150 YEARS OF CARING
[Editor’s Note: Originally the Lowell Corporation Hospital was established in 1839. In 1930 the deed was transferred to the Archdiocese of Boston and it became known as Saint Joseph’s Hospital. In 1989 Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Lowell, Massachusetts celebrated 150 years of health care to the community. A History-Calendar, summarizing these fifteen decades with commentaries and recollections, was published for the occasion. The following history of the hospital is quoted from this publication.]
Lowell Corporation Hospital
In 1839 Lowell was the most important textile manufacturing city in the United States. The birthplace of the industrial revolution in America, Lowell had become a city of 21,000 people, many of whom were “mill girls” recruited from surrounding areas to form the labor force in the textile mills.
The high incidence of illness and injury to mill operatives became a major public issue. It became obvious that a facility for the health care of the mill operatives was necessary for the continued well-being of the community, so the manufacturing corporations banded together “to establish and maintain a hospital for the convenience and comfort of persons employed by them when sick for medical care, surgical treatment and to contribute the funds necessary for that purpose.”
Thus, on November 1, 1839, the Lowell Corporation Hospital was established. Housed in the mansion of the late Kirk Boott, which was later owned by Luther Lawrence, Mayor of Lowell, the Lowell Corporation Hospital was the first industrial hospital in America, and for 27 years, the only hospital in Lowell.
It officially opened its doors on May 11, 1840, and admitted its first patient, Miss Nancy Judkins, a twenty-year-old weaver from the Lawrence Manufacturing Company, who suffered from neuralgia.
Charges for care, three dollars a week for women, four dollars for men, were paid by the operatives. If they were unable to pay the superintendent, then the mills for which they worked would reimburse the Corporations. No patient was turned away for lack of funds.
The hospital was managed by an appointed medical superintendent who was in turn answerable to a board of trustees, which consisted of representatives from each of the manufacturing companies. In addition to his managerial duties, the superintendent was also the hospital’s head surgeon. In order to facilitate his work, he lived on the premises in quarters segregated from those of the patients.
The first medical superintendent of the Lowell Corporation Hospital was Dr. Gilman Kimball. For twenty-seven years, Dr. Kimball performed his duties in such a way that he rose to eminence as a surgeon in the United States. In that time, he showed both compassion and skill to those who came under his care. As superintendent, he was required to perform a variety of medical procedures, but most of his patients were young women in their child-bearing years and he pioneered such gynecological operations as the ovariotomy and the successful removal of the uterus. However, records of the Hospital do not indicate any surgical cases until 1857.
Also in 1840, a 15-bed children’s ward was opened, the first such facility in Massachusetts, according to Dr. John Lovett Morse, Harvard Professor of Pediatrics.During the first twenty years, the prevailing illness was typhoid fever, which was treated with relative success at Lowell Corporation Hospital.
In his report to Hospital Trustees covering the first nine years of operation, Dr. Kimball recorded that more than half of all admissions were diagnosed as typhoid fever; that there were only four months in the nine-year period when no typhoid cases were admitted. Dr. Kimball writes, “Typhoid fever is the most constant, the most prevalent and the most important disease…. From this cause more deaths occur than from all other maladies coming under Hospital treatment.”
The patient’s average stay in the Hospital was 14 days. The beginnings of private rooms are hinted at: “The wards are small, never more than five beds, seldom more than four. In extreme cases an entire ward is appropriated to a single patient and in no instance is a patient allowed to witness a death. Indeed, everything which may be supposed to operate injuriously on the mind or the senses is most studiously avoided.”
An out-patient department was opened in June 1877, not only for Corporation employees, but also for the poor of the city. On August 25, 1887, a new ward was opened to help contain contagious diseases. This ward remained in operation until 1918 when the city opened a contagious disease hospital.
A training school for nurses was established in September 1887 with a course of instruction similar to that in the best hospitals of the larger cities.
As the 19th century drew near to a close, another noteworthy “first” occurred. In 1891, Sara A. Williams, M.D., became the first woman physician appointed to the Staff of the Lowell Corporation Hospital. City directories of the period show that she maintained an office on Central Street until, in 1895, she “removed to Palmer.”
An ear, nose and throat clinic opened in 1910. By 1911, medical and surgical clinics went into operation and the laboratory was completed. Two years later the hospital bought its first X-ray machine, and in 1919 a pathology department was founded. A first-aid room for outpatient use and a prenatal clinic were instituted in 1921, and in 1925 saw the opening of an orthopedic clinic and brought the first five radium needle implants to the hospital for treatment.
By then, however, the mills had fallen on bad times. They had been hard-pressed by the Civil War, and in the following decades many had sought cheaper labor ad more efficient geographical areas for manufacturing outside of New England. Now facing the depression, industry declined, boarding houses were closed, mills shut down. The Corporation Hospital could no longer pay its way.
