Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives Blog

100 Years Ago: World War I Ends for Mount Sinai Unit

On January 11, 1919, the Mount Sinai Hospital affiliated unit, U.S. Army Base Hospital No. 3 was officially relieved of duty. The war was over for them. All told, they had treated 9,127 patients with 172 deaths (54 surgical and 118 medical, the latter due mainly to pneumonia related to the influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918). On March 5th, the doctors and nurses returned to New York City. The enlisted men returned two and a half weeks later.

A ward at Base Hospital No. 3

The Hospitals of the Mount Sinai Health System in the First World War

Nurses and doctors of St. Luke’s Hospital Evacuation Hospital No. 2

April 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the entry of the United States into World War I. Like many institutions in American society, the American hospital system and its doctors and nurses were rapidly mobilized to join the war that had been raging in Europe since the summer of 1914. The Mount Sinai Archives has now installed a display in the Annenberg Building north lobby outlining the activities of the hospitals in the Mount Sinai Health System.

In New York City, The Mount Sinai Hospital, St. Luke’s Hospital and The Roosevelt Hospital (today’s Mount Sinai West) all contributed to the war effort by establishing overseas units affiliated with their respective hospitals, and many doctors at Beth Israel Hospital volunteered individually. The records, photographs and correspondence on display in these cases reflect the experience of a war that defined a generation.

For the medical officers and administrators in charge of overseas hospital units, organizing effective hospital service on a scale never before seen was an immense logistical challenge. And for the individual doctors and nurses working with patients, who saw at close hand the terrible destruction inflicted by new methods of trench warfare and aerial combat, all while dealing with a world-wide pandemic of influenza, the war was an experience of medicine at its most fundamental, as they struggled under harsh conditions to relieve human suffering.

The items on display include images of the staff from the hospitals in their World War I roles; a scrapbook from Marion Moxham, a nurse from Ireland who joined with the Mount Sinai unit, Base Hospital No. 3; letters home from physicians to the Beth Israel Hospital administration; dog tags; a medal that was awarded to members of the Mount Sinai unit; images of the wounded and wards of St. Luke’s Evacuation Hospital no. 2 and a photo of the mascot of the Roosevelt Hospital group.

Mount Sinai Beth Israel and the 1918 Influenza Epidemic – An Update

In a previous blog post, we looked at Beth Israel Hospital’s role in the 1918 Influenza Epidemic. Since then, we’ve done further research into the World War I correspondence in the Beth Israel records, as well as the Beth Israel Board of Directors and Committee minutes, which both provided rich details to supplement this history.  

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. 

Sources:  

More resources on Mount Sinai Health System Hospitals and World War I are available here.

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist

Building Beth Israel, Part 3: “The Hospital of the Future” Shaped by its Present

See Building Beth Israel, Part 1: Foundations and Part 2: Jefferson and Cherry for the first parts of this series. An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here 

The final years at Beth Israel Hospital’s Jefferson and Cherry Streets location were marked by some of the most defining moments of the early twentieth century. While it’s not clear exactly when conversations in favor of a new hospital began, the Beth Israel Board of Directors began to purchase property on Livingston Place along Stuyvesant Square Park as early as 1915. (Livingston Place would later be renamed Nathan D. Perlman Place after the U.S. Congressman and Beth Israel Vice President.) 

A primary motivation for the creation of what would become the Dazian Pavillion was likely related to hospital capacity – the thirteen-story building opened with nearly 500 private rooms and state-of-the-art facilities, a significant expansion over the 134 beds in wards at the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. That said, justifications for the new building from the Board of Directors evolved from its earliest phases and its final construction in 1929. These reflect the many historical events of the era: modernization of health care, the introduction of the skyscraper, World War I and its aftermath, mass immigration, and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. 

The Tallest Hospital Building in the World 

The Dazian Pavillion was conceived as a highly modern, state-of-the-art hospital building. At thirteen stories, it was the tallest hospital building in the world at that time. According to Islands of Compassion, Beth Israel “was the first to realize that a hospital skyscraper would mean freedom from the city’s noise and congestion.” This is evident in the discussions in the Board of Directors minutes. From March 16th, 1919:  

It is of great concern to us to construct the new hospital according to the best methods of building; to provide the patients with as much comfort as possible, to serve them with palatable food, to provide them with fresh air and sunshine, to guard them from undue noise and excitement, and to keep the patient away from the smell and the workings of the Hospital – in a word, we are studying how best to care for the patient…The hospital of the future must be organized for prevention and not so much for cure.

World War I and its Aftermath 

World War I was strongly felt at Beth Israel Hospital, with nearly half of the medical staff enlisted in the war effort. This continued throughout the war and beyond its end, and care for veterans presented itself as an early justification for a new hospital building. From the November 18, 1917 Board of Directors minutes:  

The War presents the strongest argument for the construction of the new building. The War will last for some time and it is absolutely certain that there will be a great demand for hospital accommodation especially on account of the draft; deformities and disabilities are being discovered which require doctoring and good hospital care. The Beth Israel Hospital will be the only institution in the City to come up to expectations. We must be ready to receive cases on account of the epidemic that will surely follow the War and the new Hospital should stand as a permanent monument. 

