K-12 News

New film and classroom materials focus on Frontier Nursing Service

In 1925, a team of spirited nurse-midwives from across the globe came to the mountains of Leslie County, Kentucky, to help provide healthcare. Their efforts markedly improved the population’s maternal and infant mortality rates to be among the lowest in the nation. 

Angels on Horseback: Midwives in the Mountains, a new KET film narrated by Ashley Judd, recounts the remarkable story of the women of the Frontier Nursing Service that established professional midwifery in America during one of the most challenging times in the nation’s history.  Their legacy reverberates today as nurse-midwives and nurse-practitioners continue to provide care to underserved communities worldwide. You can watch it online now.

To accompany the film, four specially edited videos and accompanying education materials are now available on PBS LearningMedia for grades 6-12.

A New Kind of Healthcare

Several practices intended to serve as a model system of healthcare were piloted in the the 1920s and 1930s. Mary Breckinridge founded the Frontier Nursing Service to provide maternity and healthcare to residents in rural eastern Kentucky. 

The Depression in Eastern KY

The Great Depression had a major impact on eastern Kentucky and the Frontier Nursing Service. It came just as the service was set to grow even more, and fundraising became much more challenging as the needs of the community became greater.

Horses and Transportation

In the 1920s and 30s, travel by automobile, train, and boat were common in the US, but in rural and remote areas, the infrastructure to travel by those means didn’t exist yet. Travel by horseback, though, was common, and the service embraced the use of horses, earning the nickname “Angels on Horseback.”

Mary Breckinridge and the FNS

In 1925, nurse-midwives from across the globe began travelling to Leslie County, Kentucky, to demonstrate the possibilities of rural healthcare in America. Led by Mary Breckinridge, daughter of a prominent Kentucky family, these spirited women delivered unprecedented care to the families living in remote regions of Appalachia.

These exciting new resources are part of the ever-growing Kentucky Studies collection on PBS LearningMedia where students can explore the rich culture of Kentucky through the stories of people, places, and events. The collection features Kentuckians who made their mark on history not only in Kentucky but the world.