Project Canterbury

The Life and Work of William Augustus Muhlenberg
Doctor in Divinity

By Anne Ayres

New York: T. Whittaker, 1889.

CHAPTER XVIII. 1856-1859.

Individuality of St. Luke's Hospital.--Fundamental Idea.--Impressive-ness of Building.--Pleasure Grounds for Patients.--Plan of Interior.--Another Hundred Thousand Dollars.--Chapel opened for Worship.--A Hospital Church.--The Furnishing Committee.--A double good Work.--Prejudice disarmed.--Work begun in St. Luke's.--Solitariness of Building.--The first Workers.--The Hospital a Family.--Ways and Means.--Faith the best Endowment.--Harm of a Million of Dollars.--Arrangement with Board of Managers.--A welcome Handsel. Costly and beautiful Gifts.--First Annual Report.--The Hospital Associations

ST. LUKE'S HOSPITAL was not patterned after any European institution, admirable as many of those are. Like all the creations of its Founder, it has a character and expression distinctively its own. In most hospitals, the advancement of science is the fundamental ground of their existence; but St. Luke's, while necessarily subserving the interests of science, has for its generic and formative principle, Christian Brotherhood, exemplifying itself in loving, sympathizing care for the sick and needy.

The material structure, free from all ornament except it be the surmounting Chapel cross and stone figure of St. Luke in the niche below, is beautiful in its simple dignity, in the symmetry of its proportions, its fine commodiousness and its aspect of cheerful comfort. With ever-open door, it stands as though typical of its appointed office, welcoming each sufferer in the name of Him who said: "Come unto me, all ye that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest" And the beautiful grounds of the Hospital, well-laid down in grass, and shaded by fine trees, heighten the impression; for that handsome lawn is for the free enjoyment of every patient, physically able for out-of-door refreshment. It is a sight worthy of Christianity, to see such scattered, at their will, over the soft green sward, or lying reposefully under the shadow of the tall trees; and this in closest proximity to Fifth Avenue, whose world of wealth and fashion has not always forgotten to express its sympathy by generous largesses.

The interior of the building is approached from the south by an open portico, leading past the business offices, Managers' Room, Superintendent's Apartments, etc., to the several wards. The towers have also entrances from the south, and communicate with the wards, corridors, and also the upper stories by means of staircases. These entrances are so arranged that they can be made to communicate directly with the Chapel, without coming in contact with the patients.

The wards are on either side of the central building, which, above the first floor, is occupied by the Chapel and the towers and stairways. The height of the first floor is fifteen feet. The wards on the second and third stones are one hundred and nine feet long, twenty-six feet wide, and fourteen feet high. The beautiful Children's Ward and its extension, comprising fifty beds, occupies the third story on the eastern side.

The corridor or sanitarium adjoining each ward on the north side of the house, spacious, lofty, and well-lighted, is for the use of convalescing patients, who thus have a refreshing change and relief from the sickroom, with opportunity of in-door exercise in their wheel-chairs or otherwise. In the wings are staircases leading from the basement to the third story, and connected with each ward in every story are Sisters' medicine rooms, patients' dining-rooms, dumb-waiters, bathrooms and other appurtenances. The basement, with the exception of the air chambers, is chiefly devoted to domestic purposes, store-rooms and offices, with provision in the east wing for the apothecary's shop and laboratory. The laundry is connected with the engine-house, exterior to the main building.

The Chapel is the distinctive feature of the Hospital structure. It is rectangular in plan, eighty-four feet long, thirty-four feet wide, and forty feet high. It has a gallery around three sides, on a level with the third story, and will accommodate in all four hundred persons. Its doors, corresponding with the ward doors on each side of every story, admit those in their beds as part of the congregation, whenever desired. It is lighted from the south by three wide and lofty windows, and at the opposite end is an inner semi-circular apse, surmounted by a half dome, where is the chancel, raised four steps from the floor, and lighted by seven

The Furnishing Committee, without useless expenditure, but with no little toil and care, selected material and equipments vastly superior to any thing heretofore applied to hospital uses. This was in kind and benevolent compliance with Dr. Muhlenberg's sentiment and feeling. He took a personal interest in all their proceedings, and the three-feet wide beds with their excellent hair-mattresses, common to the wards of St. Luke's, were immediately of his own bespeaking. During the erection of the building, he had looked into the matter of hospital beds, commonly a twenty-six inch frame, with a bundle of straw in a case laid upon it, and had made up his mind what he meant to have in his own Institution.

