DEATON: This is an unrehearsed interview with Mrs. Wilma Duvall Whittlesey for the Frontier Nursing Service Oral History Project by Dale Deaton at approximately 10:00 a.m. on November 30, 1979, at Tigard, Oregon.

[Interruption in taping]

DEATON: I'd like to begin by asking you how you first found out about the Frontier Nursing Service and how you came to FNS as a secretary.

WHITTLESEY: At the--at that time in 1929 the Courier Journal in 1:00Louisville was still publishing rotogravure sections--is that the way to pronounce it? You--you don't remember them, I guess. They were brown and white. They didn't have much color. It was--all of the picture items were mainly in the rotogra---rotogravure section. And I noted a large spread there from Hyden--of Hyden with the--at that time with the pigs in the street in front of the bank and all the local color. And then there was a story about the place in general, and it--it intrigued me. But I didn't--I wasn't thinking of going up there at that time. And then at a time when I was thinking of change, 2:00I saw an advertisement in the newspaper for a secretary to go there. I don't remember how it was worded. And I phoned a number and made an appointment with [Bland Morrow?]. I don't know whether you have interviewed [Bland Morrow?] or not. She was the secretary to Mary Breckinridge preceding me. And was interested in going into social service work and taking some more training to do that, and they were looking for a--well, at first, as an assistant, and then a replacement for [Bland Morrow?]. And we agreed that I would try it, so that was how it happened, and I just got directions and got myself a special 3:00rugged wardrobe to get in on horseback from. [It was] a long ride from Hazard to Hy---not to Hyden, not all the way to Hyden.

DEATON: Head of Hurricane?

WHITTLESEY: Head of Hurricane. And got in there and loved it and went on from there.

DEATON: What--what was the time period that you were there?

WHITTLESEY: 1929, September to September, '36. And I was out a few months at the University of Chicago. [I had] a leave of absence for a few months to take some training there.


DEATON: Did you know anything about Leslie County, of Hyden or the area--

WHITTLESEY: Not really.

DEATON:--or anything?

WHITTLESEY: Not--no, no, no. It was an adventure, I think. I'd have to say that. I wasn't--I wasn't really motivated by a social service conscience. It was just an adventure at that point. Of course one couldn't live with the Frontier Nursing Service and Mary Breckinridge for very long without finding a social conscience. (laughs)

DEATON: Had you met her before you went to Wendover?

WHITTLESEY: No. No, I had not. But we seemed to find ourselves compatible right away. We got on very well. And I enjoyed the work 5:00and I certainly enjoyed Mary Breckinridge. She was one of the real influences in my life. Very strong influence.

DEATON: Could you expand upon that a little bit?

WHITTLESEY: Well, I admired her in almost every way. If there is such a thing, I suppose you could call her a renaissance woman. She--she was able in so many directions. She had a fine literary background and [a] cosmopolitan, I suppose you'd say, social background. And she had her--she had herself been through some very heavy trials and mastered 6:00them. And I enjoyed her. And I guess she enjoyed the fact that I did enjoy her because she had so much to teach me, and I enjoyed learning it. That must--must have been the main thing, and she placed quite a bit of confidence in me as far as her--her--my work with her as a secretary. I was allowed very great freedom in my work, and answered a lot of correspondence that--she never felt she had to go through it all. It was just a mutual confidence and compatibility I think, 7:00although I had nothing like her background. I had a very mediocre background, and not--I wasn't at college. I hadn't been to college. And--but I always had--I was a student. I was born a student. And it came out there. I met the people who--people there who encouraged the student in me, and that was part of my--of its appeal for me.

DEATON: What was your official title while you were there?

WHITTLESEY: While I was there?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: Secretary to the director.

DEATON: And could you explain your duties and responsibilities a little?

WHITTLESEY: Well, my duties were mainly dealing with correspondence. 8:00I was not administrative the way Agnes Lewis was. I was more--I dealt with--I handled a lot of correspondence, both personal and--and professional. It's really a little hard to go into it. It--there wasn't a--there were no restrictions on it exactly, it's just that there was so much of that kind of thing to do. Mary Breckinridge had friends all over the world, and she was--people--there were people all over the world who were interested in the Frontier Nursing Service, and were constantly wanting to visit and see what it was all about. 9:00And then, of course, they were--the nurses at that--nurse-midwives at that time were engaged from England and Scotland and Wales, the British King---the United Kingdom. And there was a good deal of correspondence in connection with getting them into this country, and it--it was just a matter of--I took charge of her correspondence when she was there and when she wasn't there, and handled a lot of it without--without her having to deal with it at all. And it was a pretty good job. I mean it was--there was a good deal of volume there. And then I did other 10:00things as they came along. I--I really can't remember exactly. We had lots of--we had lots of the couriers. Do you know about the couriers?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: And I usu---I usually handled correspondence in engaging the couriers. And then I traveled with Mary Breckinridge quite a bit on her speaking engagements, and to the committees in cities like New York and Washington [and] Chicago at that time.

DEATON: By that time, were all these committees fairly well established, or were you and Mrs. Breckinridge helping to establish new committees for FNS?

WHITTLESEY: They were--they were mostly established. And the--the six nursing centers were all--were all built at that time. And I 11:00don't think they've been added to, have they, very much? They've been changed, I know, because of difference in ecol---geography that--well, one of them was flooded, wasn't it? Confluence was flooded, wasn't it?

DEATON: Confluence and Bowlingtown.


DEATON: Bowlingtown really. But what were some of the things that Mrs. Breckinridge told people about when she went around to--to the various committees? What did she say to them to get them to donate to--to the Frontier Nursing Service?

WHITTLESEY: (laughs) Well, now, that I--I really can't--you must have a- -you must have a lot of that. And I couldn't--I don't think I could add anything to it. She had a great ability--speaking ability. And she 12:00had a fine sense of humor. And she could make it all sound very--very entertaining as well as worthwhile.

DEATON: Was it--

WHITTLESEY: To go into details would be very hard.

DEATON: Well, the--the people who were on those committees, was it a social thing for them to be a part of the--of the Frontier Nursing Service city committee?

