Frontier Nursing Service

Historical Marker #558 in Leslie County commemorates the Frontier Nursing Service. Founded in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge, the Frontier Nursing Service provided medical services to remote areas of southeastern Kentucky. The organization eventually evolved into a hospital and a graduate school of midwifery.

Mary Breckinridge's heartache over the loss of her two young children and her "strong sense of social justice" caused her to devote her life to the wellbeing of mothers and children. Beginning in 1925, the Frontier Nursing Service provided midwifery and general nursing care to people in a seven-hundred-square-mile area of isolated mountain communities, where childbirth mortality rates were the highest. Relying almost solely on community support and outside philanthropy, the program was staffed by "Mrs. Breckinridge's nurses," who often traveled on horseback to tend to the birth of thousands of children and countless other ailments.

In 1928, the Hyden Hospital and Health Center, staffed by professional nurse-midwives, was dedicated, offering additional services to the people of southeastern Kentucky. At the outbreak of World War II, Mary Breckinridge lost most of her British nursing staff to the war effort. To fill the need, Breckinridge founded the Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery at Hyden, which expanded in 1970 to include a training program in primary-care nursing.

The granddaughter of U.S. Vice President John C. Breckinridge, Mary was educated in Switzerland and Connecticut before receiving a nursing degree from St. Luke's Hospital in New York. She took graduate courses in midwifery in the United Kingdom, earning a certification as a nurse-midwife. Breckinridge was the recipient of numerous awards for her contribution to nursing and midwifery in America, including a posthumous election to the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1982. The significance of the Frontier Nursing Service was further cemented when Wendover, the headquarters and home of Mary Breckinridge, was selected as a National Historic Landmark in 1991.