It fell to the Sisters to provide a large additional share of linen and clothing for the destitute patients they anticipated would constitute their Hospital charge. This however came upon them by the force of circumstances, rather than of design. The year 1857 was one of extreme suffering from the great financial panic, which threw multitudes out of employment. The Sisters' House, among other severe demands made upon it in consequence of this state of affairs, was thronged by decent good women, imploring for work to keep their families from starvation. They were, for the most part, persons unused to receive gratuities,--the wives of clerks, mechanics, and others accustomed to a respectable support. How properly to help them was an embarrassing question. Dr. Muhlenberg came to the rescue. The exigency, as common with him, brought its inspiration. "These good women shall have needle-work," he said; "they shall makeup linen and clothing for St. Luke's. I will get the material and money to pay for the sewing, and you (the Sisters) can give out the work."

Forthwith he went among his merchant friends for assistance. They were not backward to help him. Several dry goods merchants, who could not afford money, offered large quantities of domestic fabrics, which, in the dulness of business, had accumulated in their warehouses. Bales and cases of prints, cotton cloth, and flannels were sent in, and the Sisters entered heartily on their work. The usual rules as to hours were set aside, and the little band, never more than six or seven in number, worked early and late in cutting out and distributing the garments to be made; Dr. Muhlenberg, on his part, furnishing, unremittingly, the means for regular and liberal payments. Thus a large number of respectable persons were tided over a period of peculiar distress, while, at the same time, the Hospital was benefited.

The history of Dr. Muhlenberg, in establishing St. Luke's Hospital, is so interwoven with that of the Sisterhood, that the one can not well be portrayed, at this juncture, without enlarging somewhat upon the other. Mention has been made of the widelyrspread prejudice against the employment of Sisters in St. Luke's which existed in the earlier years of the project; but at this time, the work of the Community in the Infirmary, with other influences, had so far disarmed apprehension as to bring about a request from the Board of Managers that they would be prepared to take charge of the wards of St. Luke's when these should be opened, to which they acceded. At length, the building not advancing to completion as fast as it should have done, a suggestion was made by Dr. Muhlenberg, in conjunction with the more influential members of the Hospital Board, that the Sisters should take possession without delay, in such accommodations as were available, beginning operations as best they could. This was designed to impel contractors and workmen towards a conclusion. To this, also, they consented. The approaching Festival of the Ascension (May 13th, 1858) was then named for a public opening, and two days before that event, three Sisters, with the nine patients then under their charge in the Infirmary, removed to the Hospital, where the short ward of the first floor, on the east side, had been prepared by themselves for their sick. Incompleteness met them at every step. The basement floor was not so much as laid nor the kitchen range set. They did not exchange the retirement and privacy of their own house and its sheltered work for the wards of the great open Hotel Dieu of St. Luke's without some feeling. It was an eventful step in their history, and more favorable, it may be, to the service of the Hospital than to the genius and original order of their association. But there was great interest in the new field, and willing sacrifice.

The Hospital building then stood alone amid a bare desolate tract Unoccupied and unimproved lands stretched in every direction, until northward the eye fell upon the then newly begun Central Park There were during several years no buildings between the rear of St. Luke's and the Park, so that, to persons walking on the Mall, the Hospital formed the end of the vista southward, and seemed immediately to terminate the promenade.

The house itself with its long halls and huge empty rooms was dreary sometimes to its first occupants. Besides a plain worthy couple in charge of the place, and their family, the only tenants of the vast building were the Sisters, their nine patients, and an old woman, to help in the nursing. The physician appointed prospectively as resident, for some time made only a brief daily visit. Dr. Muhlenberg commonly spent part of the afternoon with his'pioneers, cheering and encouraging them; and during the hours of labor, the noise of the workmen, in different parts of the building--carpenters, painters, and plumbers--gave a sense of neighborhood; but these left when the daylight closed in, and then, amid the gloom and silence that suddenly fell upon the great house, the gas-fixtures not being adjusted, a solitary candle would be placed here and there, throughout the corridor, in its nearly three hundred feet of length, making visible a kind of shadowy darkness.

