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.”23 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
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
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
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
An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here. See the Building Beth Israel series for more information about the history of MSBI.
The 1950s ushered in an era of rapid construction and growth for Beth Israel Hospital that would last for nearly two decades. The footprint of the Hospital during this time rapidly expanded and a number of new buildings were erected to accommodate the hospital’s growing services.
This began in 1952, when the cornerstone was laid for the Charles H. Silver Clinic at Beth Israel Hospital. The building, which was created as an outpatient clinic, would open the following year. According to the Board of Trustees minutes, it was named for Charles H. Silver because “[h]is labors, his vision, and the inspiration he has given to his colleagues have been a major contribution to the development of this great institution so that it holds a ranking position as a haven of healing, a sanctuary of science, a temple of the art of medicine.” (The Archives have additional images of Silver online here.)
On March 26, 1954, Nathan D. Perlman Place was dedicated as a tribute to the memory of the former Beth Israel Hospital Vice President, who had also served as a member of Congress. (The street was formerly named Livingston Place.)
The cornerstone was laid for a residence for Beth Israel School of Nursing students on East 16th Street on September 9, 1958. (At this time, the School of Nursing was located in the Dazian Pavilion, and the location of the new building was previously a parking lot.) At its opening, it was called Fierman Hall. Attendees of the ceremony included Senator Jacob Javits and Governor Averill Harriman, the latter of whom used it as an opportunity to criticize Senator Javits for the lack of funding by the federal government for college student housing. Mayor Robert Wagner, then-gubernatorial candidate Nelson Rockefeller, and Gustave Levy (in his capacity as the President of the Jewish Federation of Philanthropies) were also in attendance. When the building opened on September 25, 1960, there was space for 154 student nurses.
Fierman Hall’s location on East 16th Street was short-lived. Due to swelling class sizes, the space was no longer adequate for the growing School of Nursing. In 1965 alone, the incoming class size almost doubled to a hundred new students, up from sixty, and the School was recruiting six new faculty members. A new student residence, also named Fierman Hall, was dedicated at 317 East 17th Street on September 18, 1966. Senator Javits once again attended the ceremony. The new Fierman Hall on East 17th Street housed between 260 and 300 nurses (sources conflict on this number), as well as classrooms and lecture halls. Together, this allowed for an increase in class size. The first Fierman Hall on East 16th Street was renamed the Karpas Pavilion and it was repurposed for patient care.
The expansion of Beth Israel Hospital did not end there. By the end of the 1960s, the campus would grow to include the Linsky Pavilion, the Bernstein Pavilion, Baird Hall, and Gilman Hall. The history of these buildings will be featured in an upcoming post.
This is the first in a series, The Mount Sinai Doctor, that are adapted from the thorough biographical entries located in our Archives catalog, information gathered from This House of Noble Deeds: The Mount Sinai Hospital, 1852-2002, and the unpublished unique material stewarded in our Archives.
Isidor Clinton Rubin was one of the exemplars of what it means to be a Mount Sinai doctor. His unceasing efforts to improve patient care and outcomes through research, innovation, and clinical application changed our understanding of infertility in women. Many couples who were struggling to conceive children sought out Dr. Rubin for his expertise.
He is best known for inventing what is called the Rubin Test, which determines the patency (degree of openness) of the fallopian tubes. The test consists of insufflating a gaseous medium (originally oxygen, later changed to carbon dioxide) into the uterine cavity. If the tubes are blocked, sterility results. Rubin performed the first test on November 3, 1919 at The Mount Sinai Hospital.
Prior to the development of the Rubin Test, doctors could only test patency with any certainty by performing a surgical procedure called a laparotomy. In other cases, where the tubal factor had not been explored, other operative procedures were used to relieve sterility when, in fact, the problem was due to closed fallopian tubes. In sum, the Rubin Test reduced the number of surgical procedures needed to diagnose and treat sterility in women. It also had therapeutic value in that it relieved some cases of dysmenorrhea (severe pain associated with menstruation) and sometimes facilitated conception. He was also among the first to apply x-rays in the practice of gynecology, and undertook work on carcinoma of the cervix, uterine Endoscopy, and ectopic pregnancy.1
Born in 1883, he attended the College of the City of New York and graduated from the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University in 1905. For the next three years, he served as an intern and then a resident at the Mount Sinai Hospital.
