Date of Award

Fall 12-12-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Lynee Gaillet

Second Advisor

Ashley Holmes

Third Advisor

Michael Harker


In the early twentieth century, American female reformers engaged in various programs to enhance public health, including maternal and infant health. In this spirit, Mary Breckinridge founded the Frontier Nursing Service in southeastern Kentucky, providing low-cost midwifery and public health medical care. Adopting a microhistorical and feminist archival approach, this project explores multiple facets of Breckinridge’s life and work. Rhetorically, she asserted her ethos as a bereaved mother with medical expertise. She aligned her work with emerging science-based practices in medicine and record-keeping, intending replicability of her model. Along the way, she transformed herself from a traditional True Woman to a dedicated professional, mirroring concomitant changes in rhetorics of motherhood. However, her reliance on racialized arguments and the frontier nature of Appalachia, while effective in the short term, limited the reach and memory of her Service. By reclaiming and revision Breckinridge’s life story, this project offers an analysis at the nexus of rhetorics of medicine, race, class, and gender.


File Upload Confirmation