As we wrap up our 2023 Digitization Project Grant, we are pleased to share a final batch of newly digitized materials – a selection of textual records from the Beth Israel Medical Center alphabetical files, including over 80 World War I letters.
The Beth Israel Medical Center alphabetical files represent a miscellaneous assortment of textual records from throughout the hospital’s history. Each file provides a small insight into one aspect of its organization, which taken together provide a rich material history of the institution. The selection chosen for digitization emphasized materials through the completion of the campus in 1969, and provides insight into the hospital’s management, campus planning, and newsworthy happenings.
Like the annual reports and Board of Trustees minutes, organizational and management records in this selection provide insight into the day-to-day decision-making at Beth Israel for things large and small. The digitized material includes the Rules and Regulations of the Beth Israel Dispensary (1907), excerpts of minutes from the Phillips School of Nursing (1905-1912), minutes from department head meetings (1931-1935), by-laws of the Beth Israel Hospital Association (1947-1960), and directories for the house staff and visiting staff (1950s-1960s).
Campus planning is also a major theme in these materials. From Dazian Pavilion (construction started 1922) to planning for the Linsky Pavilion (opened 1966) these materials closely track the progress, reasoning, and decision-making surrounding the evolution of Beth Israels footprint in the Lower East Side. Of note are a group of articles written by Louis J. Frank, Beth Israel Hospital Superintendent, which describe a range of his theories on hospital management at the time of the construction of the Dazian Pavilion. Topics range from medical humanitarianism to facility planning, from European hospital design to vegetarian hospital food services.
Newspaper clippings (bulk 1909-1933) and press releases (1967-1968) also make up a significant amount of material and would be helpful to anyone interested in events at Beth Israel during those years.
You can browse all the alphabetical files digitized as part of this project here. (Note that some clippings and articles by Frank are still under copyright. The materials will become available as soon as they reach public domain, largely on January 1, 2024.)
World War I letters
Included in the alphabetical files are three years’ worth of World War I letters (1917-1919) to and from Louis J. Frank. The correspondents are largely Beth Israel doctors deployed to military hospitals on the front lines in France.
Major topics include daily life of those serving in the war, surgery during battle (particularly limb salvage and amputation), x-ray training for military doctors, and reactions to the Armistice. News of Beth Israel is also frequent, particularly medical and nursing staff shortages, the needs of future and current military patients, accounts of various Beth Israel doctors at home and abroad, and the status of the new Beth Israel hospital building (future Dazian Pavilion). The Influenza Epidemic of 1918 is mentioned throughout, and there are also several references to the Mount Sinai Hospital unit.
These letters are a valuable resource to anyone interested in the role of American doctors serving in World War I. You can browse the letters here.
In light of recent news, the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives remains committed to preserving Beth Israel’s rich history. As part of our ongoing 2023 Digitization Project Grant, we have been digitizing a selection of photographs from the Mount Sinai Beth Israel photograph collection. This blog post seeks to recognize and celebrate Beth Israel employees over the years, naming and putting faces to just a few of the thousands of people who have contributed to the hospital’s history.
The Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives are excited to announce that the Beth Israel Hospital Board of Trustees minutes from 1889-1936 are now available online, as well as selected annual reports from 1893-1910 and the 1950s.
What kind of research can you do with Board of Trustees minutes?
Board of Trustees minutes document every major decision made by a hospital. This can provide a longitudinal look at how many aspects of Beth Israel have evolved over time. Reading through the minutes for specific subjects over the course of years can provide a detailed narrative of what decisions were made and why. For example, the Archives have already used the minutes to provide a look at how the campus has developed in researching our ongoing Building Beth Israel series.
Minutes are also a great resource to look at how Beth Israel responded to particular historical events, such as the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Researchers have also used the minutes to track donations of money, supplies, and art to the Hospital, as well as to better understand the legacy of specific Trustees.
What kind of research can I do with annual reports?
Annual reports provide a great snapshot of the projects and people at a hospital in any year. They are a great resource for researchers who are interested in a particular year or period in Beth Israel’s history. They provide a detailed portrait of any department’s biggest accomplishments and track the progression of the hospital’s many milestones. While most of the Archives’ collections reflect institutional history, annual reports also provide an overview of the doctors and researchers who were working in various departments at any given time.
How can I access these files?
You can browse a listing of the Beth Israel Hospital annual reports and Board of Trustees minutes. This is a complete list of what is available in our physical archival collection, and all of these materials can be viewed on-site at the Archives.