In 1909, Rubin, along with Dr. Abraham Hyman, went to Europe for additional post-graduate training, like so many others of his time.
He traveled in Austria and Germany and studied with Professor Julius Schottlander, Pathologist of the II Universität Frauenklinik in Vienna. Upon his return to the United States, Dr. Rubin set up a private practice and took appointments on the Gynecology staffs at Mount Sinai, Montefiore, and Beth Israel. He also worked at the Harlem Hospital for some years.
Another quality so common to the great Mount Sinai doctors is a dedication to advancing medical education; he held a clinical faculty appointment on the Gynecology staff of the College of Physicians and Surgeons from 1937-1947 and taught at the New York Medical College and New York University medical school.
However, it was truly to Mount Sinai Hospital which he devoted “his schedule and energy rising through the ranks to become Attending Gynecologist and, eventually, Chief of Service from 1937 to 1945.”2 The Mount Sinai Hospital’s Gynecological Department was established 145 years ago in 1877 by Dr. Emil Noeggerath. While today Mount Sinai has the Raquel and Jaime Gilinski Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science, Rubin’s tenure in the “Gynaecological Department” was before the addition of an Obstetrics services. Spanning the first half of the 20th century, he worked during the period when doctors were advocating to add Obstetrics to the Hospital’s services (see Giving Birth to an Obstetrical Service for more information). When Dr. Rubin retired from active service in 1945, he continued his affiliation by remaining on the Medical Board and transition to being a Consulting Gynecologist.
A consummate hallmark of a Mount Sinai doctor, he was very involved in outside professional activities throughout his career. In 1928 he served as President of the New York Obstetrical Society. He was a founding member of the American College of Surgeons and the American Board of Obstetrics. In 1955-56, he was the President of the American Gynecological Society. He also helped edit the International Journal of Fertility, Fertility and Sterility, Gynécologie Pratique, and the Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
The advances made by his work were lauded the world over, and he received many awards over his life. He was elected a Fellow of the American Association of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Gynecological Society and the New York Obstetrical Society. In 1947, he won the ORTHO Award, and received the rank of Chevalier in the French Legion of Honor. In 1954, he became Officier of this group. He was awarded honorary degrees from the University of Athens in 1952 and the Sorbonne in 1955. In 1957, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists awarded him an Honorary Fellowship. His alma mater, the College of the City of New York, chose him for their Distinguished Alumnus Award.
Dr. Isidor Rubin married Sylvia Unterberg in 1914. He died while at a conference in London on July 10, 1958, and was survived by three children, Dr. Harvey N. Rubin, Carol R. Meyer, and Edith R. Fishel.
The two collections in the Aufses Archives that document his work provide an insight into a physician constantly seeking the answers to the unknown in order to understand and treat gynecological ailments. There are also materials related to Dr. Rubin in other collections.
The Isidor Clinton Rubin, MD case history files and manuscripts contain the patient files created by I. C. Rubin in his private medical practice. They relate to his work in infertility and other gynecological areas. Access is restricted to the case records due to the presence of HIPAA-protected Personal Health Information. Open to research, the Isidor Clinton Rubin, MD papers contain an array of materials, letters, notebooks (such as the two pages from one entitled Cases, Experiments, Questions depicted below), ephemera, awards, and photographs documenting the life’s work of one of the quintessential Mount Sinai doctors.
In years past, as the weather warmed up, the staff and alumni looked forward to renewing old acquaintances and socializing with colleagues from across the hospital’s departments. This blog post will highlight the three main traditions of spring, mention their roots and how they evolved.
The first event was the annual alumni dinner, which gathered all the graduates of the Resident training program together to enjoy a good meal, good conversation, and informative lectures. The Society of the Alumni of St. Luke’s Hospital of New York City was established in 1891 and was formed with the intent to “foster collegiality and scientific discourse and to honor accomplished colleagues at an annual dinner.”
The image above, taken from the News of St. Luke’s newsletter, depicts the dinner held on April 30, 1965, at the New York Hilton Hotel.
This photo memorializes the St. Luke’s 1973 alumni dinner at the 7th Regiment Armory.