WHITTLESEY: Well, that helped to hold them together, I think, and to--to find them. Mrs. Breckinridge herself had social connections, and I think she built on those. It wasn't a matter of limiting any part of the work to a social stratum. But (cough) there were a number of her 13:00personal friends who were well enough placed, and financially well- endowed that they were, I guess, a starting point. But that had all started before--before I went. I believe 1925 was the starting date, and I went in '29, and it--it really--I guess at this point it seems amazing how much of the--of the system had been developed by that time. And we were just carrying on. Of course the Depression came and--and interrupted some of the progress.

DEATON: How did the Depression years affect the FNS in the--the sense of 14:00the city committees and their donations?

WHITTLESEY: Well, there were certain--certain persons who seemed not to have been affected, and others were. We--we were short of money for some years. I mean the funds were coming in slowly, and there weren't enough even to keep things going as they were. It had to be done more or less on a mutual help basis for some time. But some of the large donors didn't seem to have been enough affected by the Depression that they weren't able to continue to make large donations and to furnish endowments--endowment funds. That was one of the things that Mary 15:00Breckinridge, of course, was looking for at that time was adequate endowment funds. It's--I think the social aspect was just a--a starter. And then from then on, it was unnecessary because other--the media, of course, became interested. I remember there was a--there were some spreads in Life magazine when Life magazine was really going well.

DEATON: Were those while you were there?

WHITTLESEY: I don't believe the Life magazine was. I think that was afterwards.

DEATON: There were some in the late '40s--1940s--



WHITTLESEY: Well, I remember that. I was--now, I was--I remember having 16:00people call that to my attention. I was living in California then. But there were--I think all of the--I used to keep a clipping file, and there was quite a volume of that from national newspapers, the New York Times and the other large city newspapers. I think it was mainly newspaper clippings that we were keeping at that time.

DEATON: At--at FNS? This was while you were--were at FNS?

WHITTLESEY: Yes, I--I kept a newspaper clipping file. I don't remember how I handled it now. (laughs) But we--I believe we subscribed to a clipping service. But the newspapers were--there were many more of them at that time than there are now, and the magazines had not become 17:00as numerous.

DEATON: Her father was at Wendover when you--

WHITTLESEY: Yes, he was. He was a great old gentleman.

DEATON: There--there were a few--of course, Agnes Lewis did not come until just shortly before he died. She was there perhaps a year. Could you tell me a little bit about him, his personality, what he did around Wendover and--and in Leslie County?

WHITTLESEY: I don't think his--I think at that time he was--he was rather frail. He wasn't--he wasn't very active. You know that he had been an ambassador to Russia at one point. And I don't really remember 18:00too much. He was very quiet and very friendly and charming. But he--he wasn't--he wasn't in evidence very much. He--he kept to himself quite a lot. And I don't know as he did any--I can't remember. Did anybody--has anyone else said that he had--had some active role there? I don't remember any active role there.

DEATON: He--well, he did some work with the local Hyden Committee in the very early years of FNS and some things like that. I wondered if he was still doing some of those things after you came. And on the construction work around Wendover.

WHITTLESEY: That had been done. And I don't remember that--I think--I can remember him as being quite frail. And I wasn't there very long 19:00before Agnes Lewis. What--she must have come in 1931 or thereabouts. Do you remember?

DEATON: Um-hm. It was '30. How did Mrs. Breckinridge and her father get along?

WHITTLESEY: Oh, beautifully as far as I ever observed. Very well. In fact--of course Mary Breckinridge--I don't know anyone she didn't get along with. There may have been people she disagreed with, and that she even--that it was very obvious that she was in disagreement. But she was such a gracious person--personality, and I suppose a diplomat. And she held no grudges. She had a beautiful spiritual nature. She 20:00held no grudges that I ever heard of. I don't know whether she ever had any--had any grudges to hold, but she was--she had a beautiful spiritual nature and was large-minded, not a--not a--she was a large, open minded person. Not--not--her mind was not closed. It wasn't closed to her own shortcomings or her own errors, whatever they were. I--I guess she was her own severest critic. I can't--I don't know of anything to say about Mary Breckinridge that isn't totally complimentary.

DEATON: Did she talk about her son, Breckie, very much?

WHITTLESEY: Well, quite a bit. She did to me.


DEATON: This was a--a--the period of time that you were there--well, it would have been during the years that she was in association with a psychic in New York who--who she communicated with Breckie through.

WHITTLESEY: Well, yes. This was something she--she discussed once in awhile. But it wasn't--we didn't talk about it a great deal. It was--it was her private--it was her private life and she only discussed it with me occasionally. It wasn't a constant topic of conversation. The--I think the medium that she--perhaps not a medium--but the spir-- -her spiritual advisor, really, was an English woman.

DEATON: Sister Adeline?

WHITTLESEY: Um-hm. And that is interesting, maybe, to you that--that 22:00was the only correspondence that I was instructed not to open at any time. That was the only correspondence that Mary Breckinridge received during my stay there that was for her eyes alone. And if she chose, she--she occasionally would maybe quote something from Sister Adeline, or read, maybe, something. Some short paragraph. But I was not to open those letters. And I think the reason was to keep it in a spiritual realm. It wasn't that there was anything in the letters that she felt was not--would--would hurt anyone in anyway, but that 23:00it should be kept between the two of them as a part of the spiritual understanding. Now I don't know whether that's clear or not (laughs)--

DEATON: Um-hm. Well, the letters that Sister Adeline wrote to Mrs. Breckinridge, most of them are in--are at FNS now. But--


DEATON:--how do you--do you think she would prefer that those not be made available for public use, or that they be open--

WHITTLESEY: She must have--she must have left some instructions about that.

DEATON: Well, now, she gave them to Miss Margaret Gage.


DEATON: And then Miss Gage gave them back to the Frontier Nursing Service.

WHITTLESEY: You know what I--she gave them to Miss Margaret Gage?

DEATON: Um-hm.


