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News & Views of Phillips Since 1976
Tuesday May 21st 2024

Women & Children First

“Women”'s Work for Women” in the Children”'s Ward at Northwestern Hospital for Women and Children. Photo from the Minnesota Historical Society

by Sue Hunter Weir
When Northwestern Hospital for Women and Children opened its doors in December 1882, its board members had lofty goals but virtually no money. Their goal was to create an “organization, charitable in its nature, for the care of indigent women and children””for the training of nurses for the sick, and also for the drilling of domestic servants.” Or, as one member described it, the hospital was “Woman”'s work for women.” They rented a house at 2504 Fourth Avenue South that could house up to ten patients plus the staff needed to care for them. Rent was $25.00 a month for a hospital that had no indoor plumbing and was lit only by kerosene lamps. Despite the lack of amenities, patients were lining up for beds before the hospital opened. Furnishings, food, bedding and used clothing were donated. Three of the wealthiest donors each made a commitment to give $250 a year to cover the cost of operating one of the hospitals three “free beds.”

Northwestern”'s Board of Trustees filed Articles of Incorporation the following year. The articles stated that only women and children would be treated at the hospital and that all of the staff, both medical and domestic, would be women. Priority was given to indigent women, followed by women who were able to pay for a small portion of their care and, lastly, by women able to pay the full cost of their treatment. In the hospital”'s first year of operation, 97 patients were admitted for treatment; of those 74 were treated for free.

Northwestern”'s nursing school, named the Harriet Walker Training School for Nurses, after the first president of the hospital”'s Board of Trustees, was an important component of the hospital”'s service mission. The earliest students spent a year to a year and a-half learning their profession. Some of their instruction occurred in the classroom but much of it occurred on the job under the supervision of the hospital”'s physicians. The program”'s graduates were in high demand in both hospital and private settings.

Less than a year after the hospital opened, the Board realized that they needed more space and purchased a house at 2527 Clinton Avenue South. The new hospital had room for 18 patients and the staff and nursing students needed to treat them. It didn”'t take long for the Board to realize that they needed even more space. In June 1885, local businessman, Levi Stewart, donated land at the intersection of 27th Street and Chicago Avenue, the current site of what is now Abbott-Northwestern Hospital. Two years later, in May 1887, the new hospital opened for business; it had room for 50 patients. That same year, men were admitted as patients, and men were admitted to the hospital”'s medical staff. The Board of Trustees continued to be made up solely of women, a tradition that continued until 1964.

The need for space and additional hospital beds kept increasing and Board members raised funds during several capitol campaigns throughout the first half of the twentieth century. In 1970, Northwestern Hospital merged with Abbott Hospital, and in 1980, Abbott Hospital closed its doors for good and began working out of a single facility, the site at 27th and Chicago.

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