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Frontier Nursing Service

America’s First Rural Nurse-Midwife Service & School

Written by Marie Bartlett

ISBN 978-0-7864-3342-1
photos, notes, bibliography, index
260pp. softcover 2009
Table of Contents & Excerpts

Frontier Nursing ServiceThere 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 was scarce to nonexistent. It may be hard to believe, in an age when doctor’s offices and hospitals are ubiquitous and you can get a master of science in nursing online without even stepping into a school, but less than 100 years ago, hospitals, doctors, and nurses were much scarcer, and medical assistance could be difficult to come by. But in the rolling hills of eastern Kentucky, one woman devoted her life to changing those dismal figures. Her name was Mary Breckinridge and her goal was to establish the first rural nurse-midwife school and service in America. The Frontier Nursing Service opened in 1925 in Leslie County, KY, and set out to meet the healthcare needs of women and children in one of the poorest parts of the country. This book, full of human interest stories of the nurse-midwives who formed the Frontier Nursing Service, tells the story of Breckinridge and her band of nurses along with their unparalleled dedication to bringing midwife and nursing services to Appalachia. It is, in the words of the Frontier Nursing Service organization today, the “missing link” to the incredible courage and dedication of the women who comprised the Frontier Nursing Service and all that they contributed to rural healthcare services from 1925 to 1965.

Media Review: The Frontier Nursing Service: America’s First Rural Nurse-
Midwife Service and School

By Marie Bartlett. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company, Inc.,
2008. 264 pages. $39.95, paperback.
Reviewed by: Kathryn Osborne, CNM, MSN.

As she stepped off the train and onto the railroad platform on a hot July morning in 1928, Betty Lester found herself questioning the wisdom of her decision to leave Great Britain and travel to Leslie County, Kentucky, to work for the newly established Frontier Nursing Service (FNS). Many midwives that followed during the next several decades would share those same feelings of doubt as they arrived at that train station, responding to a call from Mary Breckinridge to provide health care for mothers and babies in southeastern Kentucky. However, little time passed before these nurses became familiar with the warm arms that welcomed them and the dire health care needs of the families they would serve.

In The Frontier Nursing Service: America’s First Rural Nurse-Midwife Service and School, Marie Bartlett tells the story of the establishment and first several decades of operation of FNS from a human interest point of view. Almost immediately, the reader is drawn to stories about the founder of FNS, Mary Breckinridge, and many of the nurse-midwives who were dedicated to caring for families in a remote region of Appalachia. Through the use of eloquent storytelling, Bartlett creates a human connection between reader and subject that is both compelling and informative. Unlike many historical works that are laden with facts, names, and dates, Bartlett uses creative imagery in conjunction with the words of early FNS employees and patients to provide readers with an insider’s view of the early years of the first nurse-midwifery service in the United States.

The author of this book is not a nurse-midwife, nor is she known foremost for her historical writing. Bartlett has hundreds of publications to her credit, and this is her fourth nonfiction book. It is this reviewer’s opinion that Bartlett approached this work with the skill of a seasoned historical researcher.

Continue reading this review…

1931 Narrated Film by the Frontier Nursing Service


Marie’s NPR Interview and the FNS

Click here to hear the interview.