Mary Breckinridge

The Frontier Nursing Service and Rural Health in Appalachia

By Melanie Beals Goan

360 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 12 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-2639-0
    Published: April 2015
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-0664-4
    Published: September 2012
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7952-3
    Published: September 2012

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In 1925 Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965) founded the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS), a public health organization in eastern Kentucky providing nurses on horseback to reach families who otherwise would not receive health care. Through this public health organization, she introduced nurse-midwifery to the United States and created a highly successful, cost-effective model for rural health care delivery that has been replicated throughout the world.

In this first comprehensive biography of the FNS founder, Melanie Beals Goan provides a revealing look at the challenges Breckinridge faced as she sought reform and the contradictions she embodied. Goan explores Breckinridge's perspective on gender roles, her charisma, her sense of obligation to live a life of service, her eccentricity, her religiosity, and her application of professionalized, science-based health care ideas. Highly intelligent and creative, Breckinridge also suffered from depression, was by modern standards racist, and fought progress as she aged--sometimes to the detriment of those she served.

Breckinridge optimistically believed that she could change the world by providing health care to women and children. She ultimately changed just one corner of the world, but her experience continues to provide powerful lessons about the possibilities and the limitations of reform.

About the Author

Melanie Beals Goan teaches history at the University of Kentucky.
For more information about Melanie Beals Goan, visit the Author Page.


"Highly recommended."--Midwest Book Review

"Highly recommended."--Choice

"Well written and well researched. . . . Appropriate for scholars in the history of medicine, nursing, labor, and women and should be required reading for students in each of these disciplines. . . . Highly recommend[ed]."--Register of the Kentucky Historical Society

"Enmeshes the personal and public lives of this charismatic figure and brings her to life."--Nursing Ethics

"Throughout her carefully documented book, Goan engages with the works of other scholars of nursing, women and reform, scientific medicine, and Appalachian studies."--Journal of Southern History

“Goan provides a well-researched historical account that draws from numerous primary and secondary sources to describe Breckenridge’s successes and failings as a reformer.”--Journal of Appalachian Studies