Living on the prairie in Rockford’s early days meant enduring hardship, and when sickness or injury came to a settler, a messenger was sent for the local doctor. In 1846, malarial fever spread throughout the community, making physicians very busy. They would travel several miles, even to Roscoe and Stillman’s Run. Dr. Archibald Catlin, who had arrived in 1838, never turned down a night call, sometimes riding with the messenger who came for him. He even rode piggy-back style on one messenger to cross the flooded Kishwaukee River to reach a patient.
In 1883, dedicated physicians like Dr. Catlin organized a committee with the mission of establishing Rockford’s first hospital. The need for a hospital was heavily influenced by the city’s industrial growth, as dangerous factory machines caused severe injury. By 1884, by-laws and a constitution for the hospital were created. They founded the hospital in Dr. William Fitch’s home, located at Chestnut and South Court Streets. The house was renovated for only $1000, and Rockford Hospital opened on October 1, 1885 with 15 patient beds and a physician staff of 8. One hundred cases were handled within its first year of operation. In its first four years, the patients were mostly single, immigrant men in their 20s and 30s.
Dr. Fitch’s former home facing Chestnut St. in fornt, addition in rear.
It took the people of the community a little while to get used to the new hospital. They were afraid that a hospital would spread disease. In 1881, small pox struck Rockford, infecting 23 people and killing 3. In a panic, neighborhoods barricaded streets near affected areas. One house of a victim was burned to the ground so that it could not be used as a pesthouse. Pesthouses, used for quarantine, were usually located out of town. But the hospital was centrally located, and many people feared that those with contagious diseases would be admitted.
On March 6, 1888, Rockford Hospital’s new addition was opened. The three-story brick building behind Dr. Fitch’s old house had an operating room, patient rooms, living quarters for the Superintendent of Nurses, a kitchen, doctor’s office, and a “dead room,” which opened into the alley where bodies could be removed discreetly. The cost was $1 per day for a single room and $5 per week for a bed in a ward. In 1903, Dr. Fitch’s house was removed, and a new building was built. The building across the street was purchased and turned into the nurses’ residence hall.
1920s photos of Rockford Hospital staff
When Rockford Hospital first opened, it had a small nursing staff that was supervised by Matron Jane Smith. These women were trained in cooking and patient care, but there was no medical training available to them. In 1887, Elizabeth Glenn finished her training at Cook County Hospital and replaced Jane Smith as Superintendent of Nurses. With her progressive ideas on the education of nurses, she began a training school with women already employed at the hospital in July of 1888. The Rockford Training School for Nurses was incorporated one year later. The training involved lectures given by the doctors on anatomy, physiology, and “material medica.” The curriculum also included applying poultices, cups, leaches, bandages, and splints, cooking for the sick, making patient observations and reporting conditions to the physician, as well as “proper administration of enemas and the use of catheter, and the proper method of applying friction to the body and extremities.” Sophia Carlson and Melanie Calliot were the first to graduate with a formal ceremony on December 19, 1889. Shortly after, the program was extended to 2 years, and then to 3 years in 1912. Blue and gold were chosen as the school colors, and a red rose was the school flower.
In the 1800s, the nursing uniform consisted of a long sleeve dress with starched collar and starched apron or pinafore, and the cap was kept in place with ties under the chin. By covering the entire body, excluding hands and the face, these uniforms were considered “fever proof.” In 1902, uniforms changed to white dresses with blue stripes and a square-topped apron with an organdy cap held in place with pins. In 1907, a white cotton cap was introduced. Every class of nursing students wore their caps in a certain position on their heads. In the 1930s, Rockford Hospital nurses wore short-sleeved blue dresses with wide aprons, as seen below.
1936 Rockford Hospital Nursing Uniform worn by Ruth Sarver
Between 1941 and 1942, Rockford Hospital became Rockford Memorial Hospital. In July 1954, the hospital moved to its present location on North Rockton Ave. where it remains in operation today.
The Village is now open for tours!
Step inside our replica of Rockford Hospital as it would have looked in 1885! Visit our other 22 original and reproduction buildings with an interpreter dressed in turn-of-the-century attired as your guide.
Click here for hours and admission: http://www.midwayvillage.com/wordpress/planning-a-visit/admission/