that what the mountain people had to offer was a part of the heritage of America. “Wherever you find a highland people, they are the seed corn of the world,” he said in conclusion. Mary Breckinridge nodded in confirmation. She felt she had come to know the mountain people, and no one was more aware than she of their solid worth and moral integrity. . . . “I can tell you very little you do not already know,” she began. “I have been telling the same story over and over ever since I returned from France. I have been telling it with increasing frequency since the summer I spent in the mountains of Kentucky. It was during those months that I made up my mind to spend the rest of my life there in alleviating the unspeakable conditions which have arisen there. . . . “Friends, you need not imagine such a region. It is there in Leslie County, Knott County, and Owsley County, where I propose with your help to carry on a nursing-midwife service. It will have a double purpose. It will save lives in the mountains of Kentucky. If it is successful, and I promise you it will be, it will be a beacon to the forgotten frontiers not only in our own United States but all over the world. Frankly, I expect nurse volunteers to come to us from the far corners of the earth.” On August 22, 1925, the Leslie County Committee held its initial meeting. . . . An air of excitement pervaded the little mountain town of Hyden. . . . The nursing-midwives and the mountain people who knew Mary Breckinridge had already given her their hearts and trust. . . . Every citizen of Hyden was well aware that big things were under way. They were proud of their town, proud of the new organization, and proud of Mary Breckinridge. Once again she had received a vote of confidence from the mountain people. From Katharine E. Wilkie and Elizabeth R. Moseley, Frontier Nurse: Mary Breckinridge (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1969), 89...


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