WHITTLESEY: Well, I--I don't know about that. See, that was after I left. At the time I left, she was--Mrs. Breckinridge was--although she had had--had a horseback accident that left her back very weak, she was still in vigorous health and able to expend a lot of energy. And I mean there wasn't--I never heard any mention of what would happen to those when--when she was gone. And I'm sure she must--didn't she tell Miss Gage?

DEATON: No, not to my knowledge. Well, the reason I ask that is there's been some discussion of having those letters published by some--some of the people at FNS. And I took from your comment then, I wonder whether or not that--

WHITTLESEY: How could there be any reason to publish those? Well, if 25:00I had--if it were my--if I were authorized to say, I would just say no. I just consider that's something private, that--but I don't know. I mean it's possible she may have--it's even possible that Mrs. Breckinridge may have felt that they would have some value to other people in being published, I don't know. I never saw one of them, except the outside of it.

DEATON: Well, I'll make sure that--that the people at FNS get your comments about that, in regard to the letters.

WHITTLESEY: That--that's fine. (laughs)

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: I--I just don't know. I can't--because she didn't want me, who had access to everything else that ever came into her in the 26:00mail, or on the telephone, if I was around. I--I would say that she wanted them kept private, but I wouldn't rule out the fact that she may have had some reason. If she gave them to Margaret Gage, what was her reason for doing that?

DEATON: I--I really don't know other than the fact that--that she thought Miss Gage was a very close friend.

WHITTLESEY: Yes, but--and Miss Gage hasn't said? Or you haven't talked to her yet? Yes, you have talked to her.

DEATON: Yes. Yes, I did.

WHITTLESEY: Did you ask her about the letters?

DEATON: Well be---because--well, because Miss Gage was one of the people who had talked about the possibility of them being published,--


DEATON:--it hadn't occurred to me that--oh, I--you're the first one who had said that--that Mrs. Breckinridge did not want anyone to see those letters but herself.

WHITTLESEY: Well, that was during her--that was at that time. I--I 27:00thought that her relationship with Miss Gage was such that Miss Gage would--would certainly want to do whatever was--Miss Gage wouldn't have any personal interest in--publishing that I know of.

DEATON: Who was the psychic in New York--

WHITTLESEY: I don't know--

DEATON:--that Mrs. Breckinridge knew?

WHITTLESEY:--in fact, I don't--well, if I ever knew, I don't remember. And I don't even remember that there was one. But there could have been. I know that--that she subscribed to various periodicals like this. Mainly the English.

DEATON: The--the--

WHITTLESEY: ----------(??).

DEATON: [Light?]

WHITTLESEY: [Light?] and the--maybe she--I believe she got one, too, that was called Journal of Psychical Research. But all of that was not 28:00important to me at that time. And--or important between us. Except just--it threw a light on her--her feeling that she was contacting Breckie. And I think it--in later years, she felt she was getting advice from Sister Adeline that might ----------(??) with her work. I- -I don't know what that was. And I do remember an occasion when--a very quiet morning, she had a sudden feeling of--I believe she--I shouldn't 29:00perhaps go into this, because I don't remember it well enough, but she had this strong feeling that a relative, not a very close one, was in danger or dying or--and in fact he was dying. But now I don't remember how he died. That was--was it Joseph Carter? Did you ever know about that?

DEATON: No, I--I--

WHITTLESEY: Joseph--Joseph Carter. Well, this--and what was Mrs. Carter's name? She was a very close friend of Mary Breckinridge.

DEATON: Catherine?

WHITTLESEY: No, that was Catherine Pruitt, I think. That was her sister-in-law, wasn't it? No, Caroline Carter.

DEATON: Oh, okay.

WHITTLESEY: Car---I think it was Caroline Carter. But we--she was dictating or we were going over correspondence, and she suddenly had this strong feeling that something was happening.


DEATON: To--to Mr. Joseph Carter?

WHITTLESEY: In the Car---and I think she--pardon?

DEATON: To Mr. Joseph Carter?

WHITTLESEY: I think she specif---I think she had it identified. In any case it was somebody very close to her, and Caroline Carter was quite close to her. And I think we heard later that day that he had died, and I don't remember how he died. But it--it just shows there was a certain, I suppose, ability that she had to contact the--a spiritual source that--or non-material source--

[End of Tape #1, Side #1]

[Begin Tape #1, Side #2]


DEATON: During the--the '20s and the 1930s, there were a great many people who--the peak of interest in the psychic and spirit--spiritual research came about during that period. And there were a great many people who--who were doing research and exploring various possibilities. Were there any organizations of that type that Mrs. Breckinridge was associated with in Lexington or in other parts of Kentucky?

WHITTLESEY: I don't know. I don't remember any. (cough) That was just--it was important, but it wasn't in my--and I don't think of it very often in my memories of the Frontier Nursing Service. It doesn't 32:00stand out as being important as far as the Service is concerned, unless Mrs. Breckinridge was receiving assistance through this source. Now Margaret Gage, evidently, knows a lot more about that. And maybe she, too, was interested. I didn't know that. I don't--I mean I don't remember that Margaret Gage was--had that mutual interest in--in the psychical, but I suppose from what you say that she must have had.

DEATON: Well, in '29 and '30, shortly after you arrived ----------(??), the stock market crash occurred.


DEATON: What were--well, we discussed this just a little bit that the donations during the Depression years--but what were some of the other difficulties that the FNS had during that period of time, and--and some 33:00of the problems and difficulties in that particular area of Kentucky? And let me take that just a little bit further, and ask you to discuss things that Mrs. Breckinridge was involved in to--to try to help conditions in the area, if it may have been with the Red Cross or with the Forestry Service or--or any federal programs ----------(??).

WHITTLESEY: I can only say that anything of that sort that came up she was always open to, and put everything she could into it. Any--all the interest she could, and tried to find any help she could for it. It's--I believe it's true that--that part of the--of Kentucky and the world really wasn't touched [CB radio interference] as quickly 34:00and severely by the Depression because it had never been dependent on the things that caused the Depression, as far as the local economy was concerned and the local welfare. It is true that--it was at that period, a little later--I guess in the--after--after 1932--wasn't that when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: It was after that that so many federal agencies evolved, and I'm sure that Mary Breckinridge found ways to get whatever help they were giving that could be applied within the area. I'm sure 35:00that she made every effort. And I remember some vaguely--well, some vague--really, I just have a vague memory of some things that--that did develop. Such as I--I can remember the W.P.A. [Works Progress Administration] being in there--being active in there for awhile, and she was always most cooperative, in fact I guess initiated a good deal of the interest that these agencies put in for there for road building. And--mainly it would have been road building in the beginning because it was so inaccessible. The area was so inaccessible, but I--I can't give you any specific information there.


