Welcome to Novel PASTimes! We are pleased you stopped by today. Can you tell us a little about yourself?
Certainly. It’s so nice of you to ask me in to talk about what I’ve been doing in 1933. My name is Piper Danson. I grew up in a nice home in Louisville, Kentucky, where one of my very favorite things to do was go horseback riding with my friend, Jamie. My father is an attorney and my grandfather founded a bank that managed to keep its doors open during the economic crisis after Black Tuesday destroyed so many banks and businesses. I’m happy we are beginning to see signs the country is coming out of the depression thanks to President Roosevelt’s programs to get people back to work. The soup lines in town were terrible to see and some of my dearest friends’ families lost everything in the market crash. That’s one reason I was not very excited about my debutante season and my debut ball in May. It simply seemed wrong to spend so much money on a party I really didn’t want when others were in need, but my mother insisted I had to be a debutante whether I wanted to be or not.
The Depression was a terrible time and we do want to know more about that and about your debutante year. But first, Piper is an unusual name? Is it a family name?
No, I wasn’t named after anybody in my family. When I was younger, I did wish I might have been so I’d have an ordinary name like Sally or Elizabeth. But now, I like having a different sounding name. Especially after I discovered how I came about the name. I was born during a terrible snowstorm. At home, of course, as was the custom when I was born. My father happened to be away on business when I decided to make my appearance a few weeks early. His sister, my aunt Truda, had been standing in for him to make sure my mother had whatever she needed. There were servants to help, but a family member needs to be in attendance too, don’t you think? So, when I was born and turned out not to be the boy my parents had hoped for since they already had one daughter, my mother had no ideas for names. Father said she should have never asked Truda for suggestions. After all, Truda doesn’t exactly have a common name either. Truda claims she had no reason for suggesting Piper and that she was surprised when my mother agreed to the name. Perhaps Mother did think it was a family name. Truda says my mother letting her name me was one of her most precious gifts since Truda has no children of her own.
When I went to the mountains to volunteer with the Frontier Nursing Service, the first thing they did was give me a nickname. I have to admit I was very glad they didn’t choose Pip.
That’s so interesting. It sounds as though you have a special relationship with your aunt Truda? Is that so?
Oh yes. Truda and I have always been close. Some say I’m so much like her that I could be her daughter. My mother is petite and delicate. Truda and I are tall and slender but no one would call us delicate. That’s fine with me. I like being strong enough to handle a horse while not looking like a shrinking violet. Of course, looks can be deceiving when it comes to my mother. While she has always seemed happy as a devoted wife and mother, I found out she was one of the suffragettes who wore white dresses and marched down Louisville’s streets demanding the vote for women. So perhaps I get my independent thinking from both my aunt Truda and my mother.
But you did say it was your mother who insisted you have a debut party, wasn’t it?
Yes. Mother does like to keep up appearances, and Father thought it was a way I could make a proper match. My father had the perfect man, according to him, picked out for me to marry. I thought he might have a stroke when I told him I wanted to do something different before I settled into married life.
I thought most young women loved being debutants. That’s something like being a princess for a season, isn’t it?
I suppose so, although I can’t really answer for other girls. Perhaps if I’d had my debut when I was younger, I would have been more excited about the process. Due to the economic downturn, we thought it best to delay my debutante season. So, I was already twenty when I had my debut, a bit older than most. You’re right about the princess feeling. Debutantes wear elaborate white gowns and are given many bouquets of flowers on their big night. Emily Post has whole sections in her etiquette book of how such parties are supposed to be done along with how a debutante should act and what she should or shouldn’t say. Each girl must have her own special event with all the other debutantes in attendance. A debutante season can be a round of one party or tea after another with all the new dress fittings in between. Some girls do love it all, but I found it tiresome. I’d much rather be riding my horse. Perhaps not everyone is cut out to be a princess.
What can you tell us about the Depression?
I don’t know what exactly caused it. Truda said people were riding too high thinking the good times in the Twenties were going to last forever. Then Black Tuesday hit in 1929. People lost everything. Banks ran out of money. Factories closed. There weren’t any jobs. My best friend’s family lost everything. Their house. Their money. Everything. He even lost his father. A sudden heart attack partly attributed to the stress of the market crash. My family was able to continue with some semblance of the lifestyle we were used to, but many were not as fortunate. I think knowing how so many were suffering may have been the reason I couldn’t embrace the idea of my debutante season. I wanted to do something different. Something more than dancing away the nights while others no longer had any reason to dance. Something that mattered.
You keep mentioning doing something different. So, did you find something different to do rather than go to those debutante parties?
