Saturday, March 5, 2011

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

MARCH 5 Today's post is provided by Pragmatic Mom.
Photo from the Frontier Nursing Service

Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories by Rosemary Wells

If you hear Rosemary Wells and think Max and Ruby , Yoko and Friends or McDuff, you have the right author. She is an author, like Cynthia Rylant, who has incredible range and also has ties to the Appalachians. I had read biographies in 5th grade about Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale but I was not familiar with Mary Breckenridge until I happened upon this book and it turns out that she deserves the same recognition, if not more so.

Photo from
Frontier Nursing Service .org
Mary on Horseback: Three Mountain Stories is a biography of Mary Breckenridge, a woman who in 1939, after the deaths of both her children and two husbands, founded the Frontier Nursing Service to bring midwifery and health services to the poor of Appalachia. A descendant of a distinguished family that included a U.S. vice president and a Congressman and diplomat, she funded the Frontier Nursing Service out of her own pocket for the first few years as a way to commemorate her children.

Photo from
Frontier Nursing Service. org
The Frontier Nursing Service continues to this day, and now is an accredited graduate school granting a Master of Science degree for nurse-midwives or nurse practitioners. Mary Breckenridge was a pioneer in creating midwifery and family nursing in America and students from her program now represent every state in the United States and seven foreign countries.

At just 53 pages and comprised of 5 very short chapters, Mary on Horseback is a series of spare but powerful stories that graphically depict the hardships of the Appalachians. Lesser known than Clara Barton and Florence Nightingale, Mary Breckenridge's autobiography moved Rosemary Wells so much that she visited Wendover and talked to nurses at the Frontier Nursing Service. Wells felt that her story should be shared with young people and wrote this book as a result.
I asked my 4th grader what she thought of the book; I had forgotten that she had read it in 2nd grade. She agreed that while the reading level of the book is for Newly Independent Readers, the content is more suitable for 4th grade. I think it's important to provide strong role models for girls too, so I highly recommend this book.

Winner of the Christopher Award, A Booklist Editors' Choice Book, and A School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.

If your child likes this book, try The Year of Miss Agnes by Kirkpatrick Hill. It's about another woman who courageously goes to the wilds of Alaska to teach in a one-room school house and ends up changing the children's lives. This is also historical fiction.  When I Was Young in the Mountains is a picture book by Cynthia Rylant depicting a day in a family in the West Virginia Appalachians.

To examine any book more closely at Amazon, please click on image of book.


  1. I hadn't heard of Mary Brechenridge, but it does sound like she's worth celebrating, considering not only the impressive work she did in her own time, but also the legacy she has left us. Thanks for including information about the reading levels. My class is tackling biographies righht now, and this may interest some of my students.

  2. I'm so glad that this post was useful. I do feel that she deserves the credit of Clara Barton or Florence Nightingale but she spent her time creating her Frontier Nursing School and clearly not spending her time seeking PR. I think she's an unsung hero! Thank you for your comment and for coming to my blog!

    Pragmatic Mom of CoffeeShopBloggers