Beth Israel’s service to those affected by the war did not end with veterans. From the Board of Directors Minutes, October 17, 1920:  

Congressman Siegel informed me that there are 200,000 Jews trying to secure passports for the United States. Orthodox Jews from Syria and Greece will come here in large numbers. That there are 15,000 Jews at Danzig awaiting transportation. If there is any doubt at all in the minds of anyone as to the necessity of a 500 bed Beth Israel Hospital for the treatment of Orthodox Jews this statement of Congressman Siegel should dispel them. 

If Beth Israel was founded to care for Jewish immigrants in New York, the events following World War I only strengthened this resolve. 

Influenza Pandemic of 1918  

The Influenza Pandemic of 1918 was also a justification for the layout of the new building. The need for private rooms was a strong topic of debate in the years leading up to construction, within both the Board of Directors and the medical profession, considering hospitals largely operated out of shared wards at this time. The pandemic cemented the need for private rooms. From the Board of Directors Minutes, November 23, 1919:  

…in respiratory infections…protection can only be obtained by safe-guarding one person from another, that the lesson derived from the severe experience of the recent Pneumonia epidemic is to the effect that such patients are not to be assembled into larged [sic] groups or kept in open wards but should be kept in separate rooms where they and their attendants may be preserved as far as possible from sputum droplet contamination.

The Dazian building would come to feature almost entirely private rooms.  

Conclusion 

Ultimately, the Dazian Pavillion took more than a decade to come to fruition. While many of the buildings and lots for the future space were purchased throughout the 1910s, there was significant slowdown in building progress due to the influenza epidemic. Building materials were also more expensive due to World War I.

On November 5, 1922 the cornerstone was laid. The ground was broken by Isaac Phillips, and future President Herbert Hoover, then U.S. Secretary of Commerce, were in attendance. The architect for the Dazian building was Louis Allen Abramson. 

The building was finally opened in 1929. The Beth Israel Hospital School of Nursing (today the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel) moved into the 6th and 9th floors. Nearly 100 years after construction began, Dazian continues to be the home of Mount Sinai Beth Israel today.

Sources:  

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist

Building Beth Israel, Part 2: Jefferson and Cherry

See Building Beth Israel, Part 1: Foundations for the first part of this series. An interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations is available here. More archival material about the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location is here. 

For much of the 1890s, the first decade of its existence, the location of Beth Israel Hospital was a moving target. The hospital moved from a factory loft, to an “old-fashioned parlor floor,” to two different rented hospital facilities. In its final locations during this period, split between buildings at 206 East Broadway and 195 Division Street, Beth Israel Hospital was financially solvent for the first time, enabling it to finally buy land of its own. In 1896, Beth Israel purchased a plot of land at Jefferson and Cherry Streets for the construction of a new hospital building.  

In 1899, the Beth Israel Board of Directors chose a design for the new hospital. The cornerstone of the building was laid on April 1, 1900.  

Much of the early funding for the new location was put up by Beth Israel’s Board of Directors, which, in addition to a mortgage, allowed for the purchase of the lot. However, the cost for the chosen design was well above initial expectations, and the final estimate was around $200,000 (about $6.5 million in 2021 dollars), requiring a significant fundraising effort.  

On May 26, 1902, the new Beth Israel Hospital at Jefferson and Cherry Streets was dedicated. It included 134 beds, with male, female, and maternity wards as well as private rooms. It featured a solarium, a common feature for hospitals at that time, in addition to outdoor space on the roof for staff and patient use. The Beth Israel Hospital Training School for Nurses was founded in 1904 and moved into this building. (Today, it is the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel.)  

A black and white photograph from 1914. Four rows of young women in nursing uniforms, composed of floor length white dresses and a starched cap, pose for a class photograph in front of the Beth Israel Hospital Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. Handwriting at the bottom reads "1914 - Zina Epstein 940 Grand Concourse"

Class photograph of the 1914 class of the Beth Israel Training School for Nurses (today the Phillips School of Nursing at Mount Sinai Beth Israel) at the Jefferson and Cherry location.

By August 1912, a physiological chemistry laboratory opened at Beth Israel under the direction of Max Kahn, PhD. The laboratory was located on the top floor and could comfortably hold five people. Additionally, after extensive delays, a children’s ward opened in January 1919, but it was forced to close six months later because of the nursing shortage caused by the Influenza Epidemic of 1918. Both the children’s and maternity wards were closed and re-opened periodically, based on available financial and staff support. 

As early as 1915, the Beth Israel Board of Directors began to purchase property on Livingston Place along Stuyvesant Square Park. Plans to move to this new location were delayed first by World War I, and then by the influenza epidemic. Construction began in earnest in 1922, and Beth Israel finally moved to its current location in the Dazian Pavillion in 1929, giving up the Jefferson and Cherry Streets location. While it wasn’t the Hospital’s final location, Jefferson and Cherry Streets is where Beth Israel Hospital came of age and began to resemble the hospital of today. 

Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist