St. Luke's Hospital in New York City

(Fifth Avenue and Fifty-fourth street.)

In the year 1846 the Rev. W. A. Mulenberg, D.D., pastor of the Church of the Holy Communion, deeply impressed with the neglect of the church generally in making no adequate provision for her sick poor, and believing that a hospital, conducted on more strictly religious principles than any in the city at the time, was greatly needed, presented the subject to his congregation at the festival of St. Luke, and informed them that with their consent he would set apart a portion of their collection that day toward the beginning of a Church Hospital. Thirty dollars were accordingly laid aside, and on the return of the festival the next year another collection was taken. A parochial institution only was contemplated for several years, but as the enterprise came to be known it met with such unexpected favor, that its friends resolved to lay the matter before the Episcopalians of the city at large. In the winter of 1850 the two lectures previously delivered by Dr. Mulenberg in the Church of the Holy Communion were repeated in St. Paul's Chapel, and afterwards printed and widely circulated.

On the first day of May, 1850, the St. Luke's Hospital was incorporated under the general act of Legislature passed April 12, 1848, committing the control of the institution to thirteen managers. In March, 1851, the Legislature amended the charter, increasing the number of managers to thirty-one; and in February, 1854, it was again amended, granting the corporation permission to hold personal estate to the amount of $250,000, and real estate not exceeding $100,000, over and above the value of buildings and improvements erected thereon for the purposes of the corporation. About the time of its incorporation the managers, proposing to carry out their undertaking on a liberal scale, appealed to the public for $100,000. This amount was soon subscribed, and was mostly given in large sums. An eligible site of twenty-four city lots, situated on Fifth avenue and Fifty-fourth street, had been previously, for certain considerations on the part of Trinity Church, granted by the city corporation to the Church of St. George the Martyr, on condition  that there should be erected thereon, within three years from the date of the grant, a hospital and free chapel for British emigrants. As the buildings had not been erected, and the land was soon to revert to the city, the managers of St. Luke's applied to the authorities for an extension of the time, which was finally granted, and after considerable negotiation the transfer of the title from the Church of St. George the Martyr was effected, on condition that the corporation of St. George should always be entitled to a certain number of free beds in the contemplated Hospital.

 Eight additional lots were also purchased at an average expense of $1,500 each ; a plan for the building prepared by Mr. John W. Kitch was adopted ; and in May, 1854, the corner-stone of the Hospital was laid, with appropriate services conducted by Bishop Wainwright. When the building was begun the managers only contemplated the erection of the central edifice and one wing, but they soon resolved to erect both wings, and accordingly appealed to the public for an additional hundred thousand dollars. On Ascension Day, 1857, the chapel, having been completed, was opened for divine service; and on May 13,1858, the Hospital proper was opened for the reception of patients.

The buildings, which form a narrow parallelogram with a wing at each end, and a central edifice with towers, front on Fifty-fourth street, facing the south, extending longitudinally from east to west two hundred and eighty feet. The elevations of the several

fronts are of square red brick. The central building contains on the first floor the office, the examination room, and appropriate apartments for the physician and the superintendent. On the second floor is the chapel, the distinctive feature of the Hospital. This is rectangular in form, eighty-four by thirty-four feet, with a ceiling forty feet high. The roof is elliptical, with bold traverse ribs resting on corbels. A narrow gallery extends around three sides on a level with the floor or the third story, and so supplements the audience room that several hundred persons are comfortably seated at the Sabbath afternoon service. The wards extend from the central building in either direction, the western wing being devoted to the male, and the eastern to the female patients, respectively. One ward is also appropriated to children, and is a very interesting department.

The Hospital has spacious and airy corridors for the exercise of convalescent patients, bath-rooms, closets, and separate apartments for the treatment of the delirious or noisy. The buildings have accommodations for over two hundred patients, and have cost, with their furniture, about $225,000. A rear building contains the apparatus for heating the whole edifice with steam, the cooking, washing, and drying being performed by the same agent. A fan ten feet in diameter for ventilating the Hospital is also driven by the same machinery, capable of discharging 40,000 cubic feet of air per minute. The same machinery carries the water to the tanks in the attic, from, whence it is distributed through the building. The projector of the Institution early conceived that its usefulness would be much promoted by placing its wards under the charge of a band of Christian women. Under his own pastorate such a band had originated in 1845, known as the " Sisters of the Holy Communion," being the first community of Protestant " Sisters of Charity " in this country. They were accordingly fitted for the undertaking. The donations of a few wealthy friends enabled the Sisters in 1851 to erect a dwelling suited to their use adjoining the Church of the Holy Communion ; and in 1854 the building adjoining their own was rented, and converted into an infirmary, with fifteen beds. Here the work of St. Luke's Hospital began, and more than two hundred patients were treated ere the opening of the Institution on Fifty-fourth street. The Sisters have had charge of the hospital since its opening, attending to its multiplied toils with scrupulous exactness through all these years, with no financial compensation. Even their apparel is furnished by an arrangement of their own, so that nothing but board is received at the Hospital. No vows bind them to their work nor to each ether. It is a voluntary association of unmarried Christian females, somewhat akin to the Lutheran Deaconesses of Kaiserswerth, so well known in the hospitals of Germany and Prussia. The Hospital is conducted on the principle of a family. The Superintendent, who is also the chaplain, sustaining the relation of father, and the lady superior that of mother, to the inmates. One of the Sisters has charge of the drug department, and saves the Institution annually the wages of an apothecary.

The ministrations of the gospel, according to the forms of the Protestant Episcopal church, are daily attended to. Scriptures and prayers are read in each ward every morning, and a service is conducted every evening in the chapel, when the doors leading into the long wards are thrown open and the large organ breathes forth its melody. The regular church service with preaching is conducted every Sabbath morning, and in the afternoon the chapel is thrown open to the inhabitants of the neighborhood, who attend in large numbers upon the preaching of the Word.

About eight thousand patients have been treated since the opening of the Hospital, a small fraction of whom only were able to pay their own bills.

More than thirty beds are now supported by a permanent endowment of $3,000 each, and over a score more by annual subscriptions of from two hundred to three hundred dollars each. The board of the patients was long held at four dollars per week, but has since been increased to seven dollars for adults, and four dollars for children.

St. Luke's Hospital, situated in a central and wealthy neighborhood, with its beautifully cultivated lawns and elegant surroundings, if managed with the courtesy and skill that have hitherto characterized it, will long continue one of the finest institutions of the city.


Website: The History
Article Name: St. Luke's Hospital in New York City
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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