Institution for the Relief of the Ruptured and Crippled

(Corner of Lexington avenue and Forty-second street)

The generations of the last two centuries have been renowned above all others for those discoveries and inventions which minister to the wants of suffering humanity. The physical sciences have always been slow in their development, yet with these the art of healing is most intimately connected. It is sometimes said that little progress has been made in literature during the last two thousand years.

Modern authors do not surpass the ancient classics, modern orators have not equaled Demosthenes and Cicero, and the volumes of modern poets are laid aside for those of Homer and Virgil. Euclid, who flourished three centuries before Christ, has not been excelled by geometricians ; astronomers have improved little on La Place, and law has improved but slowly since the days of Blackstone and Mansfield.

Medical science, however, has advanced with rapid strides in our day, diminishing suffering and greatly lengthening the period of human life. Statistics show that longevity has increased in Paris, since 1805, seventy-one per cent., and that while the annual deaths of London in 1780 were one in twenty of the population, in our day they are reduced to one in forty. The great increase of hospitals, infirmaries, and dispensaries, during the last quarter of a century, has evinced decided progress in the right direction, exhibiting on the one hand a thoughtful generosity 'among the wealthy, and timely relief from the woes that afflict the indigent on the other. But while much was accomplished for the blind, the deaf- mute, for eye and ear patients, there still existed a very numerous class of ruptured and crippled for whose relief no institution had been founded. In 1804 a society was formed in London for the relief of the ruptured, which gave advice and trusses to poor persons properly recommended. Several others have since sprung up from this example, but it is believed that the citizens of New York have the honor of founding the first institution for the gratuitous and thorough treatment of hernia and all classes of orthopedic surgery.

The prime mover in this laudable enterprise- was Dr. James Knight. In 1842, when public clinics were first introduced in our medical colleges, Dr. Valentine Mott, Professor of Surgery in the University Medical College of New York, appointed Dr. Knight, who had devoted much attention to the construction of surgical apparatus and the treatment of deformity, to take charge of the orthopedic branch of the Institution. Vast numbers of poor cripples and ruptured persons applied for treatment, and Dr. Knight supplied not a few of them with surgical apparatus at his own expense, which drew heavily on his slender means, but which nevertheless greatly enlarged his practice, and became in the end a source of wealth. At a later period Dr. Knight became one of the visitors of the New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and on these visits he often found helpless cripples whom he believed might have been made useful and self-supporting if they had received proper treatment in early years. Dr. Knight had long felt the necessity of a society to undertake the improvement of this class of sufferers. He at different times issued circulars to the benevolent of the city, setting forth the subject, urging the importance of an organization, but received no response. He next prepared a paper which he presented to the principal surgeons, the mayor, and to several other distinguished gentlemen, who gave it their signatures. With this encouragement he next sought the co-operation of Mr. R. M. Hartley, the corresponding secretary of the Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor.

This thoughtful philanthropist had long felt the necessity of such an institution, but had been deterred from any movement in that direction from want of professional aid. He instantly recognized in Dr. Knight the aid he had so long needed, and on the 10th of April, 1862, he brought the subject before the managers of the Association for the Improvement of the Condition of the Poor, and introduced the Doctor to that body. After due consideration, the Society was, on the 27th of March, 1863, incorporated under the act of 1848. The private residence of Di. Knight, No. 97 Second avenue, was rented at a moderate price, the managers pledged to defray the expenses of the enterprise for three years, and on the first day of May the Institution was opened with Dr. Knight as resident physician and surgeon. During the first month 66 patients were treated, 10 of whom- were taken into the Institution, and at the close of the year the number amounted to 828. With each succeeding year the number has increased, amounting in the year just closed to 2,507, or 11,764 during the first seven years; and even this number would have been quadrupled but for the lack of accommodations. It has been ascertained that at least one in fifteen of the population is ruptured; persons of all ages, from the youngest infant to the octogenarian, being thus afflicted. These cases are largely among the poor and laboring classes, unable to purchase trusses and other surgical appliances. The children in the Institution present many sad examples of deformity. There are cases under treatment for lateral curvatures, spinal and hip diseases, deformed limbs, paralytic actions, club-feet, weak ankles, weak knees, bow legs, and white swelling. Scores of astonishing recoveries occur annually of those who a few years since would have been pronounced incurable, and left to limp or crawl to an early grave.

