Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives Blog

November Celebrates Mount Sinai West Founder James H. Roosevelt

James Henry Roosevelt, whose bequest founded the Roosevelt Hospital, was born at his family’s home on Warren Street, NY, NY on November 10, 1800. Following his earlier education in neighborhood schools, he enrolled in Columbia College, where his studies included law, and was graduated from there in 1819. He subsequently set up a law practice in New York City.

With his studies behind him, and his law practice established, he stood on the threshold of a promising life. Described as a young man of pleasing appearance, brown hair, above-average height and with a gentle and courteous demeanor, he was well-to-do, brilliant, and engaged to be married to Julia Boardman, who was from an old New York City family.

However, a sudden illness that left him physically disabled, ending his plans for both career and marriage. The exact nature of the illness is unclear: Some speculated that it was lead poisoning from a home remedy for a cold, concocted of hot milk into which lead shot had been boiled. Others think he fell victim to poliomyelitis.

In any case, largely incapacitated, he abandoned his law practice. Not wanting to ‘burden’ Julia Boardman with his disability, he broke his engagement to her. (Neither married and both remained lifelong friends; in fact, one of the few bequests he made, outside of the one to his nephew, James C. Roosevelt Brown, and the monies left to found The Roosevelt Hospital, was an annuity for Ms. Boardman, whom he also named as executrix of his will.)

Roosevelt then embarked on a life not just of physical limitations, but also of frugality and austerity, devoting much of his time and interests to real estate dealings and to the management of his securities; he thus increased his worth substantially. It is thought that he conserved and increased his funds for one specific purpose: to support “the establishment in the City of New York of an [sic] hospital for the reception and relief of sick and diseased persons.” Whatever the reason, when he died on November 30, 1863, he left almost one million dollars toward that objective.

The hospital founded under the terms of his will was to be a voluntary hospital that cared for individuals regardless of their ability to pay. It seems reasonable to suppose that having himself suffered from illness, he realized the plight of those who might at the same time be afflicted with both sickness and destitution. We celebrate its 151st anniversary of its opening on November 2nd.

It is said that Roosevelt was never morose or gloomy. He maintained an active interest in the life about him and in the affairs in which he could not participate. He enjoyed the companionship of a host of friends, one of the closest being Julia Boardman.

Although James H. Roosevelt’s remains were first buried in his family’s vault in the New York City Marble Cemetery, they were moved to the Roosevelt Hospital grounds when a monument to him was placed there in 1876. In late 1994 the monument was removed and relocated and his remains were exhumed. In the spring of 1995 Roosevelt was re-interred in the New York City Marble Cemetery family vault. Julia Boardman’s remains were interred in the same cemetery, but in her father’s vault.

What’s in a Start Date? Research on the Early History of the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai

For more information about former Beth Israel locations, see the Building Beth Israel series. An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here. 

The start date of an institution seems like a clear-cut fact, but often the records that would ideally shine a light on this milestone are actually a bit murky. The founding of the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel (PSON) is a great example of this historical ambiguity. 

During a recent reference request, I had the opportunity to research the establishment of PSON more fully. I spent hours poring over the Beth Israel Board of Directors minutes tracking down this information. Reading through this material was extremely time consuming – the minutes are handwritten in large, loopy cursive, and most entries didn’t even have a passing mention of the school. (When one meeting had discussion about the Hospital purchasing a typewriter, I felt like it wasn’t a moment too soon!) 

The earliest mention of nursing  at Beth Israel Hospital is in the Board of Directors minutes of April 25, 1891, when a nurse applied for a position at the Hospital as it prepared to move to its new space at 196 East Broadway, and was hired to begin working on May 15 of that year at a salary of $23 per month (about $730 today). These early years at Beth Israel (established 1890) were marked by financial precarity, and it was noted in July 1891 that the Hospital must “limit itself to accepting ten patients for the foreseeable future, these to be serviced by 2 nurses only, one doctor, one cook, and if the Hospital would also reduce other expenditures…the institution would survive.” 

In the years following, an added concern was hiring nurses who were trained. As was a common model for the time, Beth Israel Hospital opened its Training School for Nurses to supply the hospital with a fixed number of student nurses, who provided most of the nursing service to inpatients and were supervised by a smaller number of trained, professional nurses. We know that the school first opened at the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location with a two-year curriculum – but when exactly? 

