Jubilee Hospital

Jubilee Hospital
Henderson, NC
Date Est.: 
Date Cls.: 

Brief history of Vance County

The originally inhabitants of northern central North Carolina, the Occaneechi Indians, were forced of their homelands by war and disease. The land that became Vance County was settled by European settlers and enslaved African Americans by the early 1700s. Although Vance County, named for North Carolina’s Confederate Civil War governor, was not formed until 1881, the counties that contributed land for the new county—Franklin, Granville, and Warren—had antebellum populations that were roughly evenly divided between whites and African Americans. At the turn of the twentieth century, Vance County was rural, dotted with small towns, including Henderson, Dabney, and Kittrell (Blackburn, 1984).

Although the county built and maintained public schools for its white children after the Civil War, no schools for African American children existed until the Freedmen’s Mission Board of the United Presbyterian Church opened the Henderson Industrial Institute in 1891 (Campbell, 1995). The school remained the only high school African Americans could attend in Vance County until 1970. Vance County African Americans also faced exclusionary policies in local hospitals. Both the Sarah Elizabeth Hospital, founded in 1912, and the Maria Parham Hospital, established in 1926, refused to admit African Americans until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was enforced in 1966. Once again, the United Presbyterian Church, this time under the guise of the Women’s General Missionary Society (WGMS), stepped up to provide basic human services for African Americans in Vance County by opening and supporting Jubilee Hospital from 1911 until 1966 (Ragland, 1991).

Founding of Jubilee Hospital

In 1910, a tragic and unnecessary death of a student with appendicitis at the Henderson Industrial Institute was the catalyst for the founding of Jubilee Hospital in Henderson, North Carolina. The closest hospital that would accept African American patients was Lincoln Hospital in Durham, NC, a forty-mile wagon trip over rutted and rocky roads. The student’s physician thought the trip would be fatal, but it turned out the appendectomy he performed in the patient’s home did not save her life (Peace, 1956). Believing that an operation in a hospital’s sterile environment could have prevented a student’s death, the principal of the institute, Reverend John Adam Cotton, donated a plot of his own land for a hospital building and the WGMS of the United Presbyterian Church raised funds to build and equip the new hospital. Because most of the funds were raised in 1911, the 50th anniversary, or “Jubilee year,” of the start of the Civil War, which brought freedom to people enslaved in the Southern states, the hospital was named Jubilee Hospital (JH) (Ragland, 1991). In the September 1911 issue of The Women’s Missionary Magazine, Mrs. Samuel Yourd made this appeal for funds for Jubilee Hospital:

The rooms, while not large will be light and airy. The whole building will be heated with hot air and lighted with electricity or gas. There is a bath room on each floor. … There will be needed in the way of furnishings – office furniture, a table and six chairs for the dining room …nine ward beds … four to six children’s beds, instruments, an operating table, wheel chair … (p.39)

The fundraising campaign was successful. The new hospital had 15 beds, as well as an operating room, dining room, and kitchen. Dr. John Earl Baxter, a 1905 graduate of Leonard Medical School, was the first physician and Daisy Reed; RN was the first Superintendent of Nursing. Nurse Reed was followed by Eva Johnson Adams, RN, in 1913 who directed nursing at JH for almost 50 years, retiring in 1961. Dr. Samuel McDonald. Beckford, a surgeon, joined the staff in 1919. Although all patients were African Americans, local physicians of both races cared for patients at Jubilee. Other physicians on the staff included Paul S. Green, William E. Green, Jr., James P. Green, Rubert N. Venable, and Parnell N. Avery. An article in the March 1916 issue of the Women’s Missionary Magazine reported that 316 patients had been treated at JH in 1915, an increase of 73 from the 243 people cared for in 1914. In 1915, surgeons performed 119 major and 83 minor operations and 21 women delivered their babies at the hospital. Only nine patients died that year (“Henderson, N.C.,” 1916). The hospital was a general community hospital that treated medical, surgical, maternity, gynecological, orthopedic, and later tubercular patients.

Nurses training, a vital function of the hospital, began in 1918. Eva Johnson Adams, RN, Nursing Superintendent, described the situation in a 1921 article:

…we now have four girls in training. One has almost completed the three year course, and we are very proud of her and regret very much to see her leave, but are glad to have such as she goes out from our institution, knowing she will be a shining star. This training is quite necessary, not only to the nurses and their families, but to the communities they enter. A great many lives are lost each year through ignorance of care of the sick. (“Henderson Hospital,” 1921, p.177)

Elizabeth Viola Davis, Hettie Jim Hunt, Ida Mae Plummer, and Carrie L. Alexander were some off Jubilee’s graduates who earned the registered nurse credential. The school was closed in the 1930s, because standards for accreditation rose beyond the means of the hospital. Other registered nurses who worked at Jubilee included Maggie Esther Smith, Magnolia B. Barnett, Cleo Betsch, Matilda Lawrence, Mary Hargrave, Gertrude Allen, and Joan Hacker. Mary Carpenter, RN, a white nurse, became the Superintendent of Nurses in 1963 (Hughes, 1988).

