The U.S.S. Red Rover, a captured Confederate vessel, was refitted as a hospital ship.
The evolution of the nursing profession in America was accelerated by the Civil War.
Amputations were the most common surgery performed during the Civil War.
Surgeon-General William Hammond established The Army Medical Museum in 1862. It was the first federal medical research facility.
Many Civil War surgical instruments had handles of bone, wood or ivory. They were never sterilized.
Tuesday, October 29, 2013
“There were two things that stuck closer than a brother; that was the itch and body lice or greyback as they were politely called…I had a bad case of the itch… it became very bad; so much that my hands were swollen and my fingers stood apart. Sores and yellow blisters came between them and they ran corruption. I could scarcely touch anything, my hands were so sore.”-Pvt. Milton Asbury Ryan, Co. B, 14th Mississippi, CSA
In his recent article, “The ‘Army Itch’: A Dermatological Mystery of the American Civil War” (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, August 2006, Vol. 55, No. 2, pp. 302-8), Thomas G. Cropley, M.D., provides an excellent review of this chronic, painful, and epidemic skin condition that plagued Private Ryan and thousands of other soldiers, North and South. The article includes a chronology of the disease, extensive excerpts from the writings of period physicians who saw and treated the disease, and a description of the treatments used.
[Note that since the time this article first appeared in The Civil War News in October 2006, Dr. Cropley has authored another interesting article: "Dermatology and skin disease in the American Civil War," Dermatol Nurs, 2008 Feb;20(1):29-33.]
Dr. Cropley received his M.D. from the University of Virginia and completed his residency at Harvard University. (At this writing) he is currently Professor of Medicine at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and director of the school’s Dermatology Residency Program. In addition to his own clinical and teaching work, Dr. Cropley is also deputy editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. Earlier this year at their annual meeting, the History of Dermatology Society awarded him its Samuel J. Zakon Award (First Prize) for his research and paper on army itch.
Dr. Cropley (who is named “Thomas” after Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson) has been interested in the Civil War for a long time and his interest in Civil War medicine is an outgrowth of his interest in medical history in general. “I grew up in West Virginia, very close to the battlefields of the 1861 Kanawha Valley campaign,” he told me. “My grandfather, an unreconstructed ‘Reb,’ used to take me out hunting for artifacts like Minie balls and the like.”Dr. Cropley also speaks a number of foreign languages (including Gaelic!) and plays the bagpipe competitively.
Army itch, referred to as “camp itch” in the Confederate army, was a disorder that baffled military physicians of the day. The “mystery” is that medical opinion at the time was divided over the true nature of the disease: some thought it to be epidemic scabies, others thought it a unique malady, and still others considered it to be a mix of the many skin conditions that plagued the armies due to poor hygiene. There was no dispute over the seriousness of the itch: at best it was a nuisance, but Cropley notes that it often reduced the effectiveness and morale of afflicted troops to a dangerous degree.
In the main, Dr. Cropley’s paper includes accounts on army itch drawn from the writings of nearly twenty army surgeons and civilian physicians. The excerpts are drawn from period publications such as Medical and Surgical Reporter and the Confederate States Medical and Surgical Journal. Reading the accounts gives witness to several important characteristics of the disease: first, the itch was debilitating – in addition to painful lacerations, the incessant itching was exhausting in itself; second, many of the physicians noted that the disease spread to the local population after an army passed through; third, most soldiers waited too late to approach their medical team about the disease.
“We see this nowadays, too,” Dr. Cropley told me. “Scabies is insidious. The itching is tolerable at first, and patients generally do not seek medical attention. Later, the itch becomes maddening, and it is at that point that patient seeks care.”He suspects that many soldiers with itch did not report for surgeon's call, as they were unlikely to be relieved from duty or treated in many cases.