The minutes reveal only a rough outline of the founding of the school. The first mention of it was on October 11, 1898, when the idea was referred to the Medical Board in conjunction with the Board of Directors, Training School Committee. The committee consisted of two members, “Hurwitz and Fleck[?].” Two months later, the committee wrote a proposal for the school, and on March 7, 1899, it was officially established. 

The school wasn’t mentioned again in the minutes for three full years, and renewed interest coincided with the hospital’s preparation to move to the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. On March 4, 1902, the committee “was instructed to proceed at once with the necessary arrangements for nursing in the new hospital” in addition to “other work” as assigned. On May 6, 1902, the committee reported that “requests for the recommendation of a Supt. Of Nurses have been sent out and that the German Hospital recommended a Mrs. Chapman[?].” (German Hospital was renamed to Lenox Hill Hospital in 1918.) This superintendent of nurses would have supervised the student nurses during their training. 

Finally, the minutes from late 1902 imply that the student nurses had begun their work. On October 7, November 11, and December 9, 1902, the minutes state that the nurses’ quarters were “insufficient”, and it was moved to find a better place to rent for them. The November minutes also reflect some logistical challenges around finding the right number of nurses per ward. There’s no definitive school start date mentioned. 

The unprocessed Phillips School of Nursing records also have materials related to the hundredth anniversary of the school taking place in 2004. Did these celebrants have access to historical documentation that is not present in the Archives? It is difficult to say. The celebration, called “A Century of Caring,” honored the ten graduates of the first class in 1904: Rose Bergen, Elizabeth Berman, Fannie Finn, Rose Goldman, Rose Hyman, Julia Meyers, Lena Rabinowitz, Sophie Reichin, Elizabeth Stein, and Minnie Vogel. 

By carefully reading the Board of Directors minutes, searching through PSON’s own records, and seeing the institution’s own conception of its anniversary year – all this taken together – we’ve concluded that the Beth Israel Hospital Training School for Nurses was established in 1899, with the first class beginning in 1902 and graduating in 1904. We feel that we can more reliably count on these dates than in the past, and hope that this account supplies helpful context to the archival labor that goes into these historical understandings. 

Sources:

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist

New Exhibit – Pediatric Developments

The Aufses Archives staff has installed our latest exhibit in the lobby of the Annenberg Building. This season’s exhibit, Pediatric Developments, showcases the evolution of children’s medical care over the last two centuries in the histories of our Health System’s hospitals. This blog post focuses only on the Mount Sinai Hospital histories presented in the exhibit.

Appointment card, 1917

While the prevailing narrative is that the field of pediatrics slowly grew into a medical specialty in the early 20th century, the care provided at our hospitals was ahead of the curve with early establishment of wards and services tailored specifically to children. Our doctors and health care workers sought to treat not only the serious and often fatal childhood ailments (many now preventable through routine vaccination), but worked to improve living conditions, nutrition, education, psychology, and convalescence while contributing to the development of Pediatrics as a specialty.


150 years ago, Mount Sinai Hospital established an “Outdoor Dispensary” for patients who did not need to be admitted overnight. This was due to the advocacy of Dr. Abraham Jacobi, the progenitor of Pediatrics, who was a foundational force from his appointment in 1860 to the Jews’ Hospital as Attending Physician, until his death in 1919. Children had always been admitted to the Hospital, but they were placed on adult wards.

In 1875, a Children’s Department in the Mount Sinai Hospital Dispensary was organized with Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi serving as head of the service. Together, the Drs. Jacobi had published Infant Diet in 1874 and married several months later. Because the facilities for children in the Dispensary were not sufficient to care for the great number referred to the Hospital, an inpatient Pediatric ward was opened in 1879 with Dr. Abraham Jacobi as Chief. Remarkably this was the first inpatient pediatric department in New York City.

Excerpt from 1877 Annual Report

135 years ago in 1887, Dr. Sara Welt was the first woman to be appointed an Adjunct Pediatrician. She spent her whole career at Mount Sinai Hospital and remained closely affiliated until her death in 1943, at which time she bequeathed nearly $1 million to support the Pediatric Clinic and establish the Sara Welt Fellowship in Research Medicine, a loan fund for young physicians who needed financial assistance.

