Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives Blog
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.

The Legacy of a St. Luke’s School of Nursing Alumna

The trials of life can crush one’s spirit or force one to overcome and create something exceptional out of the rubble. Mary Breckinridge, a 1910 St. Luke’s Hospital School of Nursing alumna, is a fine example of later. Born into a Kentucky family of influence and means, Breckinridge was well educated and well-traveled. She was married in 1904 and widowed by 1906, at age 26. She then completed St. Luke’s nursing program and worked teaching French and hygiene in an Arkansas women’s college. In 1912, she married the president of that school and had two children with him, but her daughter was premature and did not survive; her son died suddenly two years later at age four.

Additional struggles broke the marriage beyond repair and she left her husband in 1918 and worked as a public health nurse while awaiting a posting with the American Red Cross in France. She arrived there after the armistice of WW I and helped to initiate a program to provide food and medical assistance for children, nursing mothers, and pregnant women. While in France, she also spent time in England, observing the conditions of children and mothers there, and became convinced that American women in rural areas would benefit from the help of trained midwives. Ad educational visit to Scotland demonstrated how to provide medical care to a dispersed population.

Returning to the United States, she relocated to Leslie County, Kentucky, which had the highest maternal mortality rate in the country. Here Breckinridge, pictured left, introduced nurse-midwives into the region with the founding of The Frontier Nursing Service in 1925, eventually bringing maternal and neonatal death rates down well below the national average. In 1929, The Frontier Nursing Service staff started the American Association of Nurse-Midwives, a precursor of the American College of Nurse-Midwives, and the first American school of midwifery in New York in 1932. Mary Breckinridge served as director of the FNS until her death on May 16, 1965.

Spotlight on St. Luke’s Early Years: Admissions

In today’s world, the only way to check into a hospital, without an emergency, is for a doctor to arrange for some kind of test or surgical procedure. But in the 19th century, hospitals functioned a bit like today’s walk-in clinics, at least in regards to admission. A person could come to the Hospital, speak with the Admitting Physician and request treatment for ‘X’ problem. But there were rules governing who would be accepted or refused.

By 1859, St. Luke’s published the first of their annual reports, which included reports from the Board President, The Pastor/Superintendent and the House Staff, along with lists of donations, occupations and diseases of those treated, and the publication of rules – for staff for patients and for visitors, and for Admission. Admission rules separated out patients with certain diseases. Those with contagious diseases were refused admission – this was a common practice for private hospitals at this time. The 1904 annual report is the first year the Hospital reported which applications were declined under the Rules of Admission, and their numbers. Ten persons were declined admission due to contagions like Erysipelas, scarlet fever and scabies.

Another group – the chronic or incurable – included paralytics, rheumatics, the mentally ill, incurable cancer patients, and those with an opium habit or delirium tremens, where also refused admission. Chronic cases in acute attack might be accepted, but were discharged once they returned to the ordinary health of one in that condition. Incurable cases might be admitted, but “only at the discretion of the Executive Committee of the Hospital.” These were also probably discharged as soon as they regained what was ordinary health for that condition. In 1904, 128 cases were refused admission to St. Luke’s for one of these reasons.

One exception to the rules was pulmonary consumptives (tuberculosis). In the 19th century, consumption was considered a hereditary disease, rather than a contagious one. The 1859 report of the Board of Managers, explains, “To provide for the incurably ill, particularly of this class, was one of the objects of the Hospital, and therein to supply an urgent want in the community… there was no resort for consumptives, so numerous in our climate, that St. Luke’s, as a church institution, felt bound to open to them her doors.“

The woman’s tuberculosis ward at St. Luke’s Hospital, circa 1900

The Pastor’s report often notes the comfort, and at times cure, these patients received, and their expressions of gratitude. In 1891, nine years after the discovery of the tubercle bacillus by Dr. Robert Koch, St. Luke’s accepted control over the House of Rest for Consumptives in the Tremont section of the Bronx, eventually moving all its patients to the main hospital and selling the property to support their care. Throughout the years annual reports note that consumptives made up to a quarter of the total census of patients in any given year.

These rules on admission disappeared early in the 20th century as hospitals’ ability to recognize and control germs was established, and as out-patient clinics opened to treat patients that might not have been admitted to the Hospital’s care in prior years.


This year, Nurses’ Week is May 6th through 12th, and the theme is “Nurses Make the Difference.” To recognize the invaluable contributions of nurses, here’s a brief overview of the evolution of nurses’ responsibilities and education.

In the early days of American nursing, nurses simply observed changes in the patient’s condition and reported to the attending physician. They were taught to change bandages, and feed and clean patients and were in charge over the ward. At this point, any woman could take the job and at times, some unsavory characters filled the position. There was no formal training or educational system in place.

Women’s Ward, St. Luke’s Hospital

By the mid-1800s, nurses were entrusted with taking vitals, preparing nourishing meals to meet specific patients needs, and administering medications on the instructions of the physicians. They also began to assist in operating theaters.

Roosevelt Hospital Private Pavilion serving pantry

Dr. Robert Abbe and staff in the operating room.

