Pine Mountain Settlement School
Series 09: Staff/Personnel


Teacher – Line Fork Settlement
1920 – 1921 (six months)

TAGS: Frances Palmer (Conquist), Pine Mountain Settlement School, Line Fork Medical Settlement nurses, Letcher County, Ruth Dennis, Harriet Butler, Dr. Grace Huse, WWI; World War I, Red Cross, Dr. Grace Huse, Red Cross Nurses, Chateau-Thierry, France,  St. Mihiel, France, General Pershing, Coblenz, Germany, Minneapolis, Minnesota

Frances Palmer (Conquist) came to Pine Mountain’s Line Fork Settlement only for a short six months in 1920. She was one of the first workers to come to the satellite extension at Line Fork Medical Settlement and her narrative is particularly important as it is a very candid response to the medical needs of the community in Letcher County and Harlan County by the first nurse to work at the Line Fork Settlement.

In 1918, shortly before her stay at Pine Mountain, Miss Palmer served as a Red Cross Nurse in WWI and was specially cited by General Pershing for her “conspicuous service at Chateau-Thierry and at St. Mihiel” one of the first battles won in WWI. She continued her war efforts in Coblenz, Germany, with the American forces until the end of the war and then found her way to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky. (Transactions of the Minnesota State Medical Association, Volume 39, p.127)

When she came to Pine Mountain’s Line Fork Settlement, she had experienced the horrors of WWI first-hand by caring for the troops maimed and mentally traumatized by battle. She was barely two years out of that war-time experience when she arrived.

Miss Frances Palmer came from Minneapolis and returned to St. Paul, Minnesota, to live. Like many of her co-workers, she became forever attached to the School through the memories of her work, if only for the briefest of appointments. She made close friends and developed a life-long affection for the School. Also, like many of her co-workers, she left a thoughtful and heartfelt recollection of her months in a short narrative that is part of the Line Fork history compiled by the workers. The account is startling in its detail and clearly draws the boundaries around her war-time medical experience and the skills and the medical practice of a public health nurse in a remote rural community. In her brief stay at Line Fork settlement, one thing she may have found in common with her earlier WWI experience was the treatment of a gun-shot wounded young man.

Full Transcription


Frances Palmer Conquist

[page 01] Through Miss R[uth] Dennis of Chicago, I learned of the work at Pine Mountain Settlement School, and of the new settlement that they were to start on the Line Fork, where Miss Dennis, a teacher and a nurse were to work among the people of that community.

Post Office at Gilley where Line Fork mail was handled.

The thought of doing Public Health work at this new settlement greatly appealed to me and I made application for the position. Being given the opportunity sought, I left St. Paul, Minn. the latter part of [page 02] September, arriving at Pine Mountain Settlement in the afternoon of October first, 1920.

Here I learned that the Bear Branch school, which was next to the temporary cabin of the Line Fork workers, had been closed on account of severalcases and suspected cases of diptheria. SoMiss Dennis and the Bear Branch school teacher were staying at the Pine Mountain school for a few days. From them, and from the workers of Pine Mountain School, I soon obtained some idea of the work that was before us at Line Fork.

The following morning, Miss Dennis and I started on the four-mile walk to the Medical Settlement, where Dr. Huse and Miss Harriet Butler who has done health work among the mountaineers for many years, gave me hosts of invaluable suggestions and told me some of their experiences. Through Dr. Huse, I was given and idea what medicines and medical supplies would be of use for the health work at the Line Fork Settlement. These drugs and supplies were ordered from a wholesale drug company.

Barn. Line Fork

After a wonderful dinner, and pleasant helpful visits, we left the Medical settlement and visited [page 03] with the people along the road, back to Pine Mountain School.


The morning of the third, we filled our pokes, and threw them over the back of “Betsey”, Mrs. Zande’s horse, and started for Line Fork settlement, which was about six miles from the school. As we would come to the various cabins, Miss Dennis would introduce me as “the nurse”; and with a pleasant but rather dubious look, the “mammies”, and “paps” and “granpaps”, as well as the children, would tell of their various ailments, which were “prisons”, sore eyes, “eetch”, “yaller janders” [jaundice], bad throats, “rummertiz”, headaches [page 04] and “such like”.

By the time we reached our cabin, I was convinced that it would take some time to impress upon the people that Japanese oil, Vick’s salve, “herb teas” poultices and “superstitious treatments” were not the best cures, and permanent cures, for all ailments; and that the first step was to win their confidence, and then gradully to show them the more healthful, and in the long run the easier, way to live so as to prevent some of the preventable diseases.

In the afternoon I went to see the family where diptheria had taken hold and found that the two boys had greatly improved — thanks to Dr. Huse. I also called on three “suspect ” cases. Payment was generally in the form of eggs, apples, chickens etc. —sometimes money. As it was hard to find food and shelter for the horse we returned her to Pine Mountain and decided to do our work walking.

