History of the Woman’s Hospital Association and the Resourceful Women of their Time
In 1856 Lewiston had a “Pest House,” also known as “The Small Pox Hospital” this is where patients with smallpox or other infectious diseases were taken and kept isolated from the public. In Auburn, there was the Kilbourne House. These were the two early but short-lived attempts at a community hospital in Lewiston/Auburn. At the time, the common opinion was that only the poor went to hospitals for treatment where they were to be experimented on, humiliated, or brought there to die.
The impetus for creating a hospital came about from tragic events at the 1881 state fair in Lewiston. “The Lewiston Journal” reported several unfortunate incidents that year, including ‘a woman delivered a child in a horse stall on the fairgrounds’ and a man ‘died on a table in the Lewiston Common Council room. However, he ‘might have been saved had there been a suitable place to take him.”
Around the same time, The Sisters of Charity of Saint-Hyacinthe, Quebec, followed the Canadian immigrants’ trail to Lewiston, creating an orphanage with a school and a small 12-20 bed hospital attached. They named it “Notre Dame de Lourdes” (this institution today is known to us as St. Mary’s General Hospital). The Sisters opened the doors to the public in 1888 and admitted their first patient in January 1889. The Grey Nuns insisted that they were a non-sectarian hospital, but the people and the state government did not perceive them as such. The key to receiving financial support from the State at the time was that a hospital needed to be a non-sectarian. St. Mary’s could not dispel the public’s general impression that they were “The Catholic Hospital or the French Hospital.” This issue is primarily since the French Canadian immigrants who ran them did not speak English, lived isolated in a convent, and their teachers had not trained formally to be nurses. The chances are that these women were highly skilled in nursing care but not recognized with official documentation. Even the medical records on the patients treated there were documented in French, not English, until somewhere between 1902 and 1907. Trust between the Americans and the French immigrants was deficient, if not non-existent at the time. In 1904 to try to change the public’s perception of them as a hospital built only for the French Catholics, they changed their name from “Notre Dame de Lourdes” to “Hospital General Sainte-Marie.”
So now, amid this climate of discord are our founding ladies and Dr. Hill.
1888 – Upon the urging of Dr. Hill, seventeen women answered the call to help establish a non-sectarian hospital for the Lewiston-Auburn Community. These founding ladies paid 25 cents each in membership fees, and with a total start-up fund of $4.25, The Woman’s Hospital Association was founded, choosing the date May 12, 1888. Now May 12 happens to be Florence Nightingales’ birthday, who was very popular at the time for her work as a nurse, and for the book she wrote in 1859 called “Notes on Hospitals,” which focused on how to run a civilian hospital properly. So, it makes perfect sense that these ladies would identify themselves with her for the task they had at hand. (The United States government did not celebrate the significance of this date until 1924 when they created “Hospital Day” by then, WHA was 36 years old.)
With Dr. Hill’s encouragement, these 17 ladies forged ahead, donating items from their homes, and soliciting donations from the homes of their friends and families. Through their efforts, they were able to furnish; furniture, linens, china, silverware, cooking utensils, rugs, even dinner trays for the patients. With these donations of just about anything and everything, they could furnish this new hospital with 26 ward beds and four private rooms. Our ladies solicited mountains of fabric from the mills. They organized small armies of sewing clubs to transform this fabric into sheets, pillowcases, nurses’ uniforms, blankets, privacy draw curtains, drapes, bedspreads, towels, and nightshirts, bathrobes, even doilies. Yes, tablecloths, placemats, napkins (please,) were made right along with bandages and doctor OR scrubs. These women even went to the extent to provide reading material, flowers, food, and bottled water. Yes, they helped feed patients, doctors, staff, nurses, and even the student nurses. You may be asking yourself, why bottled water? What was so crucial about large quantities of bottled water? One word, TYPHOID.
