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.
Carlyle Carter was 10 years old the first time she met her cousin, Mary Breckinridge. Mary came to visit Carlyle’s grandmother’s farm and invited Carlyle to visit Frontier that summer. Carlyle took her up on the offer and traveled to Wendover where she was looked after by Agnes Lewis, Kate Ireland, and Jane Leigh Powell.
After this visit, Carlyle returned to Wendover a few more times while she was in high school, where she spent time with Mary, groomed the horses, and even rode on horseback with a nurse. Carlyle’s mother helped found Frontier Nursing Service (FNS), and her father and cousin were the first Couriers.
It wasn’t until 1962, while she was attending college, that Carlyle traveled to Wendover to officially serve as a Courier. She enjoyed her experiences so much so that she returned three years later in 1965, after Mary Breckinridge had passed away, to serve as a Courier one more time.
As a Courier, Carlyle recalls learning to drive a stick shift in the FNS jeeps. Carlyle remembers driving a British nurse everywhere she needed to go as the nurse was not able to drive in America. On one occasion, Carlyle drove the nurse to a small cabin with no electricity where a mother was in labor. She was able to help deliver a baby by holding the flashlight so the nurse could see.
Shortly after, Carlyle was sent on a mission to take two horses from the hospital to one of the centers. On the mission, they got lost in the woods. They were following a hand drawn map but unfortunately, were caught in a downpour of rain. Thankfully, they were able to find their way back to where they started.
Carlyle enjoyed the Kentucky cooking during her stays at Wendover. She remembers that the butter was always homemade, and the milk that was served was not pasteurized; it came directly from the cow. These delicious meals were generally served in the dogtrot between the living room and the kitchen in the Big House by Wendover cooks.
In reflecting upon her time with Mary Breckinridge, Carlyle remembers that family was very important to her. She would welcome visitors and often times share stories about her family and about FNS.
According to Carlyle, Mary was a very worldly woman as well as an inspirational speaker. Her ability to move a crowd and hit their hearts was astonishing. Breckinridge would talk about life in the mountains for the people of Leslie County, particularly the financial and economic struggles along with healthcare difficulties that many of the Appalachian people faced. She also spoke to the importance of FNS in the community as many of the community members had not previously had access to healthcare.
“Mary Breckinridge had a glowing personality,” said Carlyle. “She had kind eyes and loved little children. She was very kind but she was also a very determined woman. She was the boss and you didn’t cross her. She was very simple. There was nothing pretentious about her.”
The time Carlyle spent in Wendover had a significant impact on her life. It inspired her to want to do something worthwhile in the world. She began an organization called Global Child, an after-school program that provided foreign language instruction in the public schools. It was one of the first programs of its time. It continued to grow and eventually reached 60 schools with about 2,000 students. To learn more about the organization Global Child, please visit http://www.globalchild.com/home.html.
Carlyle attributes her inspiration for starting this program to Mary Breckenridge:
“She wasn’t in there for personal good—she was doing something good for the world, and that is how she influenced me!”