In the article, Dr. Cropley notes some of the treatments for the itch, including sulphur-based alkaline ointments or washes, to which were added cooling or astringent compounds. Arsenicals and mercury were also used, and while effective were almost certainly toxic. Short on sulphur due to its use in the manufacture of gunpowder, the Confederates established an interesting clinical experiment at Richmond’s Chimborazo Hospital to evaluate alternative treatments. Topical application of strong decoctions of native plants such as poke root, broom straw, and slippery elm were found to be helpful.
Dr. Cropley also told me that the military’s itchy encounters did not end with the Civil War. “Epidemic scabies always follows the population disruptions of wartime,” he said. “The United States Army has had an ongoing scabies eradication program in Kosovo and Bosnia for the last 10 years or so. I have heard from colleagues that Afghanistan and Iraq have significant scabies as well.”Dr. Cropley added that these modern outbreaks are mostly in the local population and not in military personnel, but they still require the attention of Army dermatologists attending to civilians.
Dr. Cropley told me there are many other interesting dermatological mysteries to be found in studying the Civil War. To him, one of the more interesting stories regards General Henry W. Halleck's itchy elbows. “Halleck apparently had the disconcerting habit of rubbing his elbows, especially when under stress,” he told me. “Secretary of the Navy Gideon Welles in particular found this annoying and even commented on it in his diary.”
So why did Halleck rub his elbows? “Itchy elbows can be due to a number of causes, and the scratching behavior can be a habit rather than a response to an actual itch,” Dr. Cropley told me. He added: “Halleck's medical record is pretty short, but the thing that caught my eye was his statement in a fall 1864 letter that he was having his annual trouble with itchy, watery eyes.”
Dr. Cropley believes that Halleck might have been suffering from seasonal allergic keratoconjunctivitis (“hay fever”). “Hay fever is an atopic disease and is frequently accompanied by atopic dermatitis,” he told me. “Atopic diseases often worsen under stress, so I think, but I can't prove, that Halleck had atopic dermatitis as the cause of his itchy elbows.”
Learning more about Halleck’s mysterious condition sounds like a historical itch that Dr. Cropley is destined to scratch, and I’m predicting another award-winning paper about a Civil War-related dermatological story in his future.
[Many thanks are due to Mr. Michael Gay, Ann Arbor, Michigan, for kindly granting permission to use the opening quote, which appears in his great grandfather’s unpublished memoir, “Experience of a Confederate Soldier in Camp and Prison in the Civil War, 1861-1865.”]
FROM: The Civil War News – “Medical Department” – October 2006
Before the Civil War, most nurses in the United States were male. Women in
the U.S. knew of Florence Nightingale, a British nurse who successfully served
on the battlefield, but social taboos prevented well-to-do women from working
outside the home. A "working woman" was an object of pity or scorn in Victorian
At the beginning of the war, Union Army leadership realized that they needed
more medical staff and decided to accept women nurses to fill the gap. Dorothea
Dix was chosen as the first superintendent of U.S. Army nurses in June 1861. Dix
insisted that her nurses be between thirty-five and fifty years old, in good
health, of high moral standards, not too attractive, and willing to dress
plainly. Over three thousand nurses served the Union through Dix's appointments.
Northern women also found ways to volunteer as nurses without going through
Dix. Regional aid societies would certify women as official nurses if they had
already proven their worth as volunteers in Union hospitals, regardless of Dix's
guidelines. Some experienced female nurses served, such as Catholic nuns, but
any matronly, responsible woman could qualify during the Civil War. The
escalating war required still more medical staff, and in 1863 the Union Army
allowed surgeons to choose their own nurses.
Army surgeons and other male staff were not always happy to see women
entering their domain. Without authority over hospitals or other medical staff,
women nurses found ways to accomplish their goals despite male resistance. When
they could not cajole, reason, or shame Army doctors into improving conditions
for the patients, the women worked around them.
In addition to providing medical care, the women nurses comforted and fed
patients, wrote letters, read, and prayed. They managed supplies and staffed
hospital kitchens and laundries. African-American nurses were often confined to
menial labor jobs, ordered to work among the most dangerously ill patients, or
assigned to care for African-American soldiers.