At the time, Lewiston/Auburn were mill towns, with over 11,000 people employed in these mills. People felt that if you got your drinking water from the Androscoggin River above the dam, it was safer to drink than if you got your drinking water from below the dam where all the sewers from the city’s industries and homes in the municipality drained. Now, if you had any money at all, you drank bottled spring water from the famous local springs, i.e., Poland Springs, Pine Tree Spring, and Cliff Spring. Et. Al. Lewiston and Auburn did not have safe city drinking water until 1899 when somebody brought a pipeline from Lake Auburn into the cities.
Linen, WHA was regularly replacing or augmenting linen’s supply to the hospital, and they continued to do this into the 1930s. The Ladies organized sewing clubs and church circles to sew the hospitals’ patients and staff’s fabric.
From the Lewiston Journal,
“The Woman’s Hospital Association of the Central Maine General Hospital furnishes a good example of what a dollar from a number of philanthropic persons can do. For with this modest sum, the Woman’s Hospital Association provides and cares for all the linen at the Lewiston institution on Main Street. It is not a negligible item either, for the cost of linen and their upkeep averages about $1,000 a year. That is why the association makes a drive once a year for 1,000 members, each on paying $1.00.” (The membership fee at the time).
Please remember that this linen’s processing was either done by hand or with a manual “hand treadle sewing machine.” Electric “Hand, Treadle sewing machines by Singer” were only available to the public at the end of WWI-1918. I feel that our history is as woven into the hospitals as the fabric we provided them.
Nurses: From the start, it was clear to Dr. Hill that he only wanted professionally trained nurses to work in the hospital, so our ladies helped with establishing the CMG School of Nursing. They even supplied the gingham used for the uniforms worn by our student nurses. Because of these early efforts, Central Maine General Hospital and Central Maine School of Nursing opened their doors within three years.
It was now July 1, 1891
CMG was a large white house known as the Bearce house. This house needed moving so that it could connect to the Oliver Newman home. By combining the two buildings, CMG could provide in-patient medical care to 30 patients. The first patient admitted to our hospital was Mrs. Georgia E. Cash from Welchville, Maine. Within 24 hours of opening CMG’s doors, Dr. Hill performed the first surgery at CMG, the amputation of 18-year-old Charles Teague’s leg. At this time, the building housed the operating room in the attic, where stretchers carried up patients. A photograph of this historical event is on display at the hospital today.
The hospital’s first year was open 1891-92; they had 135 patients admitted to the hospital. By 1896-97, the need for services was so great that patients were on cots in corridors and hallways. Much to the doctors’ dismay, patients are turned away. There was such high demand for services at the hospital that by 1898 a new building known as the East Wing was built. This action added 60 additional beds. The previous events mentioned all happened in the first seven years of operation. By 1906, over 1,012 patients were admitted to the hospital. The high hospital census was an 800% growth in just the first 15 years of service. Now, at this time, the Woman’s Hospital Association membership had grown from seventeen to around two hundred, though that was a 1,300% growth, it is still a relatively small army for the task at hand.
In 1899 the maternity ward opened with WHA supplying cribs and crib mattresses, thermometers, diapers, and even safety pins. Remember, diapers in those days were made of cloth. To raise money for the hospital, WHA organized social events such as whist card parties, a favorite card game at the time. Bazaars, trolley days, tag day, vaudeville entertainment, folk dances, food sales, Larkin Soap sales, “Mile of Nickels.” They sewed and sold aprons, did an annual Easter Offerings of food for patients and staff, and, last but not least – the Charity Ball, this event is known today as “The Gala.”
In an article from the Sun Journal, January 29, 1963: “The first Gala was in November 1892, where people participated in a ‘Living Whist Ball.’ The living cards moved as a deck, they were shuffled, and the game commenced. Hands were played, tricks were taken with each play done to a dance step, all the time to the music. The king and jacks were perfectly reproduced from the whist pack. Other gentlemen were in evening dress with shoulder sashes bearing large cards to denote their rank. The costumes worn by the ladies were magnificent, and the jewels are dazzling. Mrs. W.K. Oakes, the queen of clubs, wore a crown of jet (which is a lignite gemstone used in mourning jewelry); Mrs. H.L. Pratt, queen of spades, a taj of amethysts; Mrs. Charles Cushman, queen of hearts, a coronet of pearls, and Mrs. Charles H. Osgood, queen of diamonds, a tiara of diamonds. The value was such that three detectives guarded the jewels throughout the evening.”
