Muhlenberg County Public Libraries will host another Kentucky Chautauqua program this week as part of their ongoing “Thursdays at Thistle” series.
Janet Scott will present “Mary Carson Breckinridge: The Frontier Nursing Service” at Thistle Cottage on Thursday, June 7 at 7 p.m.
Mary Carson Breckinridge was born in 1881 into the prestigious Breckinridge family. Her father, Clifton Rhodes Breckinridge, was a U.S. Congressman and ambassador to Russia, and her grandfather, John C. Breckinridge, was Vice President of the United States under James Buchanan.
Despite her privileged upbringing, Mary Carson Breckinridge suffered her share of unhappiness. She was widowed at the young age of 25, and neither of the children she bore with her second husband lived past the age of 4. Her grief over these losses, coupled with a desire to serve others, led Breckinridge to dedicate her life to improving maternal and child welfare.
A trained nurse, Breckinridge joined the American Committee for a Devastated France in 1918. She specialized in caring for mothers and children. She helped expand medical service to more than 70 small villages in France in the years following World War I, as well as implementing an improved hygiene and preventative care program for children.
During this time, Breckinridge was influenced by the work of British midwives. After leaving France, she obtained a postgraduate degree in midwifery from the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies in London, England. When Breckinridge returned home to the United States in 1925, she settled in the Appalachian region of Kentucky, where she felt she could provide valuable medical service. She established the Frontier Nursing Service in Hyden. She and her “angels on horseback” served as midwives and provided low-cost general nursing care to almost 10,000 rural Kentuckians in the mountainous southeastern portion of the state. She later founded the Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery in Hyden to help train future generations.
By 1989, Breckinridge’s Frontier Nursing Service had provided more than 90,000 patients with affordable, accessible health services and assisted with more than 20,000 births. Of those, only 11 mothers were lost in childbirth.
The Frontier Nursing Service became a global example for rural healthcare, and the model Breckinridge set forth is still in use today.
Janet Scott portrays Mary Carson Breckinridge for the Kentucky Chautauqua program. Scott worked in New York City as an actress, playwright and teacher for 30 years before moving to Lexington, Ky. She previously portrayed Mary Settles, the last surviving Shaker at the Pleasant Hill community, for Kentucky Chautauqua. Scott also performs as part of the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre and coaches other opera singers from around the world.
Bo List authored the script for Scott’s portrayal. List has previously written works performed in Florida; Memphis, Tenn.; Buffalo, N.Y.; Chicago and New York City as well as his home state of Kentucky.
List also wrote the scripts for Kentucky Chautauqua’s Daniel Boone and Jefferson Davis, both portrayed by Kevin Hardesty, and Nancy Green, portrayed by Debra Faulk.
This Kentucky Chautauqua program will be presented free of charge. Light refreshments will be provided.
For more information about this program, contact Muhlenberg County Public Libraries at 270-338-4760.
Kentucky Chautauqua is a presentation of Kentucky Humanities. Local funding is provided by the Felix E. Martin Jr. Foundation.