Thursday, February 20, 2014

MARY BRECKINRIDGE... a remarkable woman!


Mary Breckinridge was born in Kentucky in 1881 to a southern aristocratic family. The granddaughter of the Vice-President of the United States under President Buchanan and the daughter of a United States Ambassador to Russia, she spent her childhood traveling, being educated by private tutors and playing with the children of Czar Nicholas  (that means she played with Anastasia) 



At the age of 23, she married her soul mate but their happiness was short lived when he suddenly died from a ruptured appendix.

She married a second time. It proved to be a loveless marriage but gave her two children. A son they named Clifford Breckinridge Thompson... "Breckie" for short and a daughter she bore prematurely... little Polly only lived six hours. .

Breckie was bright and good natured with no end to his curiosity. Mary called him her "fair haired wonder. Being raised in a prominent family she watched first hand how those she admired made an impact on the world. She sincerely believed her son, true to his heritage, was destined to do great things.  She was absolutely certain that Breckie would CHANGE THE WORLD and she spent her days preening him for that future.

Then tragedy struck again.  Four year old Breckie suffered a burst appendix and died. Mary was shattered.

BRECKIE, THE FIRST FOUR YEARS
(Follow this link to read the book Mary wrote about her son)

Two years later, she did the unthinkable. She filed for divorce and asked the court to restore her maiden name. Having lost all that she loved and determined to never love again, Mary turned to nursing for comfort and strength.


Though raised in luxury, she was keenly aware of the want and neglect of the mountain people who lived in her beloved Kentucky. Babies were born with the help of "granny women" who were largely illiterate and had no nursing skills. This area had the highest birthrate as well as the highest infant mortality rate in the country. The pain she felt from the loss of her two children propelled her forward. She would do something to help.

At the age of 43, she left her home and sailed for Europe to study midwifery at the British Hospital for Mothers and Babies. Upon her return she rode into the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky with the purpose of saving lives.

Going into that rugged area on horseback was not easy.  There were no roads, directions were given by landmarks..."through the holler, past the big rock and beyond the ridge." Besides the rugged terrain, the woods were filled with mountain lions, rattlesnakes and bear. Mary would not be deterred. Time after time she made the trip, gaining the friendship and finally the trust of the mountain people.
Eventually she recruited other women who were willing to serve. They became known as the Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) Traveling on horseback they pushed beyond the danger and brought medical care to the people of remote Appalachia.

During the forty years of Mary's tenure the FNS registered over 64,000 patients, gave over a quarter million inoculations and delivered 17,053 babies. In all that time there were only 11 maternal deaths.

On her deathbed she said... 

 "The glorious thing about it is... that it has worked!"

Looking back... life is seldom what we expect, there are always surprises. A young Mary was certain her purpose was to raise a son that would make a difference.   But...

   "Breckie" didn't change the world ... MARY did!


















MARY ON HORSEBACK 
Three Mountain Stories 

by Rosemary Wells