From 1888-1913, these efforts raised thousands of dollars each year for the hospital and school of nursing.
Starting in 1893, WHA paid $500.00 a year to maintain a “free bed” for its members, which was spent annually for many years. This bed would enable a WHA member who requires hospitalization to stay as an in-patient in the hospital without being charged for their hospital services. At the time, several industries in Lewiston-Auburn did the same thing for their employees.
Trauma Center: CMG used for the second time in its brief history as a trauma center, in Sept 1904. All the injured people from a Maine Central Railroad train accident at the State Fair Grounds in Lewiston came to CMG for emergency care. The first time this happened was when a Grand Trunk Railroad train had an accident in Pownal a few years earlier; the injured from this event were also brought to CMG.
1913-1914 starts with the actual relocating and Collapse of CMG’s Administration building with Miss Rachel A. Metcalfe, superintendent of the hospital, working inside the building at the time. This building was successfully moved at least two times before. Ms. Metcalfe suffered quite a shock-scare, and it incapacitated her for several weeks. Ms. Metcalfe was a long-standing supporter of WHA and became one of our presidents (1932-1933).
1915-1916 – WHA pledges a $5,000 perpetual free bed for any WHA member of 10 years standing to be entitled to unrestricted use of a private room for two weeks with regular hospital service, including a particular private duty nurse, and if needed, two additional weeks.
1917 – America enters WWI. With medical personnel required for the front, the hospital was shorthanded while admissions continue to rise now at 1671. WHA members filled in the gaps as much as possible, and gratefully, America’s involvement in WWI ended in 1918, just in time for the influenza pandemic to hit.
In 1918 – due to WWI and the influenza pandemic for the first time in the history of WHA, no Gala was held.
In 1921 – a former President of WHA, Mrs. C.C. Wilson, and her husband pledged and built a new building that served as a combination dorm and school to house the student nurses. In 1922, the new “Nurses Home,” costing $100,000, opened its doors to house 45 nursing students. For years “it was the marvel of the hospital.”
By 1926, admissions had reached 2450, a 250% increase over 1906, an 1800% increase over 1891, which was now 35 years earlier.
The formal opening of the West Wing housing the children’s ward was July 24, 1931, and resided under the care of WHA. It was their responsibility to furnish and maintain this ward. WHA worked hard to provide comfort and aid to the children by spending time with them and keeping them supplied with books, games, and gifts. Children were being admitted for TB and Polio, requiring prolonged hospitalizations. Volunteers from WHA did occupational therapy with the children, two hours a day. The children did such things as weaving, paper cutting, beadwork, clay modeling, and scrapbooks.
On October 29, 1929, the Stock Market Crashes marked ten years of the Great Depression, but the hospital’s needs did not wane.
1933 – WHA pledges and secures funds totaling $2,500.00; CMG matches these to purchase Radium. This Radium was for the first radiation treatment for cancer patients at CMG.
1934 – By the persistent efforts of Mrs. R.N. Randall (president of WHA) and Mrs. Merritt Farnum, Occupational therapy became a permanent department at CMG.
1935 – WHA established the hospital’s first Cancer fund to help those sick with cancer and in need of treatment.
1936 – WHA helps with flood relief
1938 – WHA created and financially supported the Social Service Department, which served 33 patients in 1938 and 135 in 1939. With WHA’s help, Social Services also went on to become a permanent department at CMG.
When Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs came to the Empire Theater, the physically able children were allowed to leave the hospital to see the picture. The hospital excursion was a memorable day for Wilma Holt, who had been in the hospital for three and a half years. All the kids received a treat of an ice cream cone bought by the beloved Dr. Twaddle.
WHA sponsors Cancer Drive in the Community.
WHA continues to work on the tuberculosis ward, trying to help the patients be as happy and comfortable as possible.
1942 War preparations:
a.) casualty stations are set up throughout our community with certain essential supplies provided by WHA that would be redistributed back to CMGH at the end of the war. Should their use in the cities not be needed during the war. WHA bought $1,500.00 of supplies for this effort.
b.) due to the war effort, the staff at the hospital dwindled since members volunteered to serve in the military. WHA organized volunteers to help with staffing at the hospital and coordinated CMG to receive help from the Red Cross, Gray Ladies, Nurses’ Aides, and Nurse Cadet Corps.
c.) WHA created a subcommittee, forming a Defense Committee. This committee completed two defense projects:
1.) Securing 300 cots
2.) Organizing blood and plasma clinics
The Gray Ladies were the beginning of the volunteer department at the hospital.
February 9, 1953, was the opening of our Coffee Shop and our Book/Gift Cart, which became a great success. Over 165 volunteers donated 5,552 hours of their time the first year the Coffee Shop opened. The Coffee Shop was open five weekdays from 9 am to 4:30 pm serving coffee and pastries donated from local church groups. The Shop was a fixture in the hospital until 1973, lasting 20 years. The Coffee Shop closed to make way for WHA’s first Gift Shop.
1958-1959 – WHA publishes and distributes to over 1,000 readers three times a year the hospital newsletter called “The Cure.”
In 1962 WHA started making and distributing Peppy the Puppet to the children in our pediatric ward. This hand puppet was a gift to the children from the Women of WHA. Over 1,000 puppets were handed out to children each year for the next several years.
During this era, WHA raises hundreds of thousands of dollars to help pay building projects for M-1, Stewart Wing, Thompson Wing, and Cynthia Rydholm Cancer Treatment Center
In 1963 WHA held its 62nd Gala.
WHA established the Junior Volunteers in 1964, where the girls amassed a tremendous amount of volunteer hours away raised money for a piece of equipment needed for the Memorial Wing.
Red Stocking Revue:
From 1964-2001, there would be 10 Red Stocking Revues. For the first Red Stocking Revue, WHA took out a loan to put it on. They were able to pay back the loan and netted over $6.000.00 from this production. This event was a variety/vaudeville show where the staff from the hospital and the public join together to volunteer as amateur actors and singers to rehearse skits, sing songs, dance, etc. and have a wonderful time on stage to raise money for the hospital.
1964-1965 Beauty Care brought to the hospital bedside.
1966 WHA started their Corridor Art Exhibit Project, which in 1972 received an award from the New England Hospital Association, where the art featured in a national hospital journal. This project, now called the Rotating Art Gallery, continues to bring excitement and joy to this day as we have displayed art without disruption for 47 years.
1970-1971 – WHA invited to join trustees as a voting member at their board meetings.
1979 – The trustees purchased the stone Lutheran Church on Main Street, where WHA opened a second-hand thrift shop called “The Cupboard.” This Shop became WHA’s 2nd largest fundraising enterprise, the first being the WHA Gift Shop.
In the early 1980s, a WHA published a Holiday Cookbook.
In 1980-1981, Mrs. Jack Simmons served as our president. As the second year of her term began, he referred to herself as Mrs. Margo (Jack) Simmons; from that point on, all our presidents have taken office using their first names and not their husbands.
1983-1984 – Mary Goss created the “Tree of Love,” the money raised by this fundraiser goes to “The Cancer Immediate Needs Fund,” which helps patients with items or services not covered by their insurance. i.e., cab rides so as not to miss radiation treatments, wigs, scarves, anything that will help make their experience more pleasant and optimize the efficacy of their therapies. This fund has just celebrated its 30th anniversary.
