“The Trailblazer” During the 1920s, a true pioneer of the nursing profession emerged in rural Kentucky named Mary Breckenridge. Mary devoted herself to the nursing profession. As such, her accomplishments helped define the role of nursing and contributed greatly to the development of what healthcare is today. Fueled by the death of her children, Mary had the passion and determination to help women and children in rural locations of America. That drive, coupled with her experience working as a nurse in World War II, her disciplined studies, and midwifery training led her to rural Kentucky.
In 1925, families in this area had no access to any kind of medical attention because there were no developed roads or means of transportation. For this reason, the maternal mortality rate was extremely high. Mary pulled together much of her own savings to found the Frontier Nursing Service which set up rural “clinics” staffed by nurses on horseback who provided healthcare services to these poor families in remote locations around Kentucky. “The Frontier Nursing Service reached more than 1,000 rural families in an area exceeding 700 square miles” (Sisters of the Golden Moon 1).
It significantly reduced the maternal mortality rate as well as other fatalities. Mary’s Frontier Nursing Service contributed to the Nursing profession in that it developed into the organization that became the American Association of Nurse-Midwives; all were members of Mary’s staff when it began. Her service grew into a school which trained hundreds of midwifery nurses. What is now called the Mary Breckenridge Hospital was established in the early years of the Frontier Nursing Service in Kentucky and still exists today.
Additionally, the idea of setting up healthcare clinics was a revolutionary model that continues to employ many nurses around the world. Mary truly acted as a patient advocate long before that role was ever defined as a professional responsibility for nursing. Her legacy inspires nurses to proactively go above and beyond for their patients in hospital and community settings. Lastly, Mary set an example for all nurses to be leaders, continue to develop new skills, and to seek training in different fields of the healthcare industry.