I did. Something very different. My aunt Truda gave a tea for Mary Breckinridge who founded the Frontier Nursing Service in the Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains. I was very impressed with her talk about the nurse midwives who rode up into those hills to help mothers give birth and to do their best to improve the families’ health. Then when she said young women like me often volunteered weeks or even months of their time to take care of the nurses’ horses, run errands or do whatever was needed to give the nurse midwives more time with their patients, I knew that was the something different I wanted to do. I have always loved horses and while I had never had to do much actual work, I was not afraid of getting my hands dirty if it was doing something worthwhile. So, I got on a train and went to Leslie County, Kentucky to volunteer as a courier with the Frontier Nursing Service. Believe me, I found my something different.
What did your parents think about that?
They weren’t happy. Especially my father who thought I was throwing away my chances for a good marriage. Mother, surprisingly enough, seemed to understand and although not happy about me casting aside my debutante season, was very supportive.
Tell us something about the Frontier Nursing Service. It sounds very interesting.
Actually, the Frontier Nursing Service is proof of what one determined woman can accomplish when she has a vision. Mary Breckinridge had that vision of helping mothers and children who lacked access to proper healthcare due to their isolation and poverty. She had seen how nurse midwives served people in France after the Great War in 1918. So she went to England to train as a midwife since there were no midwifery schools in America. Then she talked some of those English midwives into coming to Eastern Kentucky to start her nurse midwifery service in Leslie County, Kentucky. She recruited nurse midwives by promising them a horse, a dog and the opportunity to save children’s lives in a rugged but beautiful area of America. Dedicated women came to the mountains from across the sea to do just that. Mrs. Breckinridge managed to get a hospital built in Hyden, Kentucky.
She was from a socially prominent family and she used those contacts to speak to groups of women who supported her work in the mountains through contributions of money and supplies. I met her at one of those teas. She never asked for money. She merely told about the amazing work of her nurse midwives and how the mountain mothers needed healthcare. The donations came in and young women like me volunteered to be the hands and feet of those nurses. The Frontier Nursing Service has a record of healthy births as good or even better than anywhere in the country. One woman. One vision. Hundreds of healthy babies and mothers.
That is inspiring. I can see you were impressed by Mary Breckinridge and her nurse midwives. But what about you? What happened once you got to the mountains?
I couldn’t even begin to tell you all the things I experienced. Babies being born. Horses needing care. Seeing stars that seemed almost close enough to touch. Hearing whippoorwills and learning mountain trails. Crossing swinging bridges. Getting to know the nurse midwives. Doing things I could have never imagined doing before I volunteered as a courier and some I find hard to believe even now that I did manage to do. Then aunt Truda came to visit and both the man my father wanted me to marry and my old friend, Jamie, followed me to the mountains. Needless to say, things got really interesting then.
It sounds like you had a busy summer.
I had a wonderful summer. An unforgettable experience. If I ever have a daughter, I’m signing her up on the waiting list to be a Frontier Nursing Service courier as soon as she’s born. Working with the midwives in the mountains changed my life and it would surely change hers too. They have a saying at the Frontier Nursing Service that nobody comes there by accident. I think it was no accident that I heard Mrs. Breckinridge speak and then headed to the mountains. The Lord knew I needed this summer.
Is there anything else you’d like people to know about you? What’s next for you?
I have no idea what’s next, but I am so ready for the adventure of life now that I’ve witnessed babies taking their first breaths, explored new places and dared new things. I want to rejoice in the gift of each day and keep looking for that something different to do.
Thanks for allowing us to get know you a little better!
Thank you for inviting me over. I’m always ready to talk about my Appalachian summer.
After the market crash of 1929 sent the country’s economy into a downward spiral that led to the Great Depression, the last thing Piper Danson wants is to flaunt her family’s fortune while so many suffer. Although she reluctantly agrees to a debut party at her parents’ insistence, she still craves a meaningful life over the emptiness of an advantageous marriage.
When an opportunity to volunteer with the Frontier Nursing Service arises, Piper jumps at the chance. But her spontaneous jaunt turns into something unexpected when she falls in love with more than just the breathtaking Appalachian Mountains.
Romance and adventure are in the Kentucky mountain air as Gabhart weaves a story of a woman yearning for love but caught between two worlds—each promising something different.
Ann H. Gabhart is the bestselling and award-winning author of several Shaker novels—The Outsider, TheBeliever, The Seeker, The Blessed, The Gifted, and The Innocent—as well as historical novels—River to Redemption, These Healing Hills, Angel Sister, Love Comes Home, and more. Writing as A. H. Gabhart, she is also the author of the popular Hidden Springs Mysteries series. She has been a finalist for the ECPA Book of the Year and the Carol Awards, has won Selah Awards for River to Redemption andLove Comes Home, and won RWA’s Faith, Hope, and Love Award for These Healing Hills. Ann and her husband enjoy country life on a farm a mile from where she was born in rural Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.