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.

Disappearing Hospitals, Where Did They Go?: Jewish Maternity Hospital and Doctors Hospital

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. See all our holdings related to the Jewish Maternity Hospital, Doctors Hospital, and the Singer Division. 

Mount Sinai Beth Israel has affiliated with several hospitals over its 130-year history. Though their names may have disappeared over time, their impact on the hospital’s history remains. This blog post looks at two Beth Israel affiliates, Jewish Maternity Hospital and Doctors Hospital, and their lasting influence on Beth Israel. 

Jewish Maternity Hospital

The Jewish Maternity Hospital (JMH) first opened in February 1909 at 270 East Broadway with two consulting physicians, twelve house staff, and fifteen obstetrical nurses. By 1927, JMH accumulated a large building fund and wanted to expand its premises. The Jewish Federation of Philanthropies, which helped to fund many of the local Jewish hospitals during this period, preferred that it become part of a larger hospital rather than be maintained as a separate institution.  

As another hospital funded by the Federation, not to mention a close neighbor on the Lower East Side, Beth Israel was a natural candidate – however, the proposed merger was not without controversy. At a 1928 meeting of the Board of Trustees, Beth Israel Superintendent Louis J. Frank firmly rejected it as an unwarranted drain on the space and resources and recommended that a separate building on the Beth Israel campus be constructed so that JMH did not take over beds in the newly built Dazian Pavillion. He also suggested that JMH consider affiliating with The Mount Sinai Hospital instead. (Prior to the Federation’s merger proposal, JMH had planned to construct a new building on 108th Street.) Board President Cohen, however, noted that control of the Maternity Hospital’s $700,000 building fund would enable Beth Israel to solve the financial difficulties caused by cost overruns for the construction of Dazian.  

Later that year, a compromise was reached. The Federation proposed that Beth Israel absorb the JMH, that the boards of the two institutions merge (with a subcommittee for the newly formed maternity department consisting of the former JMH trustees), and that Beth Israel allocate beds in the new building specifically for obstetrical purposes. A motion was approved to accept the proposal, albeit reluctantly, with the Board noting that it “did not invite the merger, nor does it feel that there is any need or emergency, as far as Beth Israel Hospital is concerned… since provision has already been made in the new building for an adequate, efficient and up to date Maternity Service.” 

The merger was announced in 1929 and finally occurred in 1930. Plans to construct a new building for the hospital adjacent to the Beth Israel campus in Stuyvesant Square were announced in 1931, though this building was never completed. Over the next decade, obstetrical services slowly transitioned to the Beth Israel campus, and in 1946, the JMH name disappeared. In 1948, the Obstetrics service notes, “the long-awaited physical consolidation of all labor and delivery rooms is effected.”  

Doctors Hospital

Construction for Doctors Hospital began in 1929, amid a debate in the larger medical world about the necessity of private rooms versus the larger, shared wards common to the nineteenth century. When it opened in 1930, Doctors Hospital was described as “homelike,” “a model hospital with the atmosphere of a modern hotel” with “soft tinted walls, guest rooms and a private icebox…for every patient.” With its unusually well-equipped private rooms, and its location at 70 East End Avenue overlooking Carl Schurz Park and Gracie Mansion, Doctors Hospital secured its reputation as being a luxe medical facility for the famous and well-to-do for the rest of the century. 

On August 3, 1987, it was announced that Doctors Hospital had been acquired by Beth Israel Medical Center and was renamed Beth Israel North. The name changed again in 1998 to the Beth Israel Medical Center Singer Division. In these years, the Hospital had a few notable developments. In 1988, it acquired a device for treating gallstones and bile duct stones, called a biliary lithotripter. It was the first in New York City, and Charles McSherry, MD, spearheaded the project. In 1990, the New York State Department of Health approved a certificate of need for the construction of twenty-four chronic dialysis stations at the hospital due to a lack of such facilities in Manhattan.  

However, the Singer Division did not last. By 2004, it was formally closed, and the property was sold to developers. The facility was torn down the following year and was replaced with apartments.  

Sources:

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:  

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. 

Building Beth Israel, Part 1: Foundations

The first meeting related to the founding of Beth Israel Hospital was held on December 1, 1889 at 165 East Broadway. Healthcare was greatly needed in New York’s Lower East Side, whose residents, largely recent Jewish immigrants, were affected by poverty, close living quarters, and dangerous working conditions. From a 1901 essay on early Beth Israel history 

“The origin of the idea of this institution sprang from the poor themselves. So urgent was the need for such a local hospital, that in spite of the lack of support, and even of the discouragement of those in position to assume such a task, the poor themselves, by taxing their hard earned [sic] wages, gained by the sweat of their brows, established the association and undertook to support the Hospital…It serves to demonstrate the noble Jewish heart. These workingmen when they could earn their bread and butter were willing to contribute their 25 cents a month to help their neighbors in distress.”  