So much by way of retrospect, as to the first occupation of the building, and also as illustrating Dr. Muhlenberg's perseverance and energy under difficulties; for the Sisters' labors and trials in these initiatory days were his own, naturally, from his proprietorship of the work, but not less from his sympathy and loving-kindness towards the workers. He had the alchemist's power for transmuting common things into gold, and auch exigencies called it forth signally. His animating words of holy encouragement, and his believing prayers often shed so pure and rare a ray of heavenly joy upon those homely toils that they brightened into noblest and most privileged service--

"Thine Handmaid, Saviour, can it be?
Such honor dost thou put on me?"

Within no long period the interior of the Hospital came into convenient and beautiful order. The household increased in numbers, patients began to come in, and the resident physician occupied his proper quarters. The first idea, however, of the Sisters and their Principal taking charge only of the nursing was soon set aside. It was speedily apparent that Dr. Muhlenberg's exalted and beautiful conception of a true Church Hospital could not be developed without the unreserved Christian devotion of some womanly mind and hand to shape, organize, and guide the entire domestic economy. And so it came to pass that; in advance of the public opening, Mr. Minturn, as President, had constituted tire first Sister "Director General," a title that almost immediately gave place to the more agreeable and pertinent one of "Housemother" which was held by the original incumbent--with the exception of a brief interval--during nearly twenty years.

Dr. Muhlenberg always said that his Church Hospital was best described as a Christian family with its father, mother, and ministering daughters, making tlio cause of the sick their own. The House-father, who is also the Pastor, occupying himself in all that bears upon the spiritual and physical interests of his charge; the House-mother with her Sister associates--the womanly head of this family--regulating and refining the household; personally serving the sick, dispensing their food and medicine, keeping at their side through the dread ordeal of the surgeon's knife, and soothing the dying bed day or night.

The peculiar system of nursing established in St. Luke's by Dr. Muhlenberg, viewed in its medical aspect, "is not the substitution of voluntary for paid labor, because hired nurses are employed; but the interposition between the physician and his patients of educated Christian women, who voluntarily perform certain duties more responsible than can be entrusted to paid nurses. It is the substitution of intelligent, appreciative critical assistance on the part of the Sisters, for the unquestioning routine obedience of mere nurses, and it has all the advantages which increased intelligence has in any work....."

"Every ward is in charge of a Sister, who has under her two day nurses, and one for the night She has had some instruction in medicines. Attached to her ward is a drug-closet containing such materia meetico as is most likely to be used, and all prescriptions are put up and administered by herself. There are two advantages in this over the ordinary method. First, as no medicines are ordered in quantity, but each dose is prepared and given separately, there waste--nothing is left over to be thrown away. Secondly, greater safety and accuracy are secured. .... To have the medicine given by one who is herself responsible for its proper administration and preparation, who is required by the Rules of the Sisterhood to understand its nature, the ordinary dose, and its expected effect, and who is honest and faithful enough to report immediately any mistake which may occur, shuts up many sources of error and danger."

The strong and simple faith that inspired Dr. Muhlenberg shone out, conspicuously, in another particular connected with the beginning of the Hospital. On the day of the opening, after an impressive sermon by the Rev. Dr. Samuel Cooke, a handsome collection was taken up for the support of the house, but previous to this, there had not been a dollar in hand for such purpose. The responsibility of the Managers, Mr. Robert B. Minturn being President, and Mr. Adam Norrie Treasurer, extended to all that appertained to the cost of the building and the custody of the permanent fund, of which already there was a small beginning, but extended no further, and the question had been mooted of deferring the opening of the Hospital until something like adequate means for supporting the sick were assured.

"No!" said Dr. Muhlenberg, unhesitatingly; "when our house is ready, let us open wide its doors to the sick and needy in the name of the Lord, not doubting he will give us our daily bread." And, in his heart, he delighted that there was this room for the exercise of faith, and for its corresponding claim upon the prayers and sympathies of all good Christian people. "Why," he said to an intimate friend, "a million of dollars by way of endowment just now would kill us." He meant as to the divine life in a devout waiting upon the Lord, on the part of those engaged in the work, which would alone make it the fountain of spiritual as well as temporal blessing that he conceived it should be. Endowments would be desirable later, and he doubted not would be bestowed; faith was the best endowment to begin with.