DEATON: Who were some of the local people that Mrs. Breckinridge dealt with a great deal?

WHITTLESEY: Well, there were--there were the Brashears. Do you know that name?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: There were two--there was a family living not very far from Wendover. A rather--more independent family than some. There were two young men who were very hard workers. Well, the father was a hard worker. They were all hard working people. But the two young men were--were very busy hauling and bringing in supplies for the Frontier Nursing Service, and they were quite close--they were very attractive people and I--and worthwhile people. And they were around a great 37:00deal. And I guess Mr. Brashear was--I've forgotten his first name--he was probably on one of the local committees.

DEATON: Was his first name Elmer?

WHITTLESEY: I guess so. Now, wait a minute. What were the sons' names? Do you know?

DEATON: Elmer. Was Fred one of the sons?

WHITTLESEY: I don't remember that name. I don't think it was, but-- well, I don't know. These people were all--let me see, they were maybe twenty-five the--at that time. That was forty-five years ago. It--in fact, it was more than that when I went there. It was forty-five years ago when I left there. So they would be (laughing) near as--not quite 38:00as old as I am.

DEATON: Did you get acquainted with Mr. Mitch Begley at all?

WHITTLESEY: Oh, sure. Oh, sure. He was an attorney. I don't know whether he was--belonged to the state bar or not, but--or whether they had a state bar or not (laughs), but he was--he was an attorney and a--a--Mary Breckinridge had a great respect for him.

DEATON: Did she consult him on--on any matters in regard to what FNS was doing there, what FNS should be involved in in the county? Do you think--

WHITTLESEY: I don't know whether she did or not, individually and personally. He was probably one of the leading members of the Hyden Committee, and she discussed many things with the committees. But I believe she did it more in committee than with individuals, as far as I can remember. I don't remember any specific things standing out, 39:00except I do remember Mitch Begley and his name.

DEATON: Did you know Judge Lou Lewis?

WHITTLESEY: I remember his name, too.

DEATON: Did those people, or any other--did any of the local people visit Wendover or Mrs. Breckinridge's home very often?

WHITTLESEY: Well, I don't know that they visited--made personal visits. I--I think the meetings were held there. I don't re---I just don't remember about that. I don't have any strong memory of--of any close visitations or frequent visitations.

DEATON: Were there any dinners or dances, parties or anything at Wendover that the local people came to?


WHITTLESEY: Yes, there were square dances. And there was always a--a Christmas tree. As you know, the--mobility was so low that people didn't get together very much [because they were] very far apart. They had to be quite close to a--to get there at that time. There was nothing but the mules and a few horses [and] wagons.

DEATON: Do you recall Mrs. Breckinridge dancing at any of those square dances?


DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: No, I don't recall. What--what is the--the point of a question like that?

DEATON: Well, it was--I'm trying to--to find out more about her 41:00association with the local people there.

WHITTLESEY: Well, she was--she was--felt very close to them, but there- -her responsibilities were so heavy that she couldn't put a whole lot of time into any--into social engagements with any one group or any one individual or any one family. It almost had to be on a--kind of a regional basis. There wasn't a time that she didn't have the strength or the time to become socially involved with individuals very much. I don't think she did that with--with anyone, except the close friends she had had from a long time back, such as--I think Margaret Gage was 42:00one of them. And I really--she was close with her, you know, kissing cousins ----------(??) in Kentucky. She had a lot of kissing cousins in the Bluegrass area and in New York City, some of them.

DEATON: Well, the W.P.A. program and the federal government seed program that was started during the Depression, Miss Agnes Lewis told me that when those programs first became available, assistance from the Red Cross, the W.P.A., and then the P.W.A. and the seed programs and all that, that Mrs. Breckinridge was very much in support of all of them, and that when they first became available, and Mr. Mitch Begley and a few of the local people around Hyden were opposed to government involvement in those types of program. And it took Mrs. Breckinridge a period of about three or four months to persuade them to change their 43:00positions on that. Do--do you recall any of that?

WHITTLESEY: Well, I--I would--if Agnes Lewis says that, she knows. And as I say, I wasn't really involved in--in administration, and Agnes handled a lot of that kind of contact for--for Mrs. Breckinridge. And that sounds logical to me. I mean, not logical. It sounds quite likely that that may have happened. It's a part of that--isn't it a part of that independent nature of the settlers in that area?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: I think we all used to--at one time we were called "furriners," [foreigners] weren't we?

DEATON: Um-hm. Yeah.

WHITTLESEY: And I think it was just a part of that. I don't--and maybe 44:00they had--they just didn't want to be, I guess, controlled by the government like a lot of people today. You find that in Oregon, too, today. In Portland.

DEATON: Um-hm. Opposition to federal programs?


DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: Well, you find it nationwide. Don't you hear it all the time on television? We don't want to be--that is certain--individual politicians quite frequently deplore the control of--the bureaucratic control which is the federal government. And I guess the same idea--

DEATON: Well, Miss Gage told me yesterday that Mrs. Breckinridge had told her that when FNS first went there that--and the first midwives 45:00were there, that it was some time before a patient came to make use of the midwives' services. And when the first patient came, it was a lady who--who had not been a patient throughout her pregnancy, but was nearing delivery and was in--in serious condition. In serious condition. But that the midwives were able to deliver the baby and--and were able to take care of the mother. But it was a very critical situation where either the child or the mother or both could have--could have died, and more than likely would have, had it not been for the midwife. Miss Gage said that Mrs. Breckinridge told her that had anything gone wrong with that delivery, that FNS would have been totally ineffective--


DEATON:--in the mountains.

WHITTLESEY:--I see what you mean. Um-hm. Blacklisted.

