Good Sam from N & O
GOOD SAMARITAN HOSPITAL (FOR COLORED PEOPLE),
CHARLOTTE, MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C., 1888/1891—1960/1961
Good Samaritan Hospital (GSH), which came into existence through the efforts of a handful of dedicated individuals, was a product of segregated society in the South. The hospital and its School of Nursing saved lives with a modicum of expense and provided needed medical care for the Afro-American community in Charlotte and throughout the Piedmont region of the Carolinas.
During the War Between the States, the Confederate Government established several military hospitals in Charlotte near South Tryon Street and along the railroad tracks. The women of the village received their first experiences as nurses while caring for the sick and wounded soldiers in those facilities. Following the war years, Mrs. John Wilkes (1827-1913) and her friends organized a village hospital known at St. Peter’s Hospital (1876-1940). At an early meeting of the Church Aid Society for St. Peter’s Hospital, on January 4th, 1876, the Reverend Benjamin S. Bronson, Rector at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on North Tryon Street, urged the group of ladies to establish a hospital: “… a large brick, with separate wards for white and colored patients, saying he was sure the colored citizens would raise a considerable amount towards the erection if permitted to share in its benefits.” The community did not support one unified structure and St. Peter’s Hospital began as a facility for the white community. Mrs. John Wilkes, however, did not forget Father Bronson’s dream for hospital care for members of both races.
Mrs. John Wilkes, nee Jane Smedberg, was the daughter of a Swedish industrialist Charles Gustav Smedberg and Isabella Renwick, of New York City. She had married her cousin John Wilkes, the son of Admiral Charles Wilkes (1798-1877) who had claimed a portion of Antarctica for the U.S. in the 1830’s and who owned gold lands in North Carolina. In Charlotte, she served for years as president of the St. Peter’s Hospital Board. Simultaneously, Jane Wilkes solicited funds from her friends in the North for additional hospital care. In December of 1882, Trinity Church of Southport, Connecticut, made the first financial contribution for a colored hospital in Charlotte. The Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina ten organized a Chapel of St. Michael, for colored, in 1883. This mission chapel was located in Charlotte’s old Third Ward, southwest of the Square at Tryon and Trade Streets. Then, in 1885, the Episcopal Diocese purchased a lot near the chapel for $400, “to be held for a hospital for colored.”
Mrs. J.A. Yarbrough, a local Charlotte columnist in the 1930’s, recorded the events of the cornerstone ceremony for GSH:
“On December 18, 1888, the corner stone was laid with suitable religious and masonic ceremonies. Participating were the Rev. Joseph B. Cheshire, E.A. Osborne, E.N. Joyner of the Episcopal church; Rev. Dr. [Stephen] Mattoon [Matoon] of the Presbyterian church, and of the colored clergy Rev. P.P. Alston, Episcopal, Rev. Wyche, Presbyterian, and Rev. Tyler, Methodist. The colored Masonic lodge laid the stone with impressive ceremony.”
“As funds were collected the [brick building was constructed and] on September 23rd, 1891, nearly 10 years after the first appeals were made, the building was solemnly dedicated to the service of God and to the care of the sick and suffering.”
The hospital had cost $4,400, and the first Board of Trustees had a $400 indebtedness to pay off. The Trustees included: Mmes. John Wilkes, R.P. Lardner, R. Lockwood Jones, T.S. Clarkson, Charles Fox, C.N.F. Jeffrey, and W.E. Holt. During its first six months of operation, thirteen patients were received and cared for.
Other North Carolina hospitals serving the Afro-American community at this time were the N.C. State Hospital at Goldsboro (1880) and Leonard Hospital at Shaw University, Raleigh (1882).
The hospital provided care for 54 patients in 1893, 35 of whom were from Charlotte. Patients also came from outside the city and from South Carolina and Virginia. The facility experienced ten deaths and operated on a budget of about $825. Among the list of donors can be found the name of J.S. Carr, of Durham, N.C., who sent one box each of tobacco and soap in September. Apparently the hospital was responding to a holistic view of nursing care.
Ten years later, the patient list included individuals from the Carolinas, as well as from Georgia, Virginia, and Martinique (West Indies). The budget had increased to $1,176 and a new building annex had been completed. In May of 1902, the Great American Tea Company donated ten pounds of coffee to the institution. Much financial support continued to come from the Woman’s Auxiliary of several Episcopal diocese—in New York, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Jersey, and Washington, D.C. Additional support was generated from Charlotte’s own black community—from the Colored Graded School, St. Michael’s Parish Church, and from the Seventh Street Presbyterian Church. In May 1909, the hospital graduated its first nurse, thereby initiation the GSH School of Nursing.
The early years of labor, support, and education paid off in July 1911 when an excursion train “for Negroes” wrecked near Hamlet, N.C.:
“. . . the wounded . . . were brought to Charlotte.” Eighty-one patients were brought to the hospital, which fortunately had been increased to 12 rooms.” “Even then every available space was filled with emergency beds and cots. Nurses and women from all over the city worked with the doctors all night. Extra operating tables were improvised and all the surgeons in town came to help. The excellent care and nursing the patients received was indicated by the fact that only three died of their injuries while at the hospital.”
During the 1920’s and 1930’s the hospital continued to grow in services and in additions to the original building, which structure was located at 411 West Hill Street, between South Mint and South Graham Streets. Both the Duke Foundation and the Julius Rosenwald Fund contributed financially to the hospital’s support. Then, in a report of the Rosenwald Foundation (1931), an observer of the hospital concluded that, “professional standards of this hospital are not all that might be desired.” The Episcopal and local support continued in the form of money, volunteer services, and the addition of a new wing, expanding the building to 100 beds. Yet, in 1940, the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina closed its older St. Peter’s Hospital in favor of the county operated Memorial Hospital (new Carolinas Medical Center), and the diocese was seeking possible alternatives for the continuation of its Good Samaritan Hospital.
In the late 1950’s problems arose at the “Colored” hospital. All the junior and senior student nurses went on strike and were then suspended from the School of Nursing. The School of Nursing then closed in 1959. The local NAACP demanded that Good Samaritan Hospital be closed and that the medical staff voted to take over the operation of GSH, perhaps, in an attempt to provide more equal services in a segregated setting.
To clear up the charges of inferior or non-professional standards at the hospital, Bishop Richard Henry Baker, for the Episcopal Diocese of N.C., stated that the church had been looking for ways to turn the hospital over to another agency. In the spring of 1960, the diocese voluntarily donated GSH to the City of Charlotte, and on July 7, 1961, the City completed the transfer. About this same time, Dr. Kingsley MacDonald of the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce Health Committee wrote, “They’re dying like flies down here.” This comment came at a time when modern hospital facilities supported by new equipment were learning how to prolong life. At the same time as these negotiations, the voters in Charlotte, in a May 28th, 1960, election, authorized spending the sum of $900,000 for improving the plant of the hospital. This last expansion resulted in a new addition facing on Graham Street which opened in 1963 at a cost of $1,350,000. By April of 1963 the “all white” Memorial Hospital was desegregated and a severe patient slump occurred at GSH. Beginning in 1964, the City of Charlotte operated the facility as Charlotte Community Hospital. The major expansion had been a last attempt to bring the old GSH up to equal status with Memorial Hospital. The Community Hospital was closed in 1982, following Memorial Hospital’s major expansion. The facility was operated from 1982 until 1990 as Magnolia Rest Home, when its patients were consolidated in another home in Huntersville, N.C., and the buildings and site were razed to clear space for a stadium to be built and operated by the Richardson Sports Group for a proposed National Football League franchise, the Charlotte Panthers.
The stained glass windows about the alter in the GSH chapel (where the Rev. J.W. Herritage, Rector of St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, held morning services for nurses on duty) were moved to the Huntersville facility.
Gone are the hospital wards where Dr. Charlie Strong, Mills, and James A. Pethel once practiced medicine, or where Superintendents Elizabeth Miller and Marian Bodey managed the flow of patients. Gone, too, are the professional surroundings for the students of the School of Nursing, 1909-1959. When GSH closed, it was serving an Afro-American population of 66,000. Founded in an era of segregation, GSH lasted until Father Bronson’s dream of 1882 could be put into practice—one hospital for all the citizens of the community. The vision and labor of the loyal board and employees of Good Samaritan Hospital and its successor facilities served for a century as a statement of belief in brotherhood and community service.