A week or so later the Bear Branch school reopened and health work was started in the school. The eye charts and necessary supplies for the routine of physical examination among school children were sent to us from the Kentucky State Board of Health. Where families objected to this preliminary examination, I did not force the children to go through with it, as I was [page 05] not sure what the outcome would be.

Itch, pediculosis and, hookworm proved to be very common, and many were found with defective vision and enlarged tonsils. Health talks either preceded or followed the examinations. This same work was carried on in the Coyle Branch school, which was further down the creek. A few months later we added the Hurricane Gap school to our list.


After the schools closed, the Health work, sewing classes and recreational work continued, Miss Dennis and I going to each school once a week, and meeting with the children and those parents who cared to come.

Toothbrush Drills. Hurricane Gap School

The Health Crusades were started in [page 06] each school, and the toothbrush drills were on the weekly program. At this time some of the mothers would bring their small babies to see if they were all right or to have a “risin” lanced or dressed or sore eyes cared for. By the aid of the Kentucky State Board of Health, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company and dental concerns, samples of tooth paste pamphlets and pictures were used and proved a great help in the health work.

Efforts in trying to show that [the] outside toilet properly constructed and cared for, would lesson the hookworm, flux and other diseases, that “Swat the fly” was the best preventative for many ailments, that soap and water and proper disposal of table refuse were essential to a healthy life, seemed fruitless; and during my stay at the settlement, I did not see any improvement along these lines.

Our new cabin had a cupboard with shelves built in, in one of gthe bedrooms. Here the drugs and other medical supplies were kept. A small chest in which baby outfits, sent in by outsiders and sold to these people, were kept, was also in this room. The greatest demand was for “hippins” as the babies and small children had not been in the habit of wearing these before and the mothers decided to add them to the wearing apparel.

One afternoon word came from a cabin four miles down [page 07] the creek that a child was dying from Diptheria; and as I was “school teacher” for that afternoon, school was immediately dismissed, and soon I was bouncing along on a borrowed nag. The child did not have diphtheria and it was not dying. A doctor had been over from Poor Fork several days before; and had left medicine and orders regarding the child, all of which had been carried out for a short time. Then “teas” and poultices and “japan oil” had been administered to no avail. Tonsillitis had been followed by pneumonia and then a relapse and had been very hard on the child, but as soon as the doctor’s orders were carried out again, it was soon up and running about. I stayed several days and nights here, and as it was my first experience in “staying a night” with the whole family sleeping in the same room, I received many lasting impression, some of which were  — the improper diets for children and the sick, the use of a common toothbrush and the passing around of chewed gum!

On my way home from this place, I was called to see a “risen” on a girl’s arm. She had had it for two weeks, and the poultices of red sumac root, or apple and vinegar, of lim [?] root and sweet milk, of buckeye bark and cornmeal, and of hot oatmeal, did not seem to help it. All I could do at this time was to show them how to use [page 08] the hot salt packs and say I would return in the morning. The next day I applied glycerine and gauze dressings and was informed that they didn’t like the salt packs and had put Vick’s salve on. The third poultice I found, the oatmeal poultice on again, and was almost ready to give up. But the girl had lost so much sleep and was in such pain, that she finally consented to have it opened and glycerine applied again. The next visit found things as I had left them and the “risen” draining well with the patient free from pain.

A boy from Stoney Fork had been to Whitesburgh [sic] or Poor Fork — I don’t recall which — to have a rapidly enlarging growth reoved fron his finger; and when told he must stay in the hospital until it healed, both his mother and boy were quite disappointed. Finally the doctor consented to their going hoe if they could get the settlement nurse to come over and dress it ever day or two. The mother was most careful in doing as she was told, and seemed anxious to learn all she could, and wa thankful that the doctor had told her about a nurse at Line Fork.


A near neighbor to our cabin was making arrangements for another baby, and asked if the nurse would take [page 09] care of her at the time of confinement. Prenatal instructions were given, baby clothes purchased or made, and the importance of having a physician to take care of the case explained. When told that a doctor had promised to come, I felt greatly relieved; but somewhat surprised when informed that “He weren’t no diplomy doctor, jest lairned hit when ‘travelling around the country.'” It was then necessary to explain that I would be limited in my assistance to the “doctor”; but I promised to vcome when sent for and to do what I could. When the call came, I took some cotton, sterilized gauze, bichloride tablets, scissors, tweezers and tape, arriving shortly after the “doctor”, who was attired in overalls and flannel shirt, with his coat on, and rubber shoes. The room. were the patient was lying in bed, was dark except for a small light from the fireplace.