Female nurses in the North and South went bravely where few Victorian women
had dared tread. Many would consider their experiences to be among the
definitive ones of their lives, leading many to further social and political
service. Showing a high level of determination, knowledge, and emotional and
physical strength, these women succeeded in opening the nursing profession to
Early Medical Education
Prior to the Civil War, most African Americans were enslaved. Very few free African Americans were trained physicians or surgeons, and medical education was not open to people of color in the United States. Those seeking medical careers as physicians most often received their medical education in Canada or Europe, and a few from medical schools in the North.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African Americans seeking a medical education were faced with difficult prospects. Few medical schools would admit black students regardless of their academic excellence.
Medical education for those seeking careers as physicians and surgeons was limited to a few black medical colleges including Howard University College of Medicine in Washington, D.C. and Meharry Medical College, in Nashville, Tennessee both established by whites in 1868 and 1876 respectively, and primarily under the control of white physicians and administrators.
For those achieving a medical degree, specialized studies and hospital privileges were almost unattainable as few hospitals allowed black physicians access for training or to treat patients. This continued into much of the 20th century, and although some black students were admitted into white medical schools and hospitals, they faced blatant racism, ostracism, and prejudice.
Segregation and Health Care
Organized healthcare for African Americans first developed as a result of the slave owners' need to tend to illness and disease within the enslaved populations on their plantations.
After the Civil War white communities gradually began to establish segregated, white owned and operated hospitals, primarily in the South, to care for the newly freed slaves. Although they admitted only black patients, these “separate but equal” hospitals were often inadequate, provided substandard care, and rarely provided access for black physicians or nurses. Segregated hospitals continued to exist well into the 20th century.
Making Their Own Way
As more African Americans obtained medical degrees, black physicians began to respond to racism in American medicine by forming their own medical institutions, teaching hospitals, and medical societies.
Provident Hospital and Training School in Chicago, the first black owned and operated hospital in the United States was established in 1891. Others soon followed including Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School in Philadelphia and Provident Hospital and Free Dispensary in Baltimore. These hospitals provided a higher standard of medical care to black patients and provided education and training for black physicians and nurses. They continued to serve the black community well into the 20th century.
Taylor Lane Hospital in Columbia, South Carolina was founded in 1901 by Dr. Matilda Evans and was the first black hospital in Columbia. Dr. Evans, pictured above, was the first African American woman physician licensed to practice in the State of South Carolina and treated both black and white patients. Taylor Lane Hospital was destroyed by fire and eventually established as St. Luke's Hospital and Training School for Nurses.
The National Medical Association was formed in 1895, in direct response to the exclusion of black physicians from the American Medical Association.
They were instrumental in leading the fight for better health care and greater opportunities in medicine to all enfranchised Americans. Today they continue to represent the needs of African American physicians across the country.
Even in the recent 20th century, African Americans have found a need to establish organizations to address current issues facing black physicians. The Society of Black Academic Surgeons founded in 1989 was established to address the small numbers of African American Surgeons pursuing academic careers and to provide a forum for scholarship in collaboration with the leading departments of surgery in the United States.
Socioeconomic background affected soldier's chances of survival during the Civil War in the areas of previous residency, occupation and skin color for blacks. The mortality of a white Northern solider was better if he was not a farmer and lived in the city because he was probably exposed to other infections and his body had built immunity to the disease. The mortality from disease for slaves formerly engaged in other nonfarm occupations such as house servants was as low as the death rate for those in elite occupations, but their advantages over field hands resulted exclusively from their lower probability of contracting diseases. Consequently, black soldiers with darker skin were more likely to die of disease. Since prior to joining the Civil War their bodies and immune systems were not prepared to handle the environmental stress of war.
In conclusion a recruit from a healthy background who had limited exposure to disease had a lower immunity to disease compared to a man from an unhealthy background. Additionally a person who had enlisted with better nutrition was advantaged over a man with poor nutrition, which left him prone to disease. As a result, a measles and small-pox attack would confer immunity and reduce the likelihood of contracting the disease in the future. Whereas a previous attack of TB does not have any influence on resistance to a future attack.
