St. Luke’s Hospital

This week marks the 134th anniversary of the founding of St. Luke’s Hospital in New Bedford. The following history of the hospital has been adapted from segments previously published in A Picture History of New Bedford: Volume 1 – 1602-1925 and  A Picture History of New Bedford: Volume 2 – 1925-1980. Both volumes are now available to download as ebooks on the Amazon Kindle and Apple iBook stores.

An Abbreviated History of St. Luke’s Hospital

St. Luke’s Hospital on Fourth, now Purchase, Street, 1890. Photo courtesy of St. Luke’s Hospital.

Early Years, 1884 – 1895

Anna M. Lumbard, a teacher-turned-philanthropist, organized the St. Luke’s Hospital board in 1884. The hospital incorporated on May 2 of that year. Named for New Testament physician Saint Luke, the hospital opened with 11 beds in a converted residence at 81 Fourth Street, now Purchase Street. Staff treated 64 patients in the first year, 31 of those for free. The hospital allowed patients one visitor from 11 am to noon. The general public could visit from 3 to 4 pm each Tuesday afternoon.

To help defray the cost of care, Miss Lumbard’s church class held weekly collections for the hospital and a special one at Thanksgiving, establishing the Wednesday before Thanksgiving as Donation Day for community members to contribute in cash or in kind. Women went door-to-door and volunteers placed more than 300 donation boxes throughout the city at spots such as Morse Twist Drill, Pairpoint Company, and Mount Washington Glass Company. In 1885, patient care cost slightly less than 25 cents per day for provisions and food.

At this time, however, the hospital did not admit cases of infectious diseases such as smallpox, diphtheria, and typhus and also discontinued admitting cases of extensive burns because the Medical Board claimed that they were “sources of surgical diseases.”

Move to Page Street, 1896 – 1918

St. Luke’s Hathaway Building, built circa 1900. Horatio Hathaway, a founder of Hathaway Manufacturing, helped establish St. Luke’s Hospital and served as its first president. He and his family contributed heavily to the hospital. His widow, Ellen Rodman Hathaway, willed the hospital $50,000, and his daughter Ellen donated and equipped an outpatient unit in memory of her mother. Standard-Times/Spinner Collection.

By the 1890s, St. Luke’s Hospital had outgrown the downtown facility. In January 1896, after almost two years of construction at the new site, it moved to larger quarters at the intersection of Page and Allen Streets. The new hospital had a central administration building, an operating building, and two wings—one a women’s ward and the other for men. It had a total of 49 beds. Nurses’ dormitories were located on the second floor; the third floor had storerooms and servants’ quarters. A private ward featured a four-room suite with fireplaces, polished brass fire irons, rattan couches, enameled washstands, and figured muslin curtains at windows and transoms. In the private ward, all meals were served on imported Wedgewood ware. 

Until 1888, maternity cases were not admitted to St. Luke’s. Thereafter, they were admitted, to provide practical training in obstetrics for nurses. Unmarried women, however, would only be admitted as maternity cases if the Women’s Relief and Reform Association applied on their behalf. Shortly after the move to the new building, in November 1897, the Women’s Board voted that unmarried women would not be admitted twice for deliveries.

The Operating Room, 1896. In 1891, St. Luke’s Hospital installed electric lighting. The nurses praised the change in the surgery, where a powerful light hanging in the center of the operating room provided better illumination than the previous gas lights on the walls. Spinner Collection.

In 1902, with hospital capacity strained by a typhoid epidemic, “a friend” later identified as Henry Huttleston Rogers donated $40,000 toward the cost of a new building to house private patients. He also provided an additional $1,000 to buy beds. The red-brick building had porches at each end, an obstetrics suite, and twelve rooms. Following his death, hospital authorities named it the Rogers Ward in his honor; while alive, he had refused to have it bear his name.

In 1918, at the height of the influenza epidemic, the special isolation ward at St. Luke’s Hospital was insufficient to handle the number of cases. The hospital closed its doors to all but emergency surgery cases. Patients already there were discharged as soon as possible. As a result, no patient in the hospital developed the flu; however, 16 nurses did and one of them died. The nurses had also worked in emergency hospitals set up in the city. The women’s ward was then isolated, opened for flu cases and filled to capacity. Another Isolation Hospital was set up at the City Infirmary and, in addition, the Methodist Church was converted to a hospital. Virtually every family in the city had been touched by the pandemic.

Growth and Expansion, 1943 – Today

Saint Luke’s Hospital, 1946. This southwest view of the hospital campus from above Hawthorn Street shows most of the original buildings and early additions. Many of these structures were removed during renovations in the 1950s, and most were gone by the mid 1960s. Two buildings that remain today are the horseshoe-shaped White House at center (though its wings have been clipped) and the outpatient building next door. Standard-Times/Spinner Collection.

Volunteer soda jerks, Lumbard Shop, April 1948. Lumbard board members Claire Izmirian and Caroline S. Goodwin serve ice cream to Shirley Lazarus of St. Luke’s Hospital’s Medical Social Service Department and student nurses Pauline Herbert (first year) and Dorothy Gracia (third year). Standard-Times/Spinner Collection.

With funding from a variety of sources, St. Luke’s Hospital continued to extend its community health care. In 1943, the hospital trained 107 new nurses using a wartime grant from the United States public health service. In 1944, the Lumbard Volunteers, named for Anna M. Lumbard who helped establish the hospital, opened a shop to raise funds. Shop proceeds improved the children’s ward at the hospital with inhalators, resuscitators, and oxygen tents for young patients with respiratory difficulties. In 1951, Henrietta Sylvia Ann Howland Green Wilks, daughter of financier Hetty Green, left a million dollars to St. Luke’s in her will and the same amount to Massachusetts General Hospital.

During the polio epidemic that took 434 lives in the state, New Bedford lost seven residents from 1949 to 1960. The hospital saved many afflicted with the illness using technologies such as the iron lung to assist breathing, with patients spending a week or more in the iron lung until lung paralysis abated.

Demonstration of iron lung to nursing students at St. Luke’s Hospital, November 1947. As the number of polio cases in the city spiraled upward after World War II from one in 1945, to five in 1946, and ten in 1947, nurses and students felt the need to learn the particulars of the hospital’s new iron lung. Standard-Times/Spinner Collection.

In 1950, the health care industry in the city accounted for a mere 2.3 percent of the city’s employment but that was soon to change as health care services continued to grow. In a preview of future developments, hospital employment alone grew by 44 percent during the next decade, while the city’s overall employment fell by 4,645 jobs or more than 10 percent. As of 2017 Southcoast Health, the parent organization of St. Luke’s, is one of the largest employers in the greater New Bedford area. The formation of Southcoast Health occurred in 1996 when St. Luke’s Hospital merged with Tobey Hospital in Wareham, and Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River.



Featured/Header Image: 
St. Luke’s Hospital, Page Street, corner of Allen, circa 1900. Boston architects Wheelwright & Haven designed the hospital as a spacious Georgian manor house surrounded by dependencies and set amidst four acres of gardens. The central administration building faced north. Patients and visitors entered the stonewalled drive from Page Street. The firm also designed Howland Mill Village and the Howland summer home at Hazelwood Park. Kingman Family Collection.


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