I boiled up the scizzors [sic], tweezers and tape, fixed dressings on a clean towel, and prepared the room as far as I could for the confinement. After everything was in order, the doctor informed me that he “didn’t low hit wuz necessary for all that workins.” So the bichloride solution went untouched, an old black woolen skirt was used for patient and new baby instead of the clean sheet, a pair of shears hanging over the fireboard was used to cut [the] cord, and a piece of common string for tying it, instead of sizzors and tape that had been boiled for the purpose. Afterward, “campfire” (moonshine and camphor) was ad- [page 10] ministered to the mother, and a burnt rag dressing applied to the baby’s cord. When it was all over. the “doctor” said “Well miss, I ‘lows me an’ you could work erlong might well together, and you jist go ahead and take keer uv them the rest er the time.” I hardly knew how to take this remark, but I took care of mother and baby from then on, though “Jim” and I had no more confinement cases together after that!


It seems that several attempts had been made to “git” one of the young men of the community; and one Sunday night when he was alone in the store at Bear Branch [page 10] some one fired at him and filled his back and side full of shot. Word was soon brought to us, and Miss Dennis and I hurried to the store, where we found him lying on a cot. Most of the shots were superficial, but they were numerous. Nancy, who lives near the store, held the only light which was a miner’s lamp; and in the midst of first aid she fainted, and left me in the dark! Soon the light was burning again and after poor Nancy had had several dippers of water poured over her, she was ready to help again. I tried to persuade them to call a doctor, but they did not think it necessary.

For six or seven days the patient stayed at the store, as he lived some distance up the mountain side. Dressings were changed twice a day, and each time, more shot would be removed. When time came for him to go home, several of the boys cut two tameracks, cleaned the trunks, and made a stretcher frmo a quilt and coats: they then carried him up the mountain to his cabin where he was confined to his cabin and bed for several weeks. Between his banjo and book and magazines from the settlement, time passed quickly until he was up and about again.


At the time when Pine Mountain Settlement was without a nurse, several trips were made to the [page 11] School to look after the cases of itch and take care of minor ailments; also to look after a confinement case.

Line Fork Settlement. Front and East view. Miss Dennis on porch.

As the salary of the nurse at Line Fork was paid by the Kentucky State Board of Health, the Letcher County Red Cross and the Pine Mountain Settlement School, it was decided that Miss Dennis and I should make a trip to Whitesburgh [sic] , the county seat, and meet the members of the Red Cross Association. As it was hard for Miss Dennis and me to ride double, we took turns riding and walking for five or six miles, until we found a place where we could borrow another nag.

About dusk it was when we reached Whitesburgh and after finding a place for the nags, we were heartily welcomed at the home of one of the officers of the Red Cross. [page 12] We spent the night and a day in Whitesburgh, and met most of the members of the Red Cross at one of their evening meetings. The afternoon was spent at a Church Aid Society meeting, where the work at Line Fork was again described.

Sunday School Class. Bear Branch School

In April 1921, when the new cabin and barn were not quite finished, and the Public Health work at Line Fork barely started, I left the mountains and all the interesting and good people there, and started for St. Paul, where on April 13th, I “changed my name” for better or worse.




Frances Palmer Conquist




Alt. Title

Frances Palmer Conquist




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY

Alt. Creator

Ann Angel Eberhardt ; Helen Hayes Wykle ;

Subject Keyword

Frances Palmer ; Pine Mountain Settlement School ; Line Fork Settlement ; nurses ; teachers ; health literacy ; nursing ; medical ; health ; education ; industrial workers ;

Subject LCSH

Palmer Conquist, Frances.
Pine Mountain Settlement School (Pine Mountain, Ky.) — History.
Harlan County (Ky.) — History. Education — Kentucky — Harlan County.
Rural schools — Kentucky — History.
Schools — Appalachian Region, Southern.




Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY




Collections ; text ; image ;


Original and copies of documents and correspondence in file folders in filing cabinet


Series 09: Staff/Personnel




Is related to: Pine Mountain Settlement School Collections, Series 09: Staff/Personnel ; Series 10: Line Fork Settlement ;

Coverage Temporal


Coverage Spatial

Pine Mountain, KY ; Harlan County, KY ;


Any display, publication, or public use must credit the Pine Mountain Settlement School. Copyright retained by the creators of certain items in the collection, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.




Core documents, correspondence, writings, and administrative papers of Frances Palmer Conquist ; clippings, photographs, books by or about Frances Palmer Conquist ;




“[Identification of Item],” [Collection Name] [Series Number, if applicable]. Pine Mountain Settlement School Institutional Papers. Pine Mountain Settlement School, Pine Mountain, KY.

Processed By

Helen Hayes Wykle ; Ann Angel Eberhardt ;

Last Updated

2014-02-12 hhw ; 2020-05-19 hhw



Transactions of the Minnesota State Medical Association. Chicago: American Medical Association, 1903. Internet resource.


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