In addition to socioeconomic background affecting a soldier's susceptibility of acquiring a disease, living and sanitary conditions also affected their chance of survival. Some soldiers failed to wash their bodies and their clothes since they were used to being taking care of by either their mother or wife. Additionally camp regulations stated they were supposed to dig an eight foot trench for human bodily wastes and to cover it with six inches of dirt every night. However, most soldiers were disgusted by this so they relieved themselves in an open space instead. Doing this invited flies around the camp accompanied by diseases that spread to the men and their food rations which led to an unhealthy living environment.
Not only did the soldiers have to endure an unhealthy living environment when they went to the field hospital, they were operated on by a surgeon who had blood and pus on his coat from the previous patient. Then while he was operating on his patient if he dropped his instruments he would pick it up, rinse it off and continue to work on his patient. In addition to the high number of soldiers affected by illness, many were also wounded from bullets. Due to the disproportionate ratio of soldiers to surgeons, the surgeon had to look at a soldier briefly and determine how he was going to be treated. If he was slightly wounded, in the interest of saving as many soldiers as possible, he was overlooked. However if he was wounded on a limb the surgeon would amputate
within ten minutes.
First the doctor would give the solider a dose of whiskey and then place chloroform on a cloth over his nose to place him in an unconscious state for the amputation. Coincidentally, there was a 75% survival rate for amputations if they did not succumb to fever.
Despite a high survival rate for amputees, if they were infected with one of the common deadly diseases their chance for survival rates was not as favorable. Since vaccinations were not available most surgeons and nurses depended on quinine, chloroform, opium, morphine and rhubarb to treat soldiers. When they did not have access to those drugs and chemicals they used natural remedies. According to a doctor's records for treating patients he noted white sumac, red elm, prickly ash and poke was mixed and applied to a syphilis rash. Then for stomach and bowel symptoms soldiers were treated by drinking a mixture of raspberry and whortleberry leaves. Usage of natural remedies was essential if the doctor was unable to secure necessary drug supplies.
Even if a soldier survived the Civil War he incurred lifelong health challenges. A fifty year old Civil War veteran of 1890 resembled his seventy five year old descendents of today. Additionally, Union soldiers were more likely to survive a wartime illness, but Southern soldiers lived several years longer after war. Consequently, the more infections a person is exposed to the greater likelihood of arthritis, heart disease, stroke and even cancer later in life.
Just before the Civil War, Dr. Platt H. Skinner, a pioneer educator of the disabled, operated three schools for African-American children who were blind, deaf, or both. An ardent abolitionist, Dr. Skinner was forced to move his school twice. The second school, the subject of this book, was located in Suspension Bridge, New York at a terminus of the Underground Railroad, on which Dr. Skinner may have been a conductor.
Significance: From 1858-61, Dr. P.H. Skinner and his wife Jarusha Skinner kept a school in Niagara City for African American children who were deaf, dumb, or blind. They specifically espoused ideals of equality and abolitionism. Students included several children born in Canada.
Description: No known image or verbal description of this site exists. Hints from the diary of Marcus Adams, local judge, suggest that it may have been located on the east side of Lewiston Avenue, just south of the Colt Block.
On January 4, 1858, Adams noted, “Deaf and Dumb school about to open in Glover Brick house.” The only Glover listed in Childs’ 1869 Director (the first directory for Niagara Falls) was Reuben Glover, who owned a cooper shop on Niagara Avenue in Suspension Bridge (shown on the 1875 Atlas). A note by transcriber Thomas B. Lovell, however, indicated that “Glover’s Hotel is what is now the United States Hotel opposite Silberberg’s block.” The 1869 directory noted that Silberberg had a readymade clothing store on Lewiston Avenue (now Main Street). In 1875, the Atlas showed Silberberg on Lewiston Avenue three doors north of Ontario Street. Across the street, on the northwest corner of Ontario and Lewiston, stood the Union Hotel. It is possible that this building was the original Glover Brick House and that it later became the United States Hotel.