Mount Sinai Hospital Annual Report, 1895

Dr. Ira Wile, who joined the Mount Sinai Hospital Pediatric staff in 1904, developed an early interest in child psychiatry, behavioral and social problems of children, and child education. In 1919, he opened the first child guidance clinic in the United States. Named the Children’s Health Class, it became the first vehicle through which preventive medicine was integrated on an equal footing with the rest of the pediatric activities of the Hospital. He stated, prophetically, that “the attention of the clinic is directed chiefly to the periodic examination of children between infancy and school age. This is a period during which the health of poorer children is commonly neglected, and when physical and psychological mismanagement may readily implant the seeds of disease against which the Department of Health and other agencies subsequently struggle in vain.”

Children in Einstein Falk Pavilion, circa 1923

In 1889, Dr. Henry Koplik founded the first station for the distribution of sterilized milk in New York City at the Good Samaritan Dispensary in lower Manhattan. In 1896, Koplik described the diagnostic spots of measles in the buccal mucous membranes, which to this day bear the name “Koplik spots.” He was one of the first pediatricians to take an interest in bacteriology and conducted fundamental studies on diphtheria and pertussis organisms. In 1902, he assumed the coveted role of Attending Pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital. For the next 25 years, he served on the Medical Board, taught at the School of Nursing, and was a consulting expert on Pediatrics.


Diet Manual, 1939

In 1923, Mount Sinai Hospital invited Dr. Béla Schick, a pediatrician of renown in Europe, to come to Mount Sinai and serve as Pediatrician to the Hospital. In collaboration with Dr. Clemens von Pirquet, Schick had already conducted his groundbreaking work on antigen/antibody reactions, which laid the foundation for immunity and hypersensitivity. They introduced the term “allergy.” Schick also had done his pioneering studies on diphtheria, developing a skin test with toxin from diphtheria organisms. The “Schick Test” was the first of many skin tests used to determine whether a child was immune or susceptible. In his later years Dr. Schick also focused on infant and child nutrition, as evidenced by this Diet Manual from 1939.


Dr. Jean Pakter, pictured, spent five years at Mount Sinai Hospital, finishing her residency in 1939. An advocate for maternal and child health, she devoted her life to serving not only the City of New York, as Director of the Department of Health’s Bureau of Maternity Services and Family Planning from 1960 to 1982, but the nation as well. Her discipline for gathering and sharing statistics led to many noteworthy studies on prematurity, maternal and fetal mortality, abortion, sudden infant death syndrome, and promotion of breast feeding. Her Mount Sinai training of using scientific study and clinical expertise as a means of enacting social change led deservedly to numerous honors, awards, and citations, most notably in the Roe v. Wade decision.


Polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis… many of the serious and often fatal childhood ailments that were common in the nascent years of the field of Pediatrics are today prophylactically addressed through routine childhood vaccinations. One of the most notable vaccines was for polio, released in 1955. Developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, who interned at Mount Sinai Hospital from 1940-1942, the evaluation of the vaccine was conducted by pioneering Black scientists, Russell W. Brown and James H.M. Henderson at Tuskegee Institute, by creating the first HeLa cell factory.

This casebook entry from 1910 shows a child being treated for poliomyelitis, bronchopneumonia, and scoliosis. While this child was discharged with their conditions improved, the case book is filled with patients seen by Dr. Henry Koplik and Dr. Burrill Crohn (listed as Attending and House Staff above) who succumbed to illnesses that are preventable today.


Mount Sinai Hospital Ward Y, Pediatric staff with children, 1906

We welcome you to visit the exhibit in person to read about the histories of Mount Sinai Morningside, Mount Sinai West, and Mount Sinai Beth Israel.

Field Day with St. Luke’s Staff

Field Day with St. Luke’s Staff

In days past, as the weather warmed up, thoughts of the staff and residents would turn to St. Luke’s annual Field Day outing at New Jersey’s Englewood Country Club, held every summer.

During Field Day, the usual barriers of position, age, and authority were disregarded during an afternoon of hotly contested athletic events (softball, golf, and tennis, etc.), followed by a very casual dinner.

Evening offerings were often films created by actor/director wannabe’s, Drs. Harry Roselle and Theodore Robbins and the various colleagues they could rope in to help. One year’s offering was a Dr. Kildare meets Dracula at St. Luke’s horror flick titled, “Anemia of Uncertain Origin.” Another was a spy thriller called “Aardvark,” imitated the popular 1960s TV comedy, ‘Get Smart,’ in which Mervin Long, Secret Agent 95.6, battled Aardvark, a Fu Manchu-type enemy who developed an infamous blood sludging device; Agent Long would unvaryingly save the day at the last moment.