In 1929, using funds donated from both the Duke Endowment and the Women’s Mission Board of the United Presbyterian Church, a tuberculosis wing and later a maternity ward were added to the hospital. In the 1930s, a new operating room, x-ray equipment, and a laboratory provided additional services for local people (Hughes, 1988). Reverend Cotton, justifiably proud of the institution he helped create, remarked, “Through Jubilee, wounds and bruises are bound up, the suffering are relieved, the sick healed and the poor and needy helped” (Jubilee Hospital, 1963, p.2).

In addition to the hospital’s mission of providing physical care for those in need, and nursing education for local women, spiritual care was a daily part of the hospital routine. Although JH was owned and supported by the United Presbyterian Church, patients of all races and faiths were welcome. The pastor of the local Cotton Memorial United Presbyterian Church also served as the hospital chaplain, but leaders of all faiths were welcomed to provide pastoral care for their hospitalized congregants within JH. Daily devotionals services were held in the hospital for any staff and patients who were able to attend. Later, when an intercom was installed in the hospital, it was used to broadcast short daily services. The hospital chaplain was also available for visitation in patient rooms and passed out religious literature (House of healing, 1963).

Throughout the hospital’s existence, the WGMS regularly published requests for supplies and equipment for Jubilee Hospital in their monthly journal. United Presbyterian women’s groups and Sunday Schools classes responded enthusiastically to these requests. These groups sewed and donated clothing, layettes, linens, bandages and other useful items to JH (“Missionary Society,” 1947, “Golden Rule Class,” 1963). In a 1926 article titled “Shower of Linens and Money,” the following items were among those listed as donated to the hospital: 13 quilts, 184 Turkish towels, 87 diapers, and 17 dolls.

In 1950, in addition to the 16 physicians and 2 dentists who had privileges at Jubilee, the staff was comprised of a Director of Nursing, four registered nurses, three practical nurses, eight nurse’s aides/orderlies, a laboratory technician, an X-ray technician, food service workers, a cleaning staff, and a hospital administrator with several secretaries (“House of Healing in North Carolina,” 1963).

Few improvements were made to the facility during the Great Depression or World War II. By 1950, the building was condemned but was allowed to remain open until a replacement was completed in 1959. The new Jubilee Hospital, built with funds from the Duke Endowment, federal Hill-Burton Act monies, and local and church donations, boasted 30 beds, six bassinets, a laboratory, nursery, staff dining room, kitchen, office, lounges, and operating, recovery, delivery and emergency rooms (Hughes, 1988).

Mrs. R.H. Adams, who served as Nursing Supervisor of Jubilee Hospital for over 30 years, shared some interesting stories from the hospital:

About a month ago, a white physician in an adjoining county, brought an obstetrical case to us about midnight. It was a deformed humped-back girl who was wonderfully ignorant. She could neither read nor write, has no mother …She could not be delivered normally and the surgeons had to make an abdominal delivery … mother and baby are both getting along well at the hospital at this time. About two months ago, the welfare officer here, a very fine Christian white woman brought a white baby about a week old. She said a girl from a good family in another town had made a mistake [was pregnant and unmarried] … She asked us to keep the baby and not let any white person see it until she could find a home for it. (Adams, 1960, p.798)

A pamphlet titled “House of Healing in North Carolina” produced by the Presbyterian Church in 1963 reported:

The long, low, lines of the red brick building present an attractive appearance, while inside the hospital an atmosphere of quiet efficiency and competence prevails … equipped to treat ordinary short-term ailments, Jubilee can handle medical, surgical, gynecological, and orthopedic cases … Most of the people Jubilee serves live in rural areas and work in low-income jobs as tenant farmers and laborers … almost one third of the total number of patients treated at Jubilee last year were welfare patients. (p.2-3)

Between October 1961 and September 1962, the hospital cared for 1,950 inpatients and 2,000 outpatients. In addition to caring for people needing hospitalization, hospital personnel sought to meet other needs of their clientele. Working with the Vance County Public Health Department, the hospital hosted and housed several clinics including those for pre-natal care and tuberculosis screenings. In the summer of 1962, Mrs. Adams, the Superintendent of Nurses, conducted a six-week, 30-hour home nursing course open to all the women in the community. The pamphlet further reported on the Jubilee staff members’ role in a voter registration campaign hospital. Several members of Jubilee’s administrative and medical staff are active in a county-wide voter’s league which has been influential in promoting voter registration among Negroes in the area. (p.6)

These voter registration efforts demonstrate yet another positive impact African American hospitals and staff had on their communities.

The new hospital, costing over $425,000 was only used for seven years. until 1966, when Civil Rights legislation forced the white-only Maria Parham Hospital to accept people of all races for care. The beds from JH were sent to a Presbyterian missionary hospital in Egypt (Phillippe, 2015). The facility was empty for 15 years until it was renovated for use as a municipal building in 1981.



Compiled by: 
Phoebe Pollitt