DEATON: Right. But because of the fact that both the mother and the child lived, that that helped out a great deal. By the time you 46:00arrived, was there any reluctance on the part of the local people to make use of FNS services?

WHITTLESEY: I think there was iso---some isolated instances but, in general, I don't think so. Because, as I say, all the centers had been established by that time and they were used to success. And it was a fine selling point. And Mrs. Breckinridge was very proud of the report--she was able to get the Metropolitan Life Insurance to maintain statistics, comparable statistics which were very favorable to the--to the record of the Frontier Nursing Service in regard to infant mortality. And that had, I think, been established by the time I went. When I--really the pioneering days were over when I went there. We 47:00still had the isolation and the--the growing pains. But--those--the problem of selling it to the people, if you want to call it selling, I think had reversed itself. They were eager for it, in most cases. I know there were isolated instances, but I hardly ever--I wouldn't have thought of them, really, if you hadn't mentioned it. They were--they were very isolated, I think. But I could be wrong. I'm sure the nurses' records would tell those stories. How long was Edna Rockstroh there? She--

DEATON: A couple years. About--almost three years. But in the--in the 48:00very early days.

WHITTLESEY: Excuse me just a minute.

[Interruption in taping]

DEATON:--discussed the--the interest in the midwifery school --------- -(??).

WHITTLESEY: The specific efforts, I--my memory isn't good enough to--to outline, but I remember that we had--while I was still there, before 1936, before the end of 1936, there were at least two students in residence. One was a--I think she a Cherokee Indian. Do you--

DEATON: ----------(??).

WHITTLESEY: I think she was one of--I think they were the early ones, as I recall. But I know that it was--one of the uppermost things in Mrs. Breckinridge's mind was to develop that because there was no--no 49:00place in the United States that was giving that kind of training. She had had to go to the British Isles for all of her nurse-midwives. And, oh, I guess you might be interested in the fact that I did go with Mary Willeford and Gladys Peacock on a survey of the Ozark Mountains.

DEATON: Oh! Tell me all that you can remember about that.

WHITTLESEY: Well, this was paid for by an industrialist--St. Louis industrialist named Harry French Knight, who--at least he--if it wasn't his money, he developed it. And he is the--he is one of the people who sponsored Lindbergh's flight to Europe in 1929. And he was extremely impressed by the Frontier Nursing Service. I don't know 50:00how he received his first impressions, and he was a great admirer of Mrs. Breckinridge and gave quite a--he gave a car--gave us a car, and what'd we call him? Mary--you've heard of Gladys Peacock, no doubt.

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: She was one of the two assistant directors when I was there. I guess she's still living. I don't--

DEATON: No, she's dead now.

WHITTLESEY: Is she? Anyway, Peacock Willeford and I set off on this trip in the Ford car down into Missouri and Arkansas, the Ozark Mountains, and made a survey. It was thought that an organization such as the Frontier Nursing Service would be very useful down there, and I think it was determined that it was. But it was during the Depression and 51:00I don't think funds were ever developed for it. It was rather short- lived.

DEATON: Did--did Mrs. Breckinridge, or did Mr. Knight, initiate the survey there?

WHITTLESEY: I don't know. I don't remember if I did know. I don't remember now.

DEATON: Well, what part of the Ozarks was this in, in--

WHITTLESEY: It was part in--it was southern Missouri and northern Arkansas, like--I can't remember the name. I kept all that material. I kept all the records. And I kept a copy of all that material (laughs) until I moved up here, and I had to start throwing things away. But I'm sure it's available. You've not heard about it?

DEATON: Yes. Yes, I have heard about it.

WHITTLESEY: Well, I'm sure there's a complete copy of--of the survey [and] all the material developed on the survey there somewhere.


DEATON: What were the types of things that--that you all were asking in the survey?

WHITTLESEY: I think we were trying to determine--determine needs and economic status, reception--receptivity.

DEATON: Did--did everything work out very well for that, except for the fact that there were not funds available to--to begin a satellite program?

WHITTLESEY: Actually, I don't know whether that was ever determined or not. We developed this material on the survey and took it back, and the Depression was so deep by that point that I--I--my impression is that somebody just said, "Well, we can't raise the money for it now." And I 53:00just really don't know what happened after that. I don't remember.

DEATON: Um-hm. And what year was--was that in?

WHITTLESEY: Let me see. It must have been about--I think it was about '30 or '31, but--no, it was after Agnes Lewis was there. Thirty-one or '32, I guess. I don't remember. Because I was always very interested in that material I had. And I wanted to keep it. Just as a matter of personal interest. It--it has a lot of figures in it, you know, costs of things and (laughs) was--and descriptions of countries. Beautiful country on the White River. I believe the White River was the water course there. It was very similar to the--have you been there?


DEATON: Um-hm. Yes. Did you visit Eureka Springs, Arkansas during that period?

WHITTLESEY: Well, we may have gone there. That was the--you know that. You know that that was the--where her--her husband had taught and where they had lived, and where she lost her two children. I believe she was there--they were there when she lost both children. But we were only there just for an afternoon. And I--

DEATON: Did you meet her--her second husband while you were there?

WHITTLESEY: No, no. I don't know whether he was there or not.

DEATON: Was Eureka Springs--was it still a resort town at that time?

WHITTLESEY: I guess so. I don't remember much about it. I don't remember anything about it, really, except the name and the fact that 55:00it was where Mrs. Breckinridge's husband had lived, and where she had lived at one time.

DEATON: Either prior to or during the survey, did you work with Arkansas or Missouri state officials?

WHITTLESEY: I don't remember. I mean I--I don't remember anything about that personally. And I was--I was completely involved in that particular trip and survey. But, of course, there--there were other- -Harry French Knight visited the Frontier Nursing Service at one time. I guess you have a record of that. And he continued to support the Service personally. And I believe there was a--I don't know whether there was a St. Louis Committee or not.

DEATON: I think there was. They were also on--for a short period of time there, I don't know exactly the dates on it.


WHITTLESEY: Well, I don't either.

DEATON: Do--do you recall who got--or who copies of this report were sent to?

