Jill Davenport served as a Courier for Frontier Nursing Service (FNS) from 1966 through 1967 in order to gain a sense of direction for her life. When Jill and her best friend, who both lived in Louisville, Ky., at the time, heard of FNS by word of mouth, the two jumped at the opportunity to ride horses and help people in the mountains.
According to Jill, she felt like a “lost soul” at school, unsure of the path she would take with her life. Her hope was that a stint in the Courier Program would be a time to figure out her next steps in life while being of service to the Appalachian community.
Jill excelled in the Courier Program, learning several different tasks aside from nursing. She was skilled at driving, very cheerful, and willing to help with whatever was needed. She routinely took care of the farm animals, made tea, and drove the FNS jeeps to pick up patients. Occasionally, Jill found herself in odd situations, like changing a flat tire in the middle of a road or chasing a loose pig.
Once, Jill had the opportunity to observe a birth at the hospital.
The woman in labor had not been given anything for her pain and was having a natural delivery.
“It was the most amazing thing I ever saw,” said Jill. “It was so amazing that I fainted right there in the delivery room!”
For the majority of her time as a Courier, Jill was assigned to assist a nurse-midwife from Texas named Anna May January. Anna was working on a breast cancer survey for the American Red Cross, which required reaching out to women who had multiple deliveries and breastfed most of their babies. Jill and Anna spent two months traveling to women’s homes and learning about their pregnancies, children and how long the children were nursed. The women welcomed Jill and Anna into their homes, many even offering them a bed to stay overnight.
Mary Breckinridge passed away about a year before Jill served as a Courier. Although she never met Breckinridge, Jill recalls that her reputation and spirit lived on through Frontier.
“Everybody loved the nurses: the moonshiners, the coal miners, the children, and the grandmothers. If you had FNS on your jeep or shirt, it was like an instant entry into a world that would have been otherwise closed,” said Jill.
Jill feels honored to have served with Frontier Nursing Service. She describes her time as a Courier as an eye-opening experience in which she gained a deep appreciation for the Appalachian region and its people.
“It was a time for which I will always be grateful,” said Jill.
At the heart of Frontier Nursing University is a talented and diverse community of students, alumni, faculty, staff, Couriers and preceptors. Spotlight blogs feature members of our FNU community who are focused on the mission of educating nurse-midwives and nurse practitioners to deliver quality health care to underserved and rural populations.
In 1928, Mary Breckinridge, founder of Frontier Nursing University established the Courier Program, recruiting young people to work in the Kentucky Mountains and learn about service to humanity. Couriers escorted guests safely through remote terrain, delivered medical supplies to remote outpost clinics, and helped nurse-midwives during home visits and births. Frontier has benefited tremendously from the 1,600 Couriers who have served since 1928.