In the late fall of 1828, four members of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent De Paul traveled the 1,500 miles from their convent in Emmitsburg, Maryland to St. Louis, Missouri, to found the first hospital west of the Mississippi River and the first Catholic hospital in the United States. The American branch of the Daughters of Charity was founded by St. Elizabeth Ann Seton and stemmed from the religious order founded by St. Vincent De Paul in 1633 in France.
The “Sisters Hospital” was opened in a three-room log cabin, a building that had been donated by St. Louis cotton merchant John Mullanphy. By 1832, the small hospital could no longer accommodate the growing number of patients, and a 3-story brick building was constructed. At the request of the St. Louis mayor, Dr. William Carr Lane, the Sisters’ Hospital operated as the official City Hospital until a municipal hospital was built in 1846. In 1861 Dr. Simon Pollak opened the first eye and ear clinic west of the Mississippi River in the Sisters’ Hospital. He was also the first to hire a woman physician, Dr. Nancy Leavell, as his assistant in the clinic. During the Civil War, the Sisters Hospital staff cared for both Union and Confederate soldiers.
A third and larger hospital was constructed in 1874 at Montgomery and Bacon Streets in north St. Louis. In recognition of the continued financial support of the Mullanphy family, the hospital was called the St. Louis Mullanphy Hospital. In 1894 the hospital opened its Training School for Nurses. The main structure, with its east and west wings, was a 4-story, red-brick building that could accommodate 300 patients.
During World War I, one wing of Mullanphy Hospital was set aside as an isolation ward for treatment of soldiers with influenza. Much of Mullanphy Hospital was destroyed in 1927 when a tornado swept through St. Louis. A new hospital building was constructed on North Kingshighway Blvd. at Wabada Avenue, and opened in 1930. This new hospital was named DePaul Hospital, after the sisters’ founder. Resident training was approved and started in 1931. In 1954 an 8-story nursing school and residence was built adjacent to the hospital. DePaul Hospital became the first hospital to inaugurate rooming-in and family-centered maternity care in 1961. In 1963 an intensive care unit was opened.
As the population of St. Louis shifted out of the city and into the surrounding St. Louis County, DePaul Hospital broke ground in Bridgeton in 1972 for a large, modern medical center, which was opened in 1975. The 450-bed DePaul Health Center continues in operation today as part of the SSM Health Care system.
Image 1: The Hospital of the Sisters of Charity, ca. 1854. At the time the 3-story hospital was located facing Spruce Street, between 3rd and 4th Streets.
Image 2: Mullanphy Hospital, 1874-1927