The 1860 map of Niagara Falls, however, located the United States Hotel just south of the Colt Block on Lewiston Avenue. This location would be consistent with other clues in Marcus Adams’ diary. On November 7, 1854, he noted, “Col. Fisk has sold the two corner lots this side Glovers’ to the [sic] Mr. Colts for $3000.00. This is the most important sale that has ever taken place here.” On November 15, Adams added, “Loud complaints made about order of trustees to grade down Lewiston Ave. to a strait grade from R.R. to Glovers Hotel. But it is right in principle.” And on August 14, 1855, he noted, “Swan has bought the place next to Glover’s about which there has there has been so much contention.” Further research in directories, deeds, maps, and assessment records could probably pinpoint this site accurately.
Discussion: The Skinner School for Colored Deaf, Dumb and Blind Children is one of the most remarkable institutions in this whole survey, unique in the U.S. for focusing on African American children—many of them born in Canada—who were deaf, dumb, or blind. Michael Boston, from the State University of New York at Brockport, has done considerable research on Skinner and his school, and we are indebted to his publications for much of the background on this site. The 1860 U.S. census listed nine students living in a “School for Mutes.” Six were noted as “deaf and dumb”:
Samuel Brown, age 18; Isaac Brown, age 16; Jane Sly, age 14; and Christian Hartwell, age 13, all born in Canada, HannahPolk, age 17, born in New Jersey; and Eliza Wilson, age 5, born in New York State. Three were blind: James Smith, age 13, and Nancy Smith, age 10, both born in Canada, and Samuel Stevison, age 17, born in Pennsylvania.
They lived in a household headed by Platt H. Skinner, age 30, born in New York. Although the 1860 census listed him as blind, he was not. His wife Jerusha, age 29, was, however, deaf. Their son Henry, age 4, had been born in the District of Columbia. Mary Smith, age seventeen and a “teacher of the blind,” born in New Jersey, with personal property valued at $500, was herself blind. Donnelly Dunn, age 40, born in Ireland, a printer, also lived in this household, perhaps working on Skinner’s newspaper, The Mute and the Blind, “published for and by colored blind, deaf and mute students at a Niagara Falls school.”Marcus Adams’ diary gave a brief running account of this opening of this school in January 1858, complete with his almost immediate reservations:
Jan. 4, 1858. “Deaf and Dumb school about to open in Glover Brick house.”
Jan. 6. “Donation for Mr. Crittenden [Presbyterian minister] was quite an affair. Large company, but few from the stone [Congregational] church folks, none from the Falls, or the other side. Great abundance of refreshments. All our congregation present, with few exceptions. Mr. Wells made himself quite conspicuous. Mr. Wallace enjoyed it. Dr. Skinner, wife and baby were the main attraction as the wife was a mute. He introduced her with the sign language. Deaf and Dumb school opens soon.”
Jan.10. Sunday. Mr. Skinner, founder of the Deaf and Dumb school, came into the S.S. bringing a little colored girl whom he found in Canada. He made some nteresting remarks, and gave illustrations of sign language. (But fear him.)
Jan. 25. “Found an article in Frank Leslie’s newspaper which goes strongly against Dr. Skinner, as an imposter at Washington, and this Col. Fisk sustains in a letter to his wife. So our Deaf and Dumb sch. will probably blow out.
They lived in a neighborhood that included laborers, a jeweler, bead makers, a school teacher, a gardener, servants, a gatekeeper, a butcher, carpenters, joiners, a carriage maker, a grocer, gentlemen, two physicians and surgeons, blacksmiths, a custom house officer (Robert Trafford), several railroad agents, a milliner, a land speculator (James Vedder (with $15,000 of real estate), post master, and New School Presbyterian clergyman (John F. Severance). Neighbors had been born in various states in the U.S., as well as in Canada, parts of Germany, England, and Ireland.