Saint Joseph’s Hospital
Beginning in 1927 and continuing through 1930, the Corporation made several unsuccessful attempts to sell the hospital to the Franco-American Oblates, who had been petitioning the Archdiocese of Boston for a hospital for their community. The Cardinal continually refused to sanction the acquisition of the hospital because its purchase price of $85,000 (the hospital’s deficit) was too high.
Undaunted, Father Louis Bachand, Pastor of ST. Joseph’s Parish, was determined to acquire the hospital. With Joseph Legare acting as a liaison between the Oblates and the Corporation and Arthur Eno handling the legal aspects, ten days of negotiations ensued. As a result, on November 1, 1930, the deed to the Lowell Corporation Hospital was transferred to the Archdiocese of Boston and placed under the direction of the Oblates with the Grey Nuns of the Cross of Ottawa acting as management. In consideration of one dollar, it was given as a general hospital for the city of Lowell with the stipulation that it continue its work unchanged.
As the Lowell Corporation Hospital, its days had come to an end, but its accomplishments had not gone unnoticed. During its 99-year history, it had served over 2,000 patients and met the health needs of a rapidly growing community. Under its new name, Saint Joseph’s Hospital, its broader role as a Catholic community hospital had just begun.
The first Superior of Saint Joseph’s Hospital was Sr. St. Alphonse Rodriguez, who had been Superior of Notre Dame Hospital in Hawkesbury, Ontario. On November 12, 1930, accompanied by Sr. Jerome-Emilien and Sr. St. Simonne, Sr. Alphonse left the Mother House in Ottawa on a 5:15 a.m. train, arrived in Lowell at 7:15 p.m., and received a warm reception at St. Joseph’s Convent on Moody Street.
At 9:00 the following morning, Sr. Alphonse and Fr. Bachand visited the hospital where they were greeted coldly by the superintendent of nurses, who did little to make them feel welcome. They were appalled at the disorder and neglect that had befallen the hospital since the mid 1920’s, when the corporations were no longer able to support it.
Another cool reception was given by the medical superintendent of the hospital, until Sr. Alphonse assured him they had no intention of removing him from his position, but would like him to remain and assist them in the transition. She thus obtained his cooperation and loyalty.
On November 15th, St. Alphonse met with all the graduate nurses and students to assure them that they were to be retained in their positions. The superintendent of nurses had recommended that they leave because the Sisters did not want them; and they were please to know this was not the case. They were also assured by Sr. Alphonse that Saint Joseph’s was “an institution devoted to relieve the suffering of the humanity regardless of nationality or creed.”
Having secured the cooperation of the hospital superintendent and nursing staff, Sr. Alphonse and her staff set about the arduous work of cleaning, painting, and revitalizing the deteriorated hospital.
Under Sister Alphonse’s prudent direction, economies were practiced diligently. Note was taken of food left unconsumed as well as consumed by the patients, the better to plan menus. Electric lights of unneeded strength were replaced with smaller bulbs to conserve energy expense. Free bricks from a torn-down mill building were used to build a boiler plant. Cleaning, painting, and a general face-lifting of the facility were done during the first weeks. Thanks to the untiring devotion of the Sisters, marvels were accomplished in a short time.
The Hospital was blessed by William Cardinal O’Connell and renamed Saint Joseph’s Hospital at a ceremony on Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 1930. Community leaders and Church members were enthusiastic and generous in their response to fund raising efforts on behalf of the new Saint Joseph’s Hospital.
In a report titled: “Sincerity-Simplicity-Service” covering the Hospitals first full year of operation, the following statistics were recorded:
2,024 patients admitted
182 maternity cases
17,413 out-patient visits
Also significant in first-year statistics, and consistent with Christian charity, were:
6,743 meals given to the poor
10,339 out-patient treatments at hospital expense
526 operations performed at no expense to the patients
The report placed a dollar value of over $57,000 as the cost of providing these charities!
Other first year accomplishments included a myriad of activities involving renovating and repairing the building exterior, as well as constructing an addition to the main building and beautifying the grounds.
[Editor’s Note: Also in 1989, the hospital undertook a major building and renovation program which included a state-of-the art Intensive/Cardiac Care Unit, the most modern in the area. Upon completion this new unit was named after Sr. Yvette Thibaudeau, S.C.O. In 1942 Sr. Thibaudeau graduated from the hospital’s School of Nursing. She then entered the order of the Grey Nuns of the Cross (Sisters of Charity of Ottawa), continued her studies and served as a nursing supervisor in Ottawa before returning to Saint Joseph’s Hospital in 1954 as assistant administrator. She retired as administrator, the post she had held since 1964, in 1989 but continued her involvement by overseeing the new building project.]
In 1992, Saint Joseph’s Hospital and St. John’s Hospital, both in Lowell, merged to become Saints Memorial Medical Center. Twenty years later in 2012, Saints Medical Center merged with Lowell General Hospital to form two robust campuses for health care in the City of Lowell.