During the autumn and early winter of 1872, two invalid tourists died on the streets of Jacksonville. The cause of their death was traced to the lack of rooms in the crowded hotels and to the fact that there were no hospital beds available for sick nonresidents of Duval County. The people of Jacksonville were moved by the deaths of these two travelers, but left the correction of the evil to the ingenuity of three generous and far-sighted women, Mrs. Theodore Hartridge, Mrs. Aristides Doggett, and Mrs. J. D. Mitchell.
Early in 1873, these ladies formed a charitable society, which was named the “Relief Association of Jacksonville.” The purpose of the Association was to locate suitable places for the accommodation of sick and destitute travelers. Within a short while, however, the demand for such accommodations became so great that the ladies determined to establish a “hospital.” In February, 1873, the society held a fair. Funds netted by the fair, when added to contributions made by citizens and tourists, provided a sum sufficient to pay the rent of a small two-room building. This building was opened on March 11, 1873, and was named St. Luke’s Hospital.
On October 16, 1873, the St. Luke’s Hospital Association was organized. Elected by the association were two presidents, Mrs. Hartridge and Mrs. Magruder; five vice presidents, Mrs. Burns, Mrs. Doggett, Mrs. Peck, Mrs. Mitchell, and Mrs. Greeley; and a secretary and treasurer, Miss Freeland.
The small two-room hospital was operated only during the winter months and was devoted entirely to charity. Its charities were extended to people from all sections and of all creeds. Forty-two patients were admitted for treatment during the first winter alone, while somewhat more than two hundred received treatment during its first three winter seasons, 1873-74, 1874-75, and 1875-76.
During the first year a lot on the corner of Market and Caroline streets was purchased for $600, and plans were drawn for a new building by Mr. F. Leede. Sufficient funds were not available, however; hence construction of the new building had to be postponed.
Fairs held each winter for the support of the hospital were colorful and were supported actively by Jacksonville residents and tourists. Nearly $2,000 was netted in 1874-75 and approximately $l,500 in 1875-76. Although the association lost $687 in the Freedmen’s Bank when it failed in June, 1874, and although only a small amount of that sum was eventually recovered, that same month Captain A. J. Ross of Boston donated $l,000.
In the winter of 1875-76, construction was begun on a brick building somewhat more than sixty feet in length and fifty feet in width. In March, 1876, as it neared completion, the building was said to have marble basins in every room with hot and cold water and gas equipment “all over.” Unfortunately, on July 22, 1876, just before it was ready for occupancy, the building was destroyed by fire which was thought to have been incendiary in origin.
The location of the hospital was changed from Market and Caroline streets, following the fire, to the west side of Palmetto Street between Monroe and Duval, in East Jacksonville. The sale price of the old land, $800, was used to purchase the new, and $6,000 received from insurance on the burned building, was made available for the construction of another brick building, which housed the hospital until (a later) building in Springfield was occupied in l9l4.
There were a few residents in East Jacksonville who felt that the hospital would be against their interests. The following strange notice appeared in a local paper in June, 1877, but what group or body was responsible for the pronouncement is not known:
East Jacksonville, Florida
May 25, 1877
Resolved, that our secretary request the insurance agents residing in the city of Jacksonville to withhold policies of insurance upon the building about to be erected in our village by the trustees of “St. Luke’s Hospital” because it is ruinous to our interests and may be disastrous to the health of ourselves and families.
Signed. H. M. Moody, Secretary.
Construction of the building was begun in the late spring of 1877, but was interrupted somewhat by the yellow fever epidemic of that year. The unusual amount of illness in the city, however, impressed people with the need for a hospital. The building, completed at a cost of somewhat more than $6,000, was opened to the public in December, 1878.
Since that time St. Luke’s Hospital has served the people of Jacksonville uninterruptedly. For the years 1878-79 the officers and members of the board were quaintly listed as follows: “President, Mrs. Alex. Mitchell; Vice-President, Mrs. A. Doggett; Treasurer (Mrs.) Jos. D. Mitchell; Secretary, Mrs. Doctor Hartridge; Matron, Mrs. Wilkinson. The Board of Directors consist of the Vice-President, Secretary, and Treasurer.”
In 1882 the association was reorganized, and its first constitution was adopted. Mrs. Alexander Mitchell served as first president of the board after the reorganization, while the first staff was composed of Drs. J. D. Mitchell, R.P. Daniel, E. T. Sabal, W.A. Spence, J.D. Fernandez, A.J. Wakefield, and Neal Mitchell. Homeopathic physician members of the staff were Drs. P. E. Johnson and H.R. Stout. Dr. Malvina Reichard, Jacksonville’s first woman physician, that year was appointed superintendent and resident physician, that year was appointed superintendent and resident physician. On June l0, 1885, its first charter was granted. The board of directors for 1886-87 increased Dr. Reichard’s salary with “great pleasure,” realizing that no monetary value could be placed upon her service, and stating that St. Luke’s accomplishments had been largely due to her knowledge of and fitness for the work, and her faithful devotion to St. Luke’s every interest.
In 1887, when the first large wing was added to the building, the members of the medical and surgical staff were: Drs. R. P. Daniel, president, Neal Mitchell, secretary, J.D. Mitchell, A. J. Wakefield, W. L. Baldwin, and C. J. Burroughs. On August 22, 1888, the hospital was taken over by the Jacksonville Board of Health, with Dr. J. D. Fernandez in charge and Dr. P. J. Stollenwerck as assistant. Many people were cared for there during the yellow fever epidemic of that year.
From A Century of Medicine in Jacksonville and Duval County
by Webster Merritt