Appalachian Midwives

Written by Ginni Leeman, Senior Honors Student at Western Carolina University

The following is an abstract of a longer research paper written for Robert Ferguson’s History class. If you would like more information please email him at rhferguson@email.wcu.edu.


Before 1925, the United States did not have widespread health services for pregnant women and young children. Mary Breckinridge, born in 1881, was a woman dedicated to creating a service for American women and children beginning in Leslie County Kentucky. As a child, Breckinridge travelled around the world which influenced her to later receive an education in England for midwifery in 1925. When Breckinridge returned to the United States, she established the Committee for Mothers and Babies, which eventually developed into the Frontier Nursing Service. The Frontier Nursing Service provided midwifery along with public health services to Leslie County and the surrounding area. The Frontier Nursing Service went through one final transformation into the Frontier Nursing University to teach midwifery in Hyden, Kentucky. Breckinridge had a lasting impact not only on the local community of Leslie County, Kentucky, but on the rest of the United States as well, by creating and operating the first school for midwifery in the United States while revolutionizing rural health care.

Mary Breckinridge (far left) along with other nurse-midwives in the Frontier Nursing Service

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