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Nurses In Eastern Kentucky

April 19, 2011 in 1960s-1970s

Everyone knows that since its founding in 1881, the American Red Cross has done more in the emergency field of aid than any other organization of its kind. It helps as relief aid, war victim’s support, and other disaster relief across America and even the world. But in some parts of rural Kentucky in the late 1910s and 20s, it was hard to find these public service operations because of the hazardous mountain ranges that are in the eastern part of the state. It goes to a place where you leave the comfort of the city and the railroad, and go into the rural mountain style of life. To a place where the knowledge and cures of Red Cross nurses would help save many lives.

While this type of rural living has a certain charm, it comes without proper (health) care for the most part. There are isolated cabins with neighbors living up to several miles away, slopes of the mountains that leave many questioning the safety, and many valley ways. There are few schools that are several miles apart as well with teachers who devote themselves to teach children who are less than privileged than other parts of the state. That includes raising health awareness and learning how to take care of themselves when they are sick. Money is always often very tight in those parts of the country (a tiny bit of cash and items like milk or eggs are bartered as payment sometimes), so being able to go see a doctor in a larger city when sick would not be very likely happen.

So instead, a small hospital was set up in connection with these schools as part of a way to help take care of people. Several nurses would go make household calls instead of having people come to them, handling all sorts of problems and illnesses. It was not just nursing companies that were having a hand in this either. Sanitary cooperation’s were working with water rights and privileges, disease facilities like those for tuberculosis were trying to help and even the United States Public Health Services were trying to get an official hospital train to these certain parts of eastern Kentucky in order to help those who did not have easy access to hospitals. Nurses also help abandoned orphans find other suitable homes once their parents die or are no longer able to take care of them.

These “mountain nurses” as they were often called would ride horse back from town to town to help any and everybody that she could while she was there. Things like childbirth midwives were very needed, as there were doctors around but not a single nurse most of the time. Having nurses in the mountains of eastern Kentucky would be a blessing to the people at this time. The idea of having someone personal there for them was new and the welfare of all in the rural mountain areas of Kentucky would be greatly improved because of these nurses.Rivers in parts of eastern Ky.

Even though not necessarily in eastern Kentucky and not directly affiliated with the Red Cross, the Red Cross Hospital and Training Department opened in Louisville. It was founded in 1899 by Dr. Ellis D. Whedbee (whose wife is considered to be the first African-American woman on the Louisville police force), Dr. W. T. Merchant, Dr. Solomon Stone, Dr. E. S. Porter and Dr. William H. Perry. Later in 1905, a second building facility was opened as the only nurse training program for African-Americans in Kentucky. The program was discontinued in 1937 and later re-established in 1948, where it served as a cancer treatment clinic for the people of Louisville and others, and then in 1975 it was closed down for good.


-American Red Cross,
-Notable Kentucky African Americans Database, –
Prospective Red Cross Nursing in the Kentucky Mountains (photos also from here),


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