Comments

Originally published in Dress, Volume 20, 1993, pp. 53-64. Reprinted with permission from the Costume Society of America. Photographs used with permission from the University of Kentucky Photographic Archives, University of Louisville Special Collections, and the Kentucky Historical Society.

Abstract

The riding uniform of the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) conveyed a powerful image of the nurse-midwife as authority figure and professional. In the eastern Kentucky mountains the FNS nurse brought desperately needed health care to the people. Their distinctive, horizon-blue uniform provided instant recognition, and therefore protection, to the nurse-midwife who relied on local residents for help. The sensible, military-styled uniform reinforced the nurse’s authority and reassured patients of receiving expert care. The dress unified staff working towards a common goal making them feel like a family and team. Wearing her uniform proudly, the properly attired nurse represented the high standards and ideals of the Frontier Nursing Service.

Disciplines

Archival Science | Nursing | Nursing Midwifery | Public Health and Community Nursing

Fig 1_MaryB_CARD.jpg (129 kB)
Figure 1: Mary Breckinridge (seated, 3rd from right) posed with colleagues in her post-war dress. CARD personnel appear in the light-colored uniforms. The group’s clothing shows the prevalent style of relief worker’s dress of the period. (University of Kentucky Photographic Archives)

Fig 2_1930SummerUniform.jpg (133 kB)
Figure 2: Trained nurse-midwife (left) dressed in summer riding uniform, holds the grandchild of local midwife (right), ca. 1930. FNS personnel eventually replace the untrained midwives of the region. (#120300, Caufield & Shook Collection, Special Collections, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky)

Fig 3_Stretcher.jpg (120 kB)
Figure 3: Medical emergencies sometimes required local men to carry a patient, on a makeshift stretcher, to the hospital over miles of rugged terrain. Eva Gilbert, FNS nurse-midwife, holds the baby of a woman suffering from appendicitis. (University of Kentucky Photographic Archives)

Fig 4_Nurse midwives Hosp.jpg (137 kB)
Figure 4: Group of nurse-midwives, dressed in winter riding uniform, and hospital nurses at Hyden, ca. 1930. Mary Breckinridge stands in the front row, far left. (#115318, Caufield & Shook Collection, Special Collections, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky)

Fig 5_Nurse on Horseback.jpg (122 kB)
Figure 5: The properly attired nurse represented the high standards of the Frontier Nursing Service. (University of Kentucky Photographic Archives)

Fig 6_O'Driscoll-1.jpg (110 kB)
Figure 6: Nancy O’Driscoll in winter uniform, ca. 1931. Nancy, when asked why she always carried, but never wore, her service cap, replied: “Oh . . . I think the world of my fine cap. I just don’t want it on my head.” (Kentucky Historical Society, Manuscripts Collection)

Fig 7_Rain capecoat.jpg (108 kB)
Figure 7: Rubber cape-coats protected nurses from snow and rain. Nurses sometimes draped these coats over their horses to protect them as well. (University of Kentucky Photographic Archives)

Fig 8_Sears Catalog.jpg (141 kB)
Figure 8: FNS patterned their summer riding uniform after women’s sportswear. The knickers outfit (left) pictured in this illustration from the 1923 Sears, Roebuck & Co. Catalogue is almost identical to the first FNS summer uniform.

Fig 9_1928SummerUniform.jpg (99 kB)
Figure 9: FNS staff dressed in summer riding uniform, 1928. (University of Kentucky Photographic Archives)

Fig 10_Ethel Broughall.jpg (59 kB)
Figure 10: Ethel Broughall in summer riding uniform, ca. 1941. (Kentucky Historical Society, Manuscripts Collection)

Fig 11_Nurse on horse-child.jpg (137 kB)
Figure 11: Nurses frequently transported patients from their homes to Hyden, Lexington, Louisville, or Cincinnati for further medical treatment. (#125646, Caufield & Shook Collection, Special Collections University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky)

Fig 12_Newborn Bath.jpg (119 kB)
Figure 12: Nurse-midwife gives a newborn its first bath. Note that the nurse wears a white butcher’s apron over her riding uniform. (University of Kentucky Photographic Archives)