To understand both why this school existed and why there were such immediate suspicions about Dr. Skinner, we need a little background. Platt Henry Skinner was born was born on March 11, 1824 in Clinton, New York. He moved at some point to Prattsburgh, New York, and attended Oberlin College from 1843-1846. On July 13, 1854, Skinner married Jerusha M. Hills, daughter of Allen and Ruth Benton Hills, from Fabius, New York. Hills was born deaf in 1831, along with three of her five siblings. Jerusha Hill had attended the New York Institute for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, and Reverend E.M. Gallaudet officiated at their marriage. The Skinners had a son Henry, born about 1854, who could hear.
In 1856, Platt and Jerusha Skinner arrived in Washington, D.C., with five deaf children, all African American, all born in Canada. With the help of Amos Kendall, one of Jackson’s former cabinet members, whose deaf wife encouraged him to support deaf education, Skinner started a school for deaf children on the south side of G Street, between 20th and 21st. Beginning in June, the National Era, an antislavery paper in Washington, carried several articles on the Skinner school, including requests for trustees. By November 1856, Skinner was ready to share the burden: “Principal for said Institution is wanted, to fill the place of the present occupant of that situation. The salary is nothing; the duties are, incessant watchfulness, care, toil, and labor, night and day; the praise and glory are slander and contumely. Position given immediately.” E.M. Gallaudet, son of the famous educator for the deaf Thomas Gallaudet, answered Skinner’s plea. His mother, widow of Thomas Gallaudent, served as matron. “The reputation of Mr. Gallaudet is such, and the character of the matron and teachers is so high, that none need for to confide children to their care. They will enter a home, and become a part of the family of the superintendent,” noted the National Era on July 30, 1857. Directors of the school included Hon. Amos Kendall, President; William Stickney, Secretary; G.W. Riggs, Treasurer; William H. Edes, Judson Mitchell, J.C. McGuire, David A. Hall, and Byron Sunderland.9 On January 21, 1858, the National Era contained a note that “the Columbia Institution for the Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, will hold an exhibition in the old Hall of Representatives, this (Thursday) evening. Mr. Gallaudet, the Principal, will deliver an address.” Amos Kendall, president, chaired the meeting, and “the pupils were examined, with a view to show their proficiency in sign language. The blind also read from books printed with raised letters, and the evening passed off pleasantly, leaving an excellent impression upon the minds of the great crowd present.”
In June 1858, Congress appropriated $3000 to educated deaf, dumb, and blind children in D.C., most likely in direct support of the Skinner school. Meanwhile, Kendall and others accused Skinner of neglecting his charges. Skinner went to court at least twelve times to defend himself and get custody of the five children he had brought from New York State. He was being prosecuted, he argued, not for neglect but for being a northerner with abolitionist views. Eventually, his school was burned down, and he, Jerusha, their son Henry, and a teacher fled to Baltimore before settling in Niagara Falls in January 1858.
Skinner’s goal in Niagara Falls was to educate African American deaf children, those that had no other resources. As Michael Boston noted, quoting The First Semi-Annual Report of the School for the Instruction of the Colored, Deaf, Dumb, and Blind, It [the new school] is not intended to take any child whose education is provided for in any other way. The school was at first established for the children of fugitives; but, since its commencement, it has been thought best to open its doors to all such mute and blind colored children as are not provided for otherwise, as far as the means of the school will permit. The command given is, "Go into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." -- This command seems to reach the lowest of all God's creation. . . . The credentials which are necessary for admission into this school, then, are,
1st. A dark face.
2nd. Deaf ears and a mute tongue, or blind eyes.
3d. That the state or county in which they live has not provided for their education.
Skinner traveled from church to church, all over western New York and eastern Ontario, taking some of his students with them to demonstrate their progress, including the use of Braille and sign language. The Congregational Church of Niagara City (Suspension Bridge) and Presbyterian churches in Niagara Falls and Lockport gave him their endorsement.
