Lois Hatcher: Mary Breckinridge
Artist: Lois Hatcher
"I rode through the Kentucky mountains ... staying where nightfall found me. Dysentery was carrying off the babies, and I stayed to care for them and to tell the mothers what to do." These words from nursing pioneer Mary Breckinridge reflect her sincere and heartfelt concern for the people of rural Appalachia. Born in 1881 in Memphis, Tennessee, she spent her childhood in Arkansas, but had strong family ties to Kentucky. In 1910, she graduated from St. Luke's Hospital Training School in New York. From 1919 until 1923, she lived in France, where she helped establish public health nursing services. In 1925, after training at the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in Woolwich, London, Breckinridge became a certified midwife. Recognizing a need for rural midwifery in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky, she established a midwifery service there in 1925. Originally known as the Kentucky Committee for Mothers and Babies, the organization later became the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS). Nurses provided preventive and curative care to people in this isolated region, where midwifery had been practiced under primitive conditions for years. In fact, prior to the establishment of the FNS, Leslie County, Kentucky, had the highest rate of childbirth death in in the country. Under Breckinridge's direction, the FNS covered a thousand-square-mile area, and a nurse-midwife was no more than six miles away from any patient. In 1929, the FNS formed the beginnings of the American College of Nurse-Midwives.
This painting originally appeared on the Fleetwood® First Day Cover for the U.S. Mary Breckinridge stamp issue of November 9, 1998.
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