In 1896, Roosevelt Hospital ‘ex-interns’ met at the hospital to plan the twenty-fifth anniversary of its opening and organize The Roosevelt Hospital Alumni Association. Its stated purpose was “…maintaining loyalty to the institution and promoting its broader usefulness.” Unfortunately, the Archives does not have any photos documenting their celebrations over the years.
Every June during the 1960s, St. Luke’s Attendings invited the Residents to join them for a “Field Day.” Held at New Jersey’s Englewood Country Club, the usual barriers of position, age, and authority were ignored during an afternoon of hotly contested athletic events (softball, golf, and tennis, swimming, etc.), followed by a casual dinner and evening entertainment.
Evening offerings were often films created by actor/director wannabes, Drs. Harry Roselle and Theodore Robbins and the various colleagues they could round up 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 á la a 1960s TV comedy favorite titled ‘Get Smart,’ called “Aardvark,” in which Secret Agent 95.6, battled Aardvark, a Fu Manchu-type enemy who developed an infamous blood sludging device.
Each year’s outing was documented with a panoramic photograph of attendees. These photos, usually between four and six feet long and about ten inches high, have proven to be a challenge to store in the Archives. About ten of them arrived, each individually tightly rolled. They required re-humidifying in a makeshift humidification tank in order to relax the paper enough to allow them to be flattened for storage. They are available for viewing for those who wish to walk down memory lane.
In case you, dear reader, are curious, the Field Day photo was cut in two in order to be printed in the former newsletter, The News of St. Luke’s. The images used here were scanned from the newsletter because the originals are too large to fit on current in-house scanners. It may also be of interest to note that the dinner photographs, whose originals are two to three feet long and eight to ten inches high, were taken with a fish-eye camera, which has curved lenses to allow the whole room to fit into one image. The author is not sure what equipment was used to capture the huge Field Day images.
Unfortunately, one year in the early 1970s the event was cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, and it was not picked up again in the following years.
The final big spring event for many years was the St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing graduation ceremonies held at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, just south of the Hospital. Nursing students would line up at the Hospital and proceed down Amsterdam Avenue, marching up the front steps to enter the Cathedral and take seats at the front while their families observed the ceremonies from behind them. At the end of the ceremonies the graduating class would pose for a group photo on the Cathedral steps.
The above images, taken from the News of St. Luke’s newsletter, are of the graduating class of 1955; the image below shows the graduating class of 1974, the year the St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing program closed its doors and merged with the Columbia University School of Nursing Bachelor of Science program.
Roosevelt Hospital also had a School of Nursing, founded in 1896. At first, students were accepted on a rolling admission any time, and as students successfully completed the required coursework, diplomas, graduate caps and pins were awarded with little fanfare in the Administration Building. By the 1920s a formal cycle of classes developed, and graduation was set at a fixed time of year. At first, ceremonies were held in the Syms Operating Room, and later, as the number of students grew, the ceremony was moved to a hotel ballroom. Unfortunately, the Archives does not have images from the Roosevelt Hospital School of Nursing graduations, and like St. Luke’s, the hospital-based school also closed its doors in 1974, but the Alumni Association is still fairly active and enthusiastic about staying connected.
A history of the ambulance service at Roosevelt Hospital, today’s Mount Sinai West, is available here. See the Building Beth Israel series for more information about the history of Mount Sinai Beth Israel. An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here.
National EMS Week is May 15-21. In this blog post, we’re celebrating by looking back at a brief history of emergency medical services at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
The first ambulance service began at Beth Israel Hospital in 1906. It first used a horse-drawn carriage, later switching to automobiles in 1915. During this early period, ambulances were manned by members of the house staff, including Nettie Shapiro, MD, the first female house staff at MSBI in 1909.
By 1984, Beth Israel was “the first voluntary hospital in New York City to have attending physicians fully trained in emergency service on duty around the clock, every day of the week.” New York City did not mandate such 24-hour care in EMS participant hospitals until June 1, 1987.
In 1990, the Division of Emergency Medical Services was named for David B. Kriser, a Beth Israel trustee, in honor of a $3 million bequest from him. This led to a major renovation, and the division doubled in size.