WHITTLESEY: No. I don't--I don't know that they ever got beyond the Frontier Nursing Service. Of course, Harry French Knight saw them, I'm sure. Or maybe a resume, I don't know whether he would have waded through the whole thing or not. It was quite voluminous. And I--I guess somebody may have made a resume. I don't remember now. I just don't.

DEATON: Well, I've been told that Mrs. Breckinridge had said that you were her best secretary.

WHITTLESEY: I've been told that, too, that she said that. (laughs)

DEATON: And that--

WHITTLESEY: But I--she was a very generous woman. Very--as I say, we--we were quite compatible. I don't--just for reasons of interest, I 57:00suppose. I didn't--you know I didn't leave for any reasons except that I felt that my life had reached a point where I should--where I wanted to live what I had always assumed to be a natural life: marry, have a family. And the opportunities for doing that in an area of that sort were not very--not very available.

DEATON: Being at Wendover during the evenings and on weekends, what-- what did the staff--well, did the staff have time for social life? And what did they do?

WHITTLESEY: We did a lot of reading. I mean individual reading and discussing what we were reading. We were--I think most of us were interested in books at that time. We didn't have television and we 58:00didn't even have a radio there. I don't think there was even a record player. But most of them were quite interested in--in reading. And we would discuss--and we played a lot of bridge ----------(??). I guess you heard about that.

DEATON: Mrs. Breckinridge--

WHITTLESEY: She was very good. She liked it and she was very good, and we did a lot of that in the evenings. And we worked--we worked awfully hard. We worked very long hours. I remember working way into the night many times. And we had our own--most of us had a little private nook somewhere. I lived up on the "upper shelf" they called it. Had a little room with a fireplace in it. Cool--cool water (laughs) to wash 59:00in in the morning. (laughs)

DEATON: No electricity available?

WHITTLESEY: No. I don't think so. We--I think we used--no, we used kerosene lamps to read by. And no heat except the fireplace. There was, you know, a grate, a coal grate. No, we used wood in it. And J.D. Morgan--have you heard about J.D.?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: J.D. used to keep wood in our rooms. And we brought water from somewhere--cold water from somewhere. We never had hot water to wash in. There were baths down at--and there was a bathroom down at the Big House at Wendover and in the Garden House, but--that we used, but when we got up in the morning, we usually washed in cold water and got out and sometimes it was cold.


DEATON: Was there--

WHITTLESEY: That's all irrelevant, isn't it? (laughs)

DEATON: No. No. Well, did you travel around in the area very much, [take] rides on the weekends or--

WHITTLESEY: Well, the--the nurses, of course, were so busy riding that that wasn't recreation for them. And we had errands now and then. I've gone on errands and I have accompanied visitors on rounds of the centers on horseback. And we made little trips to Hyden for various reasons. But there wasn't much recreational riding, that is, as such. It was recreation but it wasn't just to get out and ride. It was to do something and go somewhere.

DEATON: Could you describe your memory of Hyden for me, the businesses 61:00that were there and the things that were available to people?

WHITTLESEY: (laughs) The only thing I can think of is that paper--that picture I saw in the Louisville newspaper--

DEATON: ----------(??).

WHITTLESEY:--and I--the bank was in it. A little bank. I'm sure it's a different building now. The hospital wasn't in that picture. I think the hospital was built, part of it anyhow, the Hyden Hospital, but it sits way up high on a hill so I don't think it was in--well, there may have been separate pictures of it, but I don't remember. All I remember was the pigs in the--in the dirt roads, and the mud. And I guess there was a little general store there by the bank. Do you know whether there was or not?

DEATON: Yes. The Eversole store?

WHITTLESEY: Yes. That's right. And I guess Mr. Begley's office was upstairs from what, the bank or--

[End of Tape #1, Side #2]


[Begin Tape #2, Side #1]

WHITTLESEY:--recall. I mean it's just--just a picture, and it changed a lot even while I was there.

DEATON: Do you remember Miss Jean Tolk and Miss Zilpha Roberts? Miss Ruth Huston? Any of those people?

WHITTLESEY: Well, I never knew them very well. They--didn't they have a Presbyterian school?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: Was it Presbyterian?

DEATON: Well, did they have--well, they--was there any cooperative efforts between the Presbyterian School and--Miss Jean Tolk was--was a nurse with the Presbyterian organization and the public health department. Was there any association between them and the Frontier Nursing Service?

WHITTLESEY: Well, the functions were so different that I don't think 63:00they intertwined very much, as far as I remember. I think there was a friendly relationship. I don't remember any friction.

DEATON: What--did Miss Tolk or Miss Huston, any of those people, were they some of the people that FNS worked with on the inoculations in the public schools and that type of thing?

WHITTLESEY: Not as I remember. No, I think the Frontier Nursing Service was completely autonomous within its limits.

DEATON: Dr. Cooser from Haz---I'm sorry, Dr. Cooser who was the FNS Medical Director, and Dr. Collins from Hazard--


DEATON:--were two M.D.'s that were working with the Frontier Nursing Service--


DEATON:--a great deal.


DEATON: There was a Dr. Stoddard that had an office--


DEATON:------------(??) Wooten. Did--did he also work with the Frontier 64:00Nursing Service?

WHITTLESEY: I don't believe he was as--he did, I think, a time. I don't think he was quite as--as sympathetic. I'm not--I really don't know about that. But I have the--it seems to me that it was mainly Dr. Collins. He--he was always available. And, of course, Dr. Cooser was--was employed by the Frontier Nursing Service.

DEATON: Were there any other doctors in Hyden or the Leslie County area that were in independent practice or associated with FNS, either-- either one?

WHITTLESEY: I don't remember any. And I don't think I would have remembered Dr. Stoddard if you hadn't mentioned it.

DEATON: Do you know what years he was there?


DEATON: Was he--was he in Leslie County when you came to FNS?


WHITTLESEY: I think so, but I'm not positive. I just remember his name coming up once in awhile. I--someone who was supposed to be, I think, on--on call in emergency cases. But I think he was--I don't mean it quite the way it sounds, but I believe he was considered a last resort.