In the face of “meagre [sic] and uncertain support,” the founders first endeavored to begin a dispensary, rather than a full-scale hospital, and in May 1890, rented a loft in a factory on Birmingham Street. (This street no longer exists, but today would be between Henry Street and Madison Street, just underneath the Manhattan Bridge.) The building was described as “most unsuitable and the accommodations about as poor as can be imagined” but still attracted more patients than could be treated, speaking to the great need for medical care in this neighborhood at the time. 

Screenshot of a map of the Lower East Side, New York, with pins at each of the Beth Israel locations

Click here for an interactive map of Beth Israel historical locations

After two months at the Birmingham Street location, the Beth Israel outpatient dispensary moved to 97 Henry Street in July 1890. Described as an “old-fashioned parlor floor,” it was “much better situated” and the dispensary remained there for ten months.  

Sketch of four-story brownstone with a sign that says "Beth Israel Hospital" above the door.

Sketch of the 206 E Broadway location of Beth Israel Hospital, circa 1892-1902.

In May 1891, Beth Israel moved to 196 East Broadway. With twenty beds, this is the first Beth Israel location to include inpatient services in addition to the outpatient dispensary. The hospital includes two house staff: Abraham Hymanson, MD, is the first House Physician, and Wolfgang Kaplan, MD is Assistant House Physician. 

Embroiled in a financial crisis, Beth Israel moves again in May 1892, splitting their services across buildings at 206 East Broadway and 195 Division Street. With lower rent and more space, including thirty-four beds, Beth Israel was financially solvent for the first time. The Division Street building was renovated one floor at a time for inpatient and outpatient use.  

Beth Israel Hospital remained in this location for over a decade, before moving to its location at Jefferson and Cherry Streets in 1902, and finally its current location at the Dazian Pavillion in Stuyvesant Square in 1929. The history of both of these Beth Israel Hospital locations will be addressed in future posts. 

 

Sources:  

Announcement: Our New Catalog

The Aufses Archives is excited to announce its new online catalog. Based in AtoM, the catalog will make available records for all our archival material and provide direct access to our digital objects. 

Graphic reading "The Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives Catalog - Discover what is in our catalog" against a collage of images of the hospital buildings that are part of the Mount Sinai Health System

What does this mean for researchers?  

Our new catalog has several new features: 

  • A more complete view of our holdings: This is the first time all of our material will be described together in one place, regardless of format and digitization status. All our publicly available material will have a record, whether or not it has been fully processed or has a complete finding aid. (An archival record is like a record for a book in a library catalog – you might not be able to download the whole book from the catalog, but you can see that they have it and how to access it.) 
  • Centralized digital resources: All our digital material will be in one place, regardless of its original format. Researchers will only have to search in one place for our digital material. This includes our web archives collection.
  • Names, subjects, genres: Looking for something really specific? Search results can be filtered and faceted to include specific people, topics, and formats represented in the archival material. 
  • Improved searching: Material will be findable via keyword searching, within and across collections. Advanced search will be particularly helpful for those searching for material within a particular date range. 

Screenshot of search results showing top-level records in the catalog

When can I use it?  

The catalog will go live on June 1, 2021, with the majority of our archival records. Our digitized audiovisual and image collections will be added over the course of Summer 2021. Our born-digital and digitized records then will be incorporated starting in Fall 2021, with a project completion date in early 2022. 

I need help using the new catalog — and I have feedback!  

Contact us! We’re happy to help you find what you’re looking for. 

Update: As of June 1, 2021, the Archives Catalog is live and available here.

Dr. Marie Nyswander, Early Leader in Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Women have been active contributors to Mount Sinai Beth Israel since its founding in 1890. From the Ladies’ Auxiliary formed in MSBI’s first year of operation, to the first female House Staff member Dr. Nettie Shapiro in 1909, to so many on our front lines today, women’s contributions have always been essential to the operation of the hospital. This year for Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring Dr. Marie Nyswander (1919-1986), a psychiatrist and an early leader in methadone maintenance in the treatment of heroin addiction. 

Dr. Nyswander was born in Reno, Nevada, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College (1941) and Cornell University Medical College (1945). From there she joined the Public Health Service in Lexington, Kentucky, where she first worked with patients with addiction issues. She later received psychiatry training at New York Medical College, and published a book, The Drug Addict As A Patient, in 1956. The book was among the first which argued for treating addiction as a medical problem, rather than a moral failing, likely influenced by the dramatic increase chemotheraputic