In this spirit he proposed to the Managers to assume, himself, all the responsibility as to household expenses for the first three years, they undertaking the cost of fuel, insurance and other external outlays. This was readily agreed to, and thus, besides the high end which prompted the arrangement, Dr. Muhlenberg secured to himself that freedom and independence in the inception of the work which always seemed essential to him whatever the "sphere of his activity."

His faith and wisdom were eminently justified in the results. On the evening of the opening day, in addition to the Chapel collection there arrived as a gift from one of the Managers a large wagon-load of supplies of all sorts for the store-room, the best as to quality and in quantities sufficient to last the prospective household several months. And so, at the very outset of actual service, there began to flow into the Institution that stream of living charity which, fed from one source or another, has never intermitted.

At the anniversary on St. Luke's Day 1859, when the first report of current expenses was presented, it was found that the amount received ($15,408.44) had been enough to cover all outlays, and a little over. Dr Muhlenberg might well thank God and take courage.

Among the items that compose the above total, nearly four thousand dollars appear to the credit of the Hospital Associations, which in the early days of the Institution were a most valuable auxiliary and one wholly after Dr. Muhlenberg's own heart. They consisted mainly of bodies of young men, formed in the different parishes, for the sake of searching out, bringing to the Hospital, and maintaining while there, the sick and destitute, either of their respective churches or wherever else found. The members visited their beneficiaries while in the Hospital, provided decent Christian burial if they died, and interested themselves to set them on their way again in life if they recovered.

The Junior Hospital Association of the Church of the Holy Communion, formed under the auspices of Dr. Muhlenberg, took the lead in these organizations, and was quickly followed by similar societies in other prominent parishes.

Until St. Luke's began to have a revenue from its vested funds these associations were an essential arm of the service, furnishing the more reliable portion of the annual income; and the fact is noteworthy as show-ing what combination will do towards so great an end, without any one individual giving to an extraordinary amount, for the members were ordinarily young men, just beginning to make their way in the world. Further, to many of these, this new hospital ministry, brought into their lives a sanctifying influence, never hereafter wholly dissipated.

The revived spirit of charity diffused itself also in other new and beautiful ways. Late one Sunday afternoon of the first year, a lady, withholding her name, asked to see the Sister in charge, expressing a desire to be shown something of the house. After a brief visit to the ward and Chapel, she took leave, and in, so doing, slipped a little packet into the Sister's hand, saying, "Something to help your work." Opening it, there were found within, two hundred and fifty dollars with the words, "A thank-offering for fifty years of good health." Who the donor was, never transpired.

There were costly and beautiful, as well as more in: mediately useful gifts brought lovingly to the Founder in the very beginning; chief among these may be named the illuminated Evangelium, or manuscript copy of the four Gospels, executed by the hand of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Swift, wife of one of the Managers, and a much-loved friend and parishioner. The suggestion of this came from Dr. Muhlenberg, who early discerned her talent for such work. It was a genuine labor of pious affection; in size, of largest folio, such as the ancient copies in the British Museum and elsewhere. It is written in large, clear, old English church-text, with perfect accuracy and uniformity of penmanship, smooth and even as copper-plate, and embellished by an unusual variety of original illuminations. It forms the crown piece of the beautiful Chapel of the Hospital, standing with ever-open page immediately under the chancel cross. Other valuable gifts, were a large picture of the Marys at the Sepulchre, by Huntingdon; a fine organ from a member of a Presbyterian church; a beautiful silver comnmnion service from one lady friend; a memorial font of Caen stone from another. Two ladies from different parishes severally fitted up, very completely and handsomely, a large room each, on the first floor, for private patients, which were designed to yield some remuneration for the general support of the house. A member of the Board of Managers equipped the dispensing room and laboratory of the apothecary's department, both elaborately and expensively, and another friend embellished the exterior of the building with the stone figure of St. Luke. But to do justice to the influence of the Institution, in all its bearings and benedictions, can not be attempted.

Project Canterbury