But stories about possible abuse followed Skinner from Washington, D.C. and help explain Marcus Adams’ concern. On December 26, 1858, the Syracuse Central City Courier published an article listing letters published by the Niagara Herald, critical of Skinner, from Rev. Byron Sunderland, Rev. P.H. Gurley, and Hon. Amos Kendall, all of Washington, D.C., along with criticisms from Sidney Dean, member of Congress from Connecticut, and Rev. L.M. Pease of the Five Points Mission in New York City. Finally, the elders of the Presbyterian Church in Niagara City cautioned that “in their judgment he is unworthy of the confidence and contributions of Christians and philanthropists.”
As Michael Boston has noted, Skinner used the Niagara Gazette to reply to the charges in the Herald. In eight articles published from November 1858 to January 1859, he argued that his attackers did not know him and acted simply as tools of Amos Kendall, opposing his efforts to educate black children. The charges had all been disproven in court, Skinner reported, and that should settle it. By 1862, Skinner and his wife and son had moved to Trenton, New Jersey, where they continued to operate their school until Skinner’s death of typhoid pneumonia, age 42, on January 1, 1866. Jerusha Skinner and her son Henry H. Skinner moved to Elmira, where she lived until her death. Henry Skinner, who could hear, later married Margaret
Getz, who was deaf.
How do we evaluate Dr. Platt H. Skinner? Was he a dishonest scoundrel or a whole souled abolitionist, dedicated to improving the lives of the most forgotten Americans? Michael Boston summed up his legacy: In spite of his ability to evoke strong emotions in his hearers, Platt Skinner, with his wife Jerusha, “sincerely endeavored to educate their pupils, contributing toward making them more involved citizens. They were engaged in a self-sacrificing, unpopular task of assisting a much-despised race and an unfortunate and neglected group within that race. They should be commended and remembered for their labors.”
Monday, October 21, 2013
By Mark I. Wolfson
During the Civil War, Rev. Isaac Leeser, the Minister of Mikveh Israel, was very concerned about the wounded Jewish soldiers in the army hospitals. He obtained a hospital pass from his friend General Charles Collis, who was married to Septima Levy, formerly of Charleston. Sulzberger would accompany Leeser on hospital visits to the Jewish wounded. During the annual meeting of the Grand Lodge No. 3 of the B'nai B'rith on August 14, 1864, Sulzberger, in calling attention to the fact that three Jews within the previous six months had died in various area Christian hospitals, offered resolutions asking for the appointment of a committee to consider the subject of organizing a Jewish Hospital.
That committee was established and included Sulzberger, Rev. Isaac Leeser, Samuel Weil and others. Within a few days a circular was sent to every B'nai B'rith Lodge and all of the congregations and Jewish societies in the area requesting appointments for committees. On December 4, the first meeting of this joint convention was held during which a plan was prepared, and a constitution and by-laws were framed and presented. On Sunday February 19th, 1865, these were ratified by a large meeting of the area Jews at a meeting held at the National Guard's Hall on Race Street below Sixth. Officers and managers were appointed, including President Alfred T. Jones, Vice President Isadore Binswanger, Treasurer Samuel Weil, and Secretary Mayer Sulzberger. Sulzberger's home at 977 North Marshall Street became the temporary headquarters of the provisional committee for the hospital.
The Association was incorporated on September 23, 1865 and a lot was soon purchased at 56th Street and Haverford Road in West Philadelphia for $19,625. The hospital opened the on August 6, 1866 along with a home for the aged. It started with 22 beds and linens donated by philanthropist Moses Rosenbach. During the first year 71 patients were treated and 5 people were admitted to the old-age home. In 1873, the hospital moved to greatly expanded facilities at Old York Road and Olney Avenue. In 1952, after merging with Northern Liberties Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital to form a single medical center, it evolved into the Albert Einstein Medical Center. It was very appropriate that Einstein granted permission to use his name for the non-profit organization, as Sulzberger's wife Sophia descended from the same Einstein family.
IMAGE: Mikveh Isreal Congregation