DEATON: He just wasn't as supportive of the FNS as Dr. Collins was?

WHITTLESEY: No, I think he was just more supportive of himself and his own interests.

DEATON: Were there any--a doc---there was a Dr. Ray at Hyden. Do you recall him at all?

WHITTLESEY: No. Not now.

DEATON: Were there any drugstores in town? Was there a drugstore in Hyden?

WHITTLESEY: I don't think so. Has anyone else said so?

DEATON: There was a--a drugstore there.


WHITTLESEY: Would it have been part of the general store?

DEATON: Well, it was run by Dr. Ray and his brother. They--they were there in the very early '20s, but from what I found--been able to find out, somehow they had left by 192---they left in 1924.


DEATON: And that's--I mean, that's my information now.

WHITTLESEY: Well, I don't--I don't remember the names at all or the fact that there was a drugstore. I thought that all the drugs had to be brought in. See, I don't recall that. Now have you had interviews with a few nurses--a good many nurses?

DEATON: Um-hm.

WHITTLESEY: They know a lot more about some of these things. I guess you've got it written down and perhaps--

DEATON: But we have--

WHITTLESEY:--you're just looking for corroboration. But I--a lot of 67:00that material I can't corroborate. I just had my mind on other things most of the time.

DEATON: Is there anything else that--that comes to mind that we haven't talked about that you need to mention?

WHITTLESEY: Well, I'm sure there're lots of things, but I don't--they just don't come to mind. But--(long pause) well, my overall view of it is, and memory of it, is that it was all constructive. There was very little that I could put my finger on that I would even, in hindsight, if I remembered it, criticize. I thought it was a--a wonderful 68:00project, and I--seems to me most everybody I ever came in contact thought it was. And I suppose it has--is very--people sometimes ask me now, "Well, what are they doing now?" And actually, I don't know very much except the training school. And they continue to have the nursing centers, about as they were? But, of course, the people--they must have a lot more patients, don't they have? Because they're so much more mobile. The people are so much more mobile. It was just so isolated there at that time that it's hard to believe. And every instance stood out with someone. There was not a general impression exactly. There were a lot of individual impressions. And I remember a Christmas Eve 69:00when--the first Christmas Eve I was there, there were some families that were considered to be in--in some need. And a few of us put on our heaviest clothing and walked some miles through the snow with some provisions and things of that sort. Things like that were happening all the time. I think this was in the case of someone who--I can't remember her name. She did laundry at Wendover for a long time. Oh, I have lots of memories, it's just that it's hard to bring them all to a head, and I didn't know what to think--what to try to think about. I didn't know exac---I didn't know what you were--your emphasis was going to be. And I guess it isn't, is it? It's general, as I get it from you.


DEATON: One--one final question. When--well, by the time you were there, things were--were fairly well established.


DEATON: And certainly by the time you left in 1936, and then you went back for a few months in 1938, it was fairly certain that the FNS was going to continue for some time.


DEATON: Did Mrs. Breckinridge ever discuss or talk about the continued future of FNS? Did she project or think into the future at all about what would happen to it after her death? Or was that something--


DEATON:--for other people to be concerned about?

WHITTLESEY:--I--I think what--her main interest was in--I won't say training, but in guiding and--and stimulating people who could follow 71:00her, and in whose judgment she would have confidence. I don't think she meant to control it.

DEATON: Were you at Wendover on the day that--that she was thrown--or jumped from her horse?


DEATON: Could you tell how that came about? What happened?

WHITTLESEY: It was--you know it was up Hurricane Creek. She was going out on a speaking engagement some---I don't remember where. I wasn't with her that time.

DEATON: Was she by herself? Was there anyone with her?

WHITTLESEY: Oh, there were--I think there was someone with her. I think there was always someone with her. But that was a--a rather spirited horse, and I guess just an accident that--it's hard to explain. She was a good rider and very able with horses. And, of course, the 72:00country--the terrain was very rough, and it was--I guess it was in the wintertime or in the fall. Do you--do you know? I've forgotten. But mainly I was--I mean we were concerned for her life and for--it was a very serious accident and, of course, she was bedridden for a long time.

DEATON: She was about fifty?

WHITTLESEY: In that--in that age range, um-hm. I don't remember exactly. I remember it was said that people in her age range had more difficulty in recovering from an accident of that type.

DEATON: Did she--while you were there, did she--did she go to Boston or some place and have some special treatment for her back for a month or 73:00two one summer?

WHITTLESEY: I don't remember Boston. I thought it was mostly in Lexington. I remember Lexington more than any other part of that. As I say, there are things I don't remember. I'm seventy-six now. (laughs) I find my memory's not quite as good as it used to be.

DEATON: Thank you.

WHITTLESEY: Well, you're welcome.

[End of Interview]

0:08 - Introduction / coming to work at the Frontier Nursing Service

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Partial Transcript: This is an unrehearsed interview with Mrs. Wilma Duvall Whittlesey for the Frontier Nursing Service Oral History Project by Dale Deaton at approximately 10:00AM on November 30th, 1979, at Tigard, Oregon.

Segment Synopsis: Wilma Whittlesey is introduced. She discusses how she learned about the FNS and how she began working there. She discusses her relationship with Mary Breckinridge.

Keywords: Admiration; Adventure; Clothes; Compatibility; Correspondence; F.N.S.; FNS; Freedom; Influences; Jobs; Learning; Local color; Renaissance woman; Secretaries; Students; Teaching; Trust; Working; Writing letters

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Frontier Nursing Service, Inc. Hyden (Ky.) Leslie County (Ky.)

7:41 - Duties as the secretary to the director / FNS committees

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Partial Transcript: N--what was your official title while you were [inaudible]?

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey describes her duties as Mary Breckinridge's secretary. She talks about the Frontier Nursing Service committees and the people that made donations to the organization.

Keywords: Administrative; Agnes Lewis; Committee members; Committees; Correspondence; Couriers; Donations; Duties; Endowments; Entertaining; F.N.S.; FNS; Friends; Funds; Great Depression; Help; Humor; Jobs; Life Magazine; Media; Money; New York Times; Nurse-midwives; Responsibilities; Secretaries; Social connections; Social events; Speaking; Speeches; Travelling; Visiting; Work

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Depressions--1929--Kentucky Frontier Nursing Service, Inc.