 Another class of patients are those suffering from varicose veins, which are relieved by the laced stocking, which, like suitable trusses, spring supporters for hip diseases, and utero-abdominal supporters, have always heretofore been far beyond the reach of the poor on account of their costliness. " The society manufactures its own instruments at less than one-fourth the price hitherto paid All indigent persons applying receive counsel, and any of these instruments needed, gratuitously. The building in Second avenue was purchased in 1866, but was never able to accommodate over thirty, and as most of those admitted are compelled to remain from six to eighteen months, and a few even longer, hundreds were annually turned away, who, with careful in-door treatment, could have been saved from a life of deformity and suffering. The manifest necessity for the movement, and its auspicious beginnings, led the managers to appeal to the public for the means to found, on a firm basis, a suitable institution. This has been responded to by a number of benevolent gentlemen, among whom may be mentioned Cbauncey Rose, Esq., who has contributed the handsome sum of ninety thousand dollars. The Legislature, in 1867, enlarged their charter, granting power to hold real estate to the amount of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and personal to the amount of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. It also granted, through the Supervisors of New York county, twenty-five thousand dollars toward building. The new edifice was entered by the surgeon and patients in the spring of 1870, and formally opened with appropriate exercises on the eleventh of the following November.

When the edifice was finished, an indebtedness of $50,000 remained on the property. John C. Green, Esq., the president of the society, nobly proposed to donate the sum of $50,000, if the board of managers would within thirty days (Collect a similar sum, which was soon accomplished, sweeping away all encumbrances with a stroke, and leaving $50,000 as the foundation of a permanent endowment fund.

The building occupies five lots of ground on the north-west corner of Lexington avenue and Forty-second street. The ground plan consists of a central portion one hundred and fifteen by forty-five feet, to which are attached semi-circular wings of twenty two feet radius at three angles, two facing the south on Forty-second street, and one at the north-east angle on Lexington avenue. A wing, rectangular in form, thirty-two by twenty-two feet, is also attached to the northwest angle. The heavy walls, which are seventy-nine feet high, are of brick, trimmed with Ohio free and Connecticut brown stone, their blended colors forming a grateful relief to the eye. The basement, which is ten feet high, contains a reception hall, with seats for one hundred out-patients, consultation-rooms, kitchen, dining-room, store-rooms, laundry, and the manufacturing department for the construction and repair of surgical-mechanical appliances. The first floor, reached by a broad flight of steps, is bisected by a spacious hallway, while a narrower one, running at right angle with this, divides it into equal parallelograms. This floor contains a reception- room, a spacious hall for the meetings of the managers, appropriate rooms for the family, and several apartments for patients. The second and third floors, which have walls eighteen feet high, are each divided into three longitudinal divisions, to be occupied by the children; the central one on each floor is a dear space where they receive their food and instruction; the ethers contain their beds, clothing, etc. The fourth floor is an open expanse for convalescent patients to enjoy the sunlight, free air, and amuse themselves with suitably limited calisthenics. This story is eighteen feet high, covered with a large central and several smaller domes, through which the invigorating sunlight pours its mellow rays upon the pale but hopeful patients.

 The building contains an admirable system of ventilation, is heated throughout with steam, and well supplied with bath-rooms, hot and cold water. The spacious stairway is fire-proof, and the building is furnished with a fire-proof elevator, worked with steam, which carries patients' food and all other appliances from the basement to the fourth floor. The edifice has been completed at an expense of $250,000, including the site, and has ample accommodations for two hundred patients. The Institution is now prepared to receive pay patients, both children and adults, and the society has entered, we trust, upon a new era in its useful career. Its labors in the past, aside from all humane and moral considerations, have been abundantly successful, relieving the city of hundreds who must have been beggars and paupers, and supplying the means of comfort and independence to many worthy families. The children are instructed in English and German, and many who never saw a book at home make surprising progress. The Institution in? its management is Protestant, though not denominational, and sound Christian morals are inculcated in the minds of its inmates, who represent all creeds and nationalities. Without disparagement to any, we can but regard this as among the very first institutions of this great metropolis.


Website: The History
Article Name: Institution for the Relief of the Ruptured and  Crippled
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: New York and its Institutions, 1609-1873 by Rev. J.F. Richmond; publisher: E.B. Treat, 805 Broadway-New York (1872)
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