Ethnographic traits in the writing of Mary Breckinridge*


  • Mary Ann Ruffing-Rahal PhD RN C

    1. Assistimi Professor, Department of Family and Commumty, College of Nursing, The Ohio State University, 344 Newton Hall, 1585 Neil Avenue, Columbus, Ohio 43210, USA
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  • *

    An earlier abbreviated version of this paper was presented at the Annual Meeting American Public Health Association Boston Massachusetts on 14 NOvember 1998


Mary Breckinridge, founder of The Frontier Nursing Service, employed ethnographic methodologies—partiapant observation, interviewing and fieldwork—as foundation efforts toward construction of highly responsive health-service systems, developed under circumstances of duress, eg after World War I and pre-industrial Appalachia In culturally representing the Appalachian, she drew upon two vast resources, her first-hand field experience as well as her considerable rhetorical skill She narrated and described an enormity of selected ‘realities’ of Appalachian life with immediacy of detail and nonpatronizing sensitivity for ‘insider’ perspectives In an era of transition with few indigenous cultural writers, Breckinridge capitalized on her family heritage in Appalachia, which further underscored the intimacy and authenticity of her accounts As portrayed in her autobiography, crosscultural encounters of one kind and time or another supplied an infrastructure of longstanding meaning throughout her life The final and lasting impression is that, in both skills and orientation, Breckinridge's were essentially those of the ethnographer