Each year’s outing was documented with a panoramic photograph of attendees. These photos are usually between four and six feet long, and have proven to be a challenge to store in the Archives! We have over fifteen of these images, which arrived tightly rolled up, requiring re-hydrating in a makeshift hydrating tank before flattening for storage. They are available for viewing for those who wish to walk down memory lane. (Notice that the attached photo was cut in two in order to be printed in the former newsletter, The News of St. Luke’s. The image on top is the left half and the image below is the right side. Recognize anyone?)

Unfortunately, one year in the early 1970s the event was cancelled when it was discovered that those of the Jewish faith were excluded as members to the club, and it was not picked up again in following years.

Helen Rehr: Trailblazer in Social Work

This is a guest blog post by summer intern, Willa Jacob. Willa is a rising senior at Smith College where she studies Anthropology and the Study of Women and Gender.

A trailblazer in the field of social work and at The Mount Sinai Hospital, Helen Rehr, DSW, is one of the lively personalities in the Archive that jumps off the page when reading. The Department of Social Work Services at The Mount Sinai Hospital underwent great growth during her time as Associate Director and as Director from 1954 to 1980. In recognition of this, David S. Pomrinse, MD, Director of The Mount Sinai Hospital at the time, asserted, “I know that in the years to come we will value even more the service, leadership, teaching, and research of our friend and second Edith J. Baerwald Professor, Dr. Helen Rehr” at Dr. Rehr’s investiture in 1974.​1​

Dr. Rehr began at Mount Sinai in 1954 as the Associate Director of the Department of Social Services, second in command to Doris Siegel, MSW, and following Ms. Siegel’s death in 1971, she served as Director until 1980. She also was the second Edith J. Baerwald Professor of Community Medicine in Social Work following Ms. Siegel from 1971 to 1986. 

Dr. Helen Rehr was born in 1919 in the Southeast Bronx. In one of her interviews, she affectionately refers to her younger self as a “Bronx delinquent,” “[t]he reason being is that I was always bucking things. I was a little bit hitting the streets as I was growing up.”​2​

She grew up in the Bronx with her mother, father, and older brother, who was five years older than her but passed away at the age of sixteen. Twice during her childhood, she visited Poland, where her parents hailed from. Her father was a waiter at Geffner’s, a vegetarian restaurant in the Bronx, and her mother began working mid-life at a bakery. Her home always had a vibrant table full of fish, perogies, and varieties of breads, rolls, and cakes that her parents brought home daily from work.​2​

When Rehr started at Hunter College, she moved into a single-room apartment in Manhattan. With much humor she described her move in an interview as “[r]unning away […] in the sense that one reaches a late adolescent stage, or college, and you think you want to be independent.”​2​ She graduated from Hunter College in 1940 with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and a minor in economics. Although she enjoyed statistics and architecture in college, she attributed her career in social work to the fact that she was a “[Great] Depression product.” Hence, social problems were of great concern to her. Not to mention, architecture and statistics were still male-dominated fields at that time, whereas social work was much more accessible to women. In 1945, she earned her master’s degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work (CUSSW) where she would also earn a doctorate twenty-five years later. 

After receiving her master’s, she worked at Sydenham Hospital, Grasslands Hospital, Bellevue Hospital, New York Association of New Americans, and the New York City Health Department before settling down at The Mount Sinai Hospital. In fact, Ms. Siegel initially had reservations about hiring her as she seemed to “move in and out of jobs rapidly,” however, the reservations were misplaced as Dr. Rehr spent the remainder of her career at Mount Sinai.​3​

Her last job prior to Mount Sinai, managing a quality care auditing program in the Maternal and Child Health Care sector at the New York City Health Department, was particularly important to her. “I think that professionals in the health care field have some responsibility to the public arena, and ought to do a stint of service in the public area. Now, I don’t know that I was conscious of doing it at that point for that reason, but I did.”​2​

Among Dr. Rehr’s greatest contributions to Mount Sinai were her surveys and research methods, and the programs birthed from them. In her own words, “[p]robably what I brought to this institution was major modality of doing studies and that those studies pretty much demonstrated where we need programs, and I would say […] we have changed the department by bringing dozens of new programs in.”​3​

During her very first year at Mount Sinai, in 1954, she was tasked by Ms. Siegel to do a survey of the Social Services department. At the time, the department was working out of the basement of an old clinic on Madison Avenue and 100th Street, and many of the social workers were “old-time nurses.”​2​ ​3​ Based on her report and recommendations, they developed a five-year plan to professionalize the department. Dr. Rehr initially wanted to replace all current employees with professional new hires, but in the end, they decided to retain the nurses, offering them the opportunity to go back to school, which was made possible with grants from the Auxiliary Board. Dr. Rehr credits this move as instilling trust and stability in the department while they grew the department with professional new hires.  