1989-2007 – pledges and helps raise over $450,000 for various campaigns such as Horizons 55, The Arbor House, Cynthia Rydholm Cancer Treatment Center, Sam & Jennie Bennett Breast Care Center, Central Maine Heart, and Vascular Institute, and others.
1993 – “Cuddles for Kids in Crisis,” now called “Cuddles,” was born. June van Mourik created this program to provide children with comforting soft cuddly stuffed toys, should they seem upset when they arrive at the hospital through the ER or Day Surgery. The program quickly expanded to include any patient in the hospital in need of a cuddle. For example, a lady with little to no family was in the process of dying on M1 and was missing her cat. One of the nurses asked me if I could give her a stuffed animal. I found an adorable little kitten and had the nurse give that to the patient. She was so fond of it; the patient asked if it could be buried with her, and when she passed, the nurses did send it along with her to the funeral home as she wished. In 2013 a school teacher from the Auburn School System heard about the “Cuddles” program. Through his efforts with his students, he collected and donated to WHA over 5,000 stuffed animals. WHA’s “Cuddles” program has distributed over 1,000 cuddles a year and has done so since its inception.
1997 Revival of the WHA Colonial, Charity Ball by doing the “Valentine Ball.”
One thousand nine hundred ninety-nine partners with the Development Office to co-sponsor “Spring Gala.”
2005 Our New WHA Gift Shop Opens and celebrates its 35th of operation. Nancy Wilkins pursued and then chaired a new fundraising program, “Our Jewelry Sales,” Through this successful program, held twice a year, WHA can provide scholarship money for the students at Maine College of Health Professions.
In 2010 WHA brought back the Art Show, where the commission from the sale of the art benefited a particular program at “The Sam and Jennie Bennett Breast Care Center.” This program pays for screening mammograms for patients who do not have insurance or do not have adequate insurance coverage. We are making old fashioned bake sales twice a year called “We Bake for Bennett” (one themed Bake Sale for Easter and another for Christmas) to augment this fund.
2014-Memory Mum Project, where Mums are dedicated to loved ones with the money raised going to the Cynthia Rydholm and Bennett Breast Care Patient Cancer Immediate Needs Funds.
2013 – WHA turned 125, The Rotating Art Gallery has turned 47, WHA Gift Shop now 43, The Tree of Love Turned 30, Cuddles 20, and We Bake for Bennett is now in its 4th year.
I want to close my presentation with a quote from the July 1, 1891, CMGH first annual report:
“While these reflections might be indefinitely extended as to what our infant institution is doing and will do for the public, as it widens its circle of influence through the coming years, we have already indicated enough to show it is a legitimate child, comes of good parentage, and its prospects of long life and great usefulness are excellent. We place it in the lap of an indulgent public, and bespeak for it kind treatment and fostering care, and it shall grow up to bless you, your children and children’s children to the remotest generation.”
Compiled and written by June van Mourik for the 125-year celebration of WHA at CMMC, Spring, 2013
Central Maine General Hospital Annual Reports
Central Maine Medical Center Annual Reports
Central Maine Public Relations Department
Woman’s Hospital Association Annual Reports
Lewiston Sun Journal
“The Quiet Revolutionaries, How the Grey Nuns Changed the Social Welfare Paradigm of Lewiston, Maine” by Susan P. Hudson, Ph.D.
Since 2014, we have created; The Veteran Remembrance Stars for Veterans Day, The Painted Windows for the Shriner’s Orthopedic Children’s Clinic, held twice a year at CMMC, Residency Program. The Wreath Sale in December for the Bennett Breast Care Center. We have agreed to sponsor the Explorer Program at CMMC for children to learn more about the hospital and the various professions and services needed to run it. We have recently done chalk art outside the hospital to lift the spirits of all that enter during this pandemic.
We have been the “Good Will Ambassadors” for CMMC for 132 years and promise to continue this proud tradition into the future.
June van Mourik, President WHA