First US nurse-midwife school founded


 Mary Breckinridge postal stamp The teaching of Nurse-Midwifery was introduced to the US by Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965), who founded the Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing in 1939 which is in operation to this day.

Mary Breckinridge was born in Memphis, Tennessee into wealth and privilege.  Her father was an ambassador to Russia, and Mary grew up traveling and studying with private tutors.  She became a nurse after the death of her first husband, graduating from the St. Luke's Hospital program in New York City.  She married again and had two children: Polly was born prematurely in 1916 and died within hours; and "Breckie" who died in 1918 at the age of 4 from suspected appendicitis.  Mrs. Breckinridge got a divorce and returned to Europe shortly thereafter to devote herself to the reconstruction of women's and children's health services in post-WWI France.  She became a British-trained Nurse-Midwife with the intent of improving childbirth outcomes so that others would be spared of her own tragic losses.

Returning to the US in 1925, Mrs. Breckinridge founded the Frontier Nursing Service in Hyden, Leslie County, Kentucky.  This location was chosen because it had the highest rate of infant and maternal mortality in the US at that time. Five years later, with the implementation of Mrs. Breckinridge's adaptation of the Nurse-Midwife model of care, and through the clinical work of British-educated nurse-midwives, the rate of infant and maternal mortality in Leslie County was the lowest in the United States!

Mrs. Breckinridge established clinics and a hospital to serve the small and isolated communities throughout Leslie County.  The Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing was started in 1939, and later achieved university accreditation, providing masters and doctoral level degrees.  In 1995, Mrs. Breckinridge was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame, and a postage stamp in her honor was issued in 1998.

-- History courtesy of Rebeca Barroso, CNM

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