As medical and scientific breakthroughs were made, nursing benefited from better instruction on the ward, supplemented with weekly class lectures by medical staff. By the 1870s the first American nursing school opened. Instruction started on the wards, and the students covered the wards for the first few years.

The first of the Mount Sinai Health System Hospitals schools, The Mount Sinai Training School for Nurses, opened in 1881. Its history is chronicled in the book The Forty-Seven Hundred. The former St. Luke’s Hospital Training School for Nurses, now Mount Sinai Morningside, opened in 1888 and in 1896 the former Roosevelt Hospital, now Mount Sinai West, opened their training school. Read some of that history here. Lastly, The Beth Israel Hospital School of Nursing, now Mount Sinai Phillips School of Nursing, opened in 1902.

Roosevelt Hospital nursing instruction on ward by Alfred Eisenstaedt – The LIFE Picture Collection, Getty Images

As scientific break throughs were made, nursing benefited from better instruction on the ward, with weekly lectures by medical staff.

An example of the early curriculum for nurses, taken from the Roosevelt Hospital School for Nursing, included monthly focus on aspects of anatomy, physiology, materials medica (the sources, nature, properties, and preparation of drugs), gynecology, digestion, ophthalmology and otology, the practice of medicine, the ethics of private nursing, massage, nutrition and cooking, and surgery, including surgical diseases and emergencies. Over time, the curriculum expanded and as graduate nurses were hired to cover the floors, student nurses began to move from ward duty to attend classes full time.

Nursing students in class

By the 1960s, nursing associations were pressing for university-based bachelor degree programs for RNs, as opposed to hospital-based certificate programs. This was accomplished by the early 1970s as financial struggles added to the pressure to close hospital-based schools.

Today we honor our highly educated nursing staff, the back bone of health care.

Celebrating Women’s History Month

In celebration of Women’s History Month, the Aufses Archives would like to highlight one of the outstanding physicians who practiced at the former St. Luke’s Hospital.  

Virginia Kanick (1925-2017) was a radiologist at a time when a small percentage of physicians were women and fewer practiced in that particular area. She was born in Pennsylvania, but when she was about fourteen, the family moved to Richmond, Virginia to be closer to her older brother, who was already practicing medicine there. Kanick, however, never did become a ‘southern belle;’ she described herself as having an “aggressive” personality and loved to learn. She was the high school valedictorian and chose to return north to pursue college at Barnard College, where she graduated Summa Cum Laude and was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa, the oldest, and most prestigious, academic honor society in the United States. 

Left: Dr. Virginia Kanick reviewing X-rays in 1971

At Barnard, she investigated many subject specialties, from anthropology to classical studies, archaeology to Russian history, before settling into science classes with the intention to pursue medicine. She earned her MD from the College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1951 and then interned at Case Western Reserve. She applied to a radiology residency program at Columbia, but their fall semester quota was full. Accepted into the program starting in January, the administrators suggested she spend a few months at St. Luke’s Hospital, an affiliated teaching hospital, before joining the Columbia program. However, she enjoyed the atmosphere and comradery of St. Luke’s so much that she completed the radiology residency there before receiving an appointment as an attending and spending her career at St. Luke’s. 

Dr. Kanick was an enthusiastic teacher, especially when new equipment and technology was involved. She published over thirty articles in peer-reviewed journals. She became the first woman president of the St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center’s Medical Board in 1980-1981 and in fact, as far as she knew, she was the first president of the Medical Board who was not a surgeon or internist, and quite possibly, the first woman to be the president of a medical board in a major teaching hospital. She was very involved in the broader professional community by serving on the board of directors of the Medical Society of the State of New York, as the secretary and officer of the Medical Society of the County of New York, and as Director of the New York State Radiology Society, among a long list of other service commitments. 

(Picture right, Medical Board meeting, r-l, Drs. Kanick, Beekman, Knox and unidentified.)

However, she felt that the most important role she was involved in was working on several committees for the Radiological Society of North America, and particularly, for serving as their representative to the Advisory Committee for Medical Devices at the Food and Drug Administration, reviewing new technologies including MRI, CT, and PET scans, for seven years. 

Dr. Kanick circa 1989

However, Dr. Kanick was not all work and no play. Though she never married, she was the beloved “auntie” to her much older siblings’ four children, hosting them on vacations here and aboard. As they grew up and married, Kanick enjoyed their 11 grandnieces and nephews and 19 great-grandnieces and nephews. Upon her retirement in 1989, one of her St. Luke’s colleagues remarked, “In spite of her busy schedule, she has made it her business to know of our personal joys and to genuinely join us in celebrating, or giving us support, advice and true empathy in times of suffering.” 

Virginia Kanick fell victim to Alzheimer’s disease and passed away in 2017. She is fondly remembered by hospital staff and the many residents who trained under her guidance. 

Left: Dr. Kanick fellow volunteer, Michele Feldman, circa 2016

To learn more about Dr. Kanick’s life, in her own words, watch her interview with Dr. Norma Braun. here.

Authored by Michala Biondi