17:12 - Mary Breckinridge

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Partial Transcript: Her father was at Wendover when you--

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey discusses Mary Breckinridge and her relationship with her father, Clifton Rodes Breckinridge. She talks about whether Mary Breckinridge ever mentioned her children.

Keywords: Agnes Lewis; Ambassadors; Children; Clifton Rodes Breckinridge; Diplomatic; Disagreements; F.N.S.; Fathers; FNS; Frail; Grudges; Open-minded; Personality; Relationships; Shortcomings

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Families. Frontier Nursing Service, Inc.

21:04 - Mary Breckinridge's correspondence with a psychic

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Partial Transcript: This was a--a--the--the period of time that you were there, well, it would have been during the years that she was uh--uh--in--in association with a psychic in New York who--who--uh she communicated with Breckie through.

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey discusses Mary Breckinridge's correspondence with a psychic. She questions the potential publication of the letters.

Keywords: Access; Accidents; Advice; Children; Correspondence; Death; Journals; Margaret Gage; Mediums; Periodicals; Psychics; Publishing; Research; Sister Adeline; Spiritual; Supernatural experiences; Writing letters

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Families.

32:42 - Great Depression

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Partial Transcript: In--in '29 and '30, shortly after you arrived, is when the stock market crash occurred.

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey discusses the effects of the Great Depression and the stock market crash on the local area. She talks about Mary Breckinridge's willingness to work with other agencies to help the local people.

Keywords: Building roads; Community; Cooperation; Dependence; Donations; Efforts; F.N.S.; FNS; Inaccessible; Local area; Local economy; Problems; W.P.A.; WPA

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Depressions--1929--Kentucky Frontier Nursing Service, Inc. Stock Market Crash, 1929 United States. Works Progress Administration.

36:03 - Local people

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Partial Transcript: Who were some of the local people that--uh--that Mrs. Breckinridge dealt with a great deal?

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey mentions some of the local people, including some who worked at Wendover for the FNS. She talks about Mary Breckinridge's interactions and relationships with the local people.

Keywords: Christmas trees; F.N.S.; FNS; Hard-working; Hyden Committee; Involvement; Isolation; Kissing cousins; Meetings; Parties; Relationships; Responsibilities; Social activities; Social life and customs; Socializing; Square dances; Supplies; Visiting; Wendover

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Families. Frontier Nursing Service, Inc.

42:24 - Local resistance to outside help from government programs and the Frontier Nursing Service

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Partial Transcript: With the WPA program and the--the federal government seed program that was started during the Depression, Miss Agnes Lewis told me that--uh--when those programs first became available, assistance from the Red Cross, the WPA, and the--and then the PWA and the seed programs and all that, that Mrs. Breckinridge was very much in support of all of them.

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey discusses the attitudes of the local people towards outside help from the government during the Great Depression. She talks about the local people's initial hesitation to make use of the FNS services.

Keywords: Acceptance; Bureaucratic; Control; F.N.S.; FNS; Government relief programs; Independence; Infant mortality; Isolation; Opposition; Outsiders; P.W.A.; Patients; Public Works Administration; PWA; Records; Reluctance; Services; Statistics; Support; Trust; W.P.A.; WPA

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Depressions--1929--Kentucky Frontier Nursing Service, Inc. Midwives Red Cross United States. Works Progress Administration.

48:07 - Midwifery school / survey of the Ozark Mountains

Play segmentSegment link

Partial Transcript: --discuss the--the efforts to get a midwifery school begun while you were there.

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey discusses Mary Breckinridge's desire to begin a midwifery school in America. She talks about a trip she took with two Frontier Nursing Service nurses to survey the Ozark Mountains to determine interest in expanding the FNS.

Keywords: Agnes Lewis; Cars; Collecting information; Economic status; Education; Eureka Springs (Ar.); F.N.S.; FNS; Funds; Gathering information; Gladys Peacock; Great Depression; Harry French Knight; Husbands; Mary Willeford; Needs; Ozark Mountains; Sponsors; Surveys; Training

Subjects: Arkansas Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Depressions--1929 Families. Frontier Nursing Service, Inc. Frontier School of Midwifery and Family Nursing Missouri

56:38 - Socializing and relaxing at Wendover

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Partial Transcript: Well--I--I've been told that Mrs. Breckinridge had said that you were her best secretary.

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey talks more about working for Mary Breckinridge. She discusses the social life at Wendover and what the staff did to relax during their time off.

Keywords: Banks; Books; Bridge; Cards; Compatibility; Electricity; Errands; F.N.S.; Families; FNS; Fun; Games; General stores; Horseback riding; Hospitals; Opportunities; Radios; Reading; Recreation; Rounds; Secretaries; Social activities; Social life and customs; Socializing; Televisions; Towns; Travelling; Trips; TV; Visitors; Wendover

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Frontier Nursing Service, Inc. Hyden (Ky.)

62:24 - FNS cooperation with other organizations and local doctors / overall impressions of the FNS

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Partial Transcript: Do you remember Miss Jean Tolk and Miss Zilpha Roberts? Miss Ruth Huston? Any of those people?

Segment Synopsis: Whittlesey discusses whether the FNS cooperated with other local organizations and doctors. She gives her overall impressions of the Frontier Nursing Service. She talks about Mary Breckinridge's preparation for the future. The interview is concluded.

Keywords: Accidents; Christmas Eve; Clinics; Cooperation; Criticism; Doctors; Dr. Cooser; Drug stores; F.N.S.; FNS; Future; Immunizations; Impressions; Inoculations; Isolation; Jean Tolk; Medical directors; Opinions; Outpost centers; Partnerships; Patients; Pharmacies; Presbyterian schools; Relationships; Ruth Huston; Schools; Shots; Support; Treatment; Vaccinations; Wendover; Zi

Subjects: Breckinridge, Mary, 1881-1965 Families. Frontier Nursing Service, Inc. Lexington (Ky.). Physicians--Kentucky

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