Answering the Call: Nurses, Couriers and the Frontier Nursing Service


WKU Libraries’ “Kentucky Live!” speaker series event featured Dr. Anne Cockerham at Barnes & Nobles Booksellers, Bowling Green, KY on the evening of March 17, 2016. Dr. Cockerham is Associate Dean of Midwifery and Women’s Health at the Frontier Nursing University in Hyden, KY and author of Rooted in the Mountains, Reaching to the World: Stories of Nursing and Midwifery at Kentucky’s Frontier School, 1939-1989 published in 2012 and Unbridled Service: Growing Up and Giving Back as a Frontier Nursing Service Courier, 1928-2010 published in 2014. The latter won the 2015 Kentucky Literary Award.

She talked about the history of the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS). Started in 1925 by Mary Breckinridge (1881-1965), the FNS was headquartered at Wendover in Leslie County, KY as a response to the need for nursing and midwifery services in the rural Appalachian mountains of Southeastern Kentucky. The FNS was made up of several clinics and outposts, as well as nurses who would make home visits. In 1928 the FNS began using couriers to deliver communications and assist nurses and supply clinics on horseback through the mountainous terrain, creating an iconic relationship between the FNS and horses. By 1939 Mary Breckinridge established the Frontier Graduate School of Midwifery, the antecedent to the Frontier Nursing University today.

Though technology eventually changed the delivery of healthcare in Appalachia, with couriers abandoning horses for jeeps and moving away from home visits towards clinics and hospitals, the FNS’ past work providing medical services to women and families continues today through its pioneering distance-education program educating thousands of nurses and mid-wives who serve communities across the U.S. and abroad.


Appalachian Studies | Health Services Administration | Nursing Midwifery | Public Health and Community Nursing