Material that has a plus sign next to it can be accessed online. Click the plus sign and select the item from the drop-down, and then select the thumbnail of the digitized materials in order to pull up a full PDF version of the item.
Please note that the Board of Trustees minutes are closed for twenty-five years following their date of creation. Additionally, Beth Israel Medical Center appears to have discontinued creating annual reports sometime in the late 1990s. Only selected annual reports have been digitized, but all Beth Israel annual reports that are currently in the Archives collection are available for on-site reading room use.
You can also find all the material digitized as part of this project here. Additional materials will be available at that link as they are added to our catalog throughout Fall 2023.
More information on this project
As part of the METRO Digitization Project Grant, additional materials from the Mount Sinai Beth Israel collection will be added to our catalog throughout Fall 2023, including photographs, World War I letters, and other documentation on the history of Beth Israel through 1969. You can read more about this project here.
Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist
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.
In early March 1918, influenza had reached New York. By March 25, 1918, an unknown correspondent (likely Louis J. Frank, Beth Israel Hospital superintendent) wrote that there was “quite an epidemic in the City of Grippe,” referring to New York City as literally the “City of the Flu”. As World War I continued on, many Beth Israel workers had joined the war effort, and their correspondence with the hospital describes the epidemic on the front lines. The first wave of the flu was relatively mild, and on May 13, 1918, Dr. Alfred A. Schwartz of the American Expeditionary Force, reported as much from France:
“I have been appointed Otolaryngologist to the contagious disease wards at the camp hospital and altho [sic] the title sounds like work, there must first be complications to the infectious diseases, and secondly…there must be some patients to have the diseases, and fortunately there is little to do.”
As the second, more deadly wave swept the world, the topic of influenza became more pressing in the correspondence, and was increasingly addressed in the Board minutes. In the November 17, 1918, minutes, the Board noted that back on the home front in New York, Beth Israel attended to “50 to 60 cases of Influenza a day during the height of the epidemic and…our records of cures was high, and our record of deaths was very low.” This is a significant deviation from the previous blog post, which stated that only twenty-nine patients total were treated during the epidemic at Beth Israel. Sources conflict on this point.
Staffing was amongst the most pressing issues at this time – with much of the medical staff overseas, Louis J. Frank, himself recovering from the flu, commented in a letter from October 23, 1918: “Our whole force is gone. If you were to come back today, you wouldn’t find a familiar face…From a house staff of 15 we have been reduced to a staff of five, and of the five, three have been laid up on account of influenza.” He goes on to describe the issue of hiring enough nurses, which was making him “frantic.” Superintendent Frank was a proponent of the conscription of women, “especially those women who have the vote,” to counteract staffing shortages in nursing in the war and at home.
The Board of Directors’ minutes reflect similar staffing concerns. The minutes for November 17, 1918, stated: “During the epidemic the Surgical Staff consisted of one man, the others became infected with the disease. On the Medical side we only had two men, the others also sick.” This appears to have resulted in redeployment of other clinical workers, and the Board resolved on “the discontinuance of the work of the Polio Department on account of the epidemic of Influenza and Pneumonia to release the doctors and nurses connected with the clinic for the more important work.” The minutes also noted that the “pupil nurses” from Beth Israel Training School for Nurses (today’s Phillips School of Nursing at MSBI) “after their day’s work was over, did extra work in the district on these cases, spending an hour or two on emergency cases requiring special care.”
The close of 1918 marked a turning point. With the War over, and a dwindling number of cases following the peak of the second wave, the end was in sight. In a letter from November 27, 1918, Superintendent Frank wrote:
“Things are getting into shape at the Hospital. We were considerably upset on account of the War, shortage of help, doctors, nurses, the Influenza epidemic, and the general anxiety, but with victory came a relaxation and we are now awaiting the homecoming of you men who have done so much to achieve this victory.”
The Board also noted, grimly, on November 17, 1918, that Beth Israel was “the only Hospital [in New York City] that didn’t lose a nurse, a doctor, or an employee by death.” On January 19, 1919, the Board moved to give House Staff and pupil nurses bonuses for their contributions and made especial note of the nurses’ service: “pupil nurses…after their trying [work and school] day of 12 and many times 14 hours, went out in the tenement houses and did extra work for several hours. Of course, this work was not for patients of the Hospital, but it was nevertheless our work, for they were the poor sick of our neighborhood.”
On November 23, 1919, the Board made note of the U.S. Public Health Service’s prediction that the influenza epidemic would return. Fortunately, this never came to pass. By 1920, the virus mutated to cause only ordinary cases of the seasonal flu, and the epidemic was effectively over.