These Healing Hills

Ann Gabhart’s research of health care in Kentucky during the 1920’s intrigues me. I can only imagine how tough this must have been for nurse midwives who came to the area. I had never heard of Mary Breckinridge, a real-life heroine full of compassionate ideas and the courage to realize them for the sake of others.

Ann is offering a free print copy of what sounds like a powerful read! Just leave her a comment.

Finding Stories in the Appalachian Mountainsby Ann H. Gabhart

When I am searching for a new idea for a novel, I like exploring Kentucky history to get inspiration. A few years ago I came across a story about the Frontier Nursing Service established in the 1920’s by Mary Breckinridge in the Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. After Breckinridge lost her two children, a cherished son at age four from appendicitis and a baby daughter who only lived a few hours, she wanted to find a way to help mothers and children in poverty areas. In France, after World War I, she witnessed how nurse midwives did so much for the French people devastated by the war. 

Breckinridge attended midwifery school in England since America had no such schools at that time. Then she started her midwifery service in the Eastern Kentucky Mountains where the people had little or no access to professional healthcare. A charismatic woman, she was able to get others to share in her vision and come to the mountains to ride up into the hills on horseback to take care of patients in their cabins. When she recruited midwives, she promised them their own horse, their own dog and the opportunity to save children’s lives.

 I used that history as the background for my novel, These Healing Hills. In it, my main character is a nurse midwife who “catches babies.” That was how the mountain people described what the midwives did, but the women did more than that. They treated any and all health needs. As you can imagine, that kept them very busy. 

Breckinridge came up with a unique way to free up some of their time by recruiting young women as volunteers called couriers to do some of the mundane chores of caring for the horses, delivering messages, escorting visitors around, and all sorts of other tasks. They also sometimes accompanied the nurse midwives on their patient calls which might include helping a baby come into the world. 

These young women were usually from well to do families that Mrs. Breckinridge depended on for monetary contributions to keep her service going. The couriers would come to the mountains to rough it with no electricity and nothing easy, but they loved their experiences in the mountains. 

Since I wanted to share more Frontier Nursing history and more about Mary Breckinridge, An Appalachian Summer features one of those young couriers as the main character. Piper has had a sheltered life, but she wants to do something different before she settles into a woman’s expected role in the 1930’s of wife and mother. She volunteers for a summer in the Appalachian Mountains where she discovers the truth in the Frontier Nursing Service saying, “No one comes here by accident.”    

Piper’s summer in the mountains changes her forever. It was no accident that I had the pleasure of exploring more Kentucky history for my mountain story.  

An Appalachian Summer

In 1933 Louisville, Kentucky, even the ongoing economic depression cannot keep Piper Danson’s parents from insisting on a debut party. After all, their fortune came through the market crash intact, and they’ve picked out the perfect suitor for their daughter. Braxton Crandall can give her the kind of life she’s used to. The only problem? This is not the man–or the life–she really wants.

When Piper gets the opportunity to volunteer as a horseback Frontier Nursing courier in the Appalachian Mountains for the summer, she jumps at the chance to be something other than a dutiful daughter or a kept wife in a loveless marriage. The work is taxing, the scenery jaw-droppingly gorgeous, and the people she meets along the way open up a whole new world to her. The longer she stays, the more an advantageous marriage slips from her grasp. But something much more precious–true love–is drawing ever closer.

Ann H. Gabhart bio

ANN H. GABHART has been called a storyteller, not a bad thing for somebody who grew up dreaming of being a writer. Ann has published thirty-five books for both adults and young adults with more stories on the way. She keeps her keyboard warm out on her Kentucky farm where she likes walking with her dogs or discovering the wonders of nature with her nine grandchildren. To find out more about Ann and her books or to read her blog posts visit You can follow her on Facebook., Twittter, or Instagram