Healthcare in Cleveland

Contributed by Nancy C. Erdey

Sister Ignatia Gavin, Sisters of Charity Hospital (photo courtesy of Sisters of Charity Health System)
Sister Ignatia Gavin, Sisters of Charity Hospital (photo courtesy of Sisters of Charity Health System)

Healthcare and medicine is a major component of the economy of Cleveland and the Northeast Ohio region. Cleveland is a center for world-class medical care, medical innovation, research, and medical and nursing education. There is a long history of medicine, this term used in the broadest sense, in Cleveland. There are significant archival repositories and resources in the city that document the establishment, growth, and economic dominance of medicine and the historical growth of the region’s current healthcare industry.

While an “infirmary” or asylum was established in 1837 as a response to the cholera epidemic, it functioned intermittently to provide health care to the poor and mentally ill as well as other groups such as the aged. The U. S. government established a federal Marine Hospital at the corner of East Ninth and Lakeside Avenue, to care exclusively for seamen and the merchant marine on the Great Lakes. (When the hospital closed the building was taken over by Lakeside Hospital). The first hospital, as we understand the concept and organization of a hospital, was St. Vincent Charity Hospital (established in 1865 by the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine). In 1866 the Wilson Street Hospital (Lakeside Hospital/University Hospitals) was established by parishioners of the Old Stone Church to care for people displaced by the Civil War and the poor. These early charitable hospitals were established to provide health care to the poor and immigrant populations of an emerging industrial Cleveland. As medicine and the profession and capabilities of physicians developed these hospitals became teaching hospitals and provided health care to not only the poor but also people able to pay for their medical care. In the late nineteenth century and early twentieth numerous hospitals were established by charitable organizations, professional groups (allopathic, homeopathic, and osteopathic) and religious orders. By the end of the twentieth century individual hospitals began to merge for economic reasons into “health care systems” including more than one hospital. This era of independent hospitals ended merging into health care systems and saw the closure of economically distressed hospitals (e.g. St John Hospital on Detroit Avenue and St. Alexis Hospital/later renamed St. Michael Hospital in Slavic Village). Today healthcare in Cleveland and the region is dominated by the major healthcare systems: Cleveland Clinic Foundation, University Hospitals Health System, the Metrohealth System, and the Sisters of Charity Health System. Some of these health systems have affiliates in Northern Ohio and some in other parts of the United States and at international sites.

Lakeside Hospital postcard (photo courtesy of Penny Postcards from Ohio)
Lakeside Hospital postcard (photo courtesy of Penny Postcards from Ohio)

Archival resources documenting the history of healthcare in Cleveland are extensive. Some are institution based such as the Cleveland Clinic Archives and the archives of the University Hospitals Health System. Other archival resources include the Dittrick Medical History Center, the Western Reserve Historical Society, and Case Western Reserve University Archives. Cuyahoga Community College has a Crile Archive Center for History Education that has a collection of archival materials related to the Crile General Hospital and World War I. In addition archives of religious orders, such as the Sisters of Charity of St. Augustine, which founded St. Vincent Charity Hospital as well as St. Ann’s Maternity Hospital, and St. John Hospital, contain resources documenting the history of medicine and nursing in Cleveland. The following blog will highlight some of these healthcare archival resources in Cleveland.

For an excellent general overview of the history of medicine in Cleveland see Medicine. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western Reserve University.


Healthcare in Cleveland – Archival Resources

The Stanley A. Ferguson Archives, University Hospitals Case Medical Center (University Hospitals Health System)

Established in 1968, the Archives of the University Hospitals Case Medical Center is the oldest hospital archives in the city of Cleveland. Its primary function is to document the historical development of University Hospitals of Cleveland and the four hospitals that formed it: Lakeside, Babies and Children’s, MacDonald and Rainbow Hospital for Crippled and Convalescent Children. The archival collection is composed of over 5000+ linear feet of material related to the development and operations of the facilities from 1866 to the present. The photographic collection of over 6000+ images (from 1870s to the present) documents every facet of the hospitals’ history, personnel, and functions, but is especially strong in documenting hospital architecture and maternity and child health from the early twentieth century to the present.

The Archives also houses the personal and professional papers of Claude Beck (cardiovascular surgery), David Marine (endocrinology), Hymer Friedell (radiology/radiation studies), Benjamin Spock (child development), John Kennell (pediatrics and maternal-infant bonding), Leroy Matthews (pediatrics and cystic fibrosis), John Dingle (preventive medicine and medical education), Oscar Ratnoff (hematology) and Olga Benderoff (nursing and World War II). The Archives has extensive collections in medicine and nursing during Word War I (Lakeside Unit/France) and World War II (Fourth General Hospital/Australia and South Pacific).

The Archives maintains extensive collections in hospital administration, nursing and medical education, focusing on the development and implementation of the New Medical Curriculum of Western Reserve University School of Medicine (now Case Western Reserve University) and its affiliated hospitals. The Archives of Case Western Reserve University also has strong and complementary collections related to the New Medical Curriculum.

In 1993 the Archives was named the Stanley A. Ferguson Archives of University Hospitals of Cleveland (now University Hospitals Case Medical Center) in honor of Mr. Ferguson who served as CEO of University Hospitals from 1952 to 1975. It was at his suggestion, and during his administration that the Archives was established. (Description adapted from description by this author in A Guide to Archives in Northeastern Ohio published by the Cleveland Archival Roundtable in 1994.)

If SAA members tour University Circle and have a chance to go the Lakeside Hospital (located behind the Allen Memorial Medical Library) on Adelbert Road, they can find in the first corridor right off the lobby the large bronze plaque commemorating the Lakeside Unit’s service during World War I. Also along the first floor corridor mounted are the first American flag carried on European soil during World War I, the Red Cross flag that flew over the Lakeside Unit in Rouen, France, and the large Fourth General Hospital banner that was used by the unit during World War II in the Pacific. Contact: Diane O’Malia, Archivist, Diane.O’, 216-983-1125.

University Hospitals Case Medical Center. The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western Reserve University


Archives, The MetroHealth System (Cuyahoga County Hospital)

The main hospital of the MetroHealth System, a publicly funded hospital, traces its origins back to a public infirmary in the 1830s and which functioned as an asylum and work house treating the poor, sick, mentally ill, and aged. The Cleveland City Hospital was formally established in 1888 and funded by public funds.   The Archives was established in 1981 and houses records dating back to 1854. It also includes records relating the function and growth of the hospital, medical staff, research and the nursing school (now closed). The Archives has records relating to the treatment of polio in Cleveland. Historical exhibits related to the history of the hospital and its growth and development, nursing, and the role and work of noted medical researcher, Dr. Charles Rammelkamp, are located on the first floor of the hospital. Contact: Carol L. Smith, Archivist, 216-778-3439.

Cuyahoga County Hospital System (CCHS). The Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. Case Western Reserve University