Around this same time with the establishment of Medicaid and Medicare, The Mount Sinai Hospital implemented a cost-plus reimbursement mechanism that enabled Ms. Siegel and Dr. Rehr to increase staff on evidence of need. As a result, the size of the department more than quadrupled, expanding from 31 employees to 128 full-time employees.​2​ And yet, Dr. Rehr asserted that she knew they had a professional department in the mid-1960s, when requests for services were coming from doctors across all departments and for patients irrespective of class.​2​

Another important achievement Dr. Rehr pioneered was the creation of the Department of Patient Representatives. She had done another study at the hospital and found a series of obstacles impacting patients’ access to care. She recommended to Martin Steinberg, MD, the former Director of the hospital, a program that would handle these obstacles specifically and facilitate “the delivery of care within the institution.” He funded the program out of the administrative office and hired Ruth Ravitch, the first director of the first Department of Patient Representatives in the world until the late 1990s.​3​

Dr. Rehr also contributed to her field in important ways as an educator. During her sabbatical in 1978, she taught social work in healthcare and applied social work research methodology as the Kenneth L. M. Pray Professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Work. She also had visiting professorships at Ben-Gurion University, Hebrew University, and Haifa University. While lecturing in Israel at Ben-Gurion University and Hebrew University in 1986, she created a three-month study-abroad program at Mount Sinai with a curriculum on leadership in social work in healthcare.​3​ Soon after, the program was extended to Australia as well. Every fall and spring semester two students from each country have come to Mount Sinai to study from 1986 through at least 1995.  

One other lasting impact Dr. Rehr’s tenure is a position for Social Work Services on the Medical Board. Ms. Siegel was the first non-medical representative to be on the Medical Board after petitioning them in the mid-1960s. When Ms. Siegel passed away in 1971, the seat was promptly removed. Dr. Rehr and Gail Weissman, the Head of Nursing at the time, outraged by this, caucused the members of the Board to vote for positions for the two departments.​3​ Through much difficulty, the seats for the Department of Social Work and Department of Nursing were restored to the Board.  

Dr. Rehr passed away in 2013 at the age of 93. She was highly recognized for her contributions to the field of Social Work. Dr. Rehr began the Murray Rosenberg Applied Social Work Research Center and was a member of the editorial board of the Social Work Health Care Journal since 1975. She endowed the Helen Rehr Scholarship Fund to CUSSW’s Master’s program and has two professorships in her honor, The Helen Rehr Professor at the Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College and the Helen Rehr/Ruth Fizdale Professor of Health and Mental Health at the Columbia School of Social Work. Dr. Rehr was named a Social Work Pioneer by the National Association of Social Workers, received the Columbia Alumni Federation’s Distinguished Service Alumni Medal in 2004, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame at CUSSW.  

Dr. Rehr was also highly praised by her colleagues. Jane Aron, trustee and creator of the Edith J. Baerwald Professorship, declared that Rehr’s “knack of cutting through to the core of a problem, her inventiveness, her razor-sharp mind, her sympathetic heart, make her a very special woman.” This opinion was seconded by Dr. Kurt Deushle, Head of the Department of Community Medicine, who complimented her pragmatism, creativity, and determination that made her, “a professional in the best sense of that word.”​1​


  1. 1.
    Recording of Helen Rehr investiture as Baerwald Professor of Community Medicine (Social Work). Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai records, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives, Icahn School of Medicine, New York, New York. Published March 29, 1974. Accessed August 2022. https://archives.mssm.edu/aa096-s015-inv010
  2. 2.
    Rehr H, Lyons AS. Transcript of an interview with Helen Rehr, DSW by Albert S. Lyons. Collection of Mount Sinai-Related Oral Histories, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives, Icahn School of Medicine, New York, New York. Published December 4, 1984. Accessed August 2022. https://archives.mssm.edu/aa107-int027
  3. 3.
    Rehr H, Lyons AS. Recording of an interview with Helen Rehr by Albert S. Lyons. Collection of Mount Sinai-Related Oral Histories, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives, Icahn School of Medicine, New York, New York. Published April 25, 1995. Accessed August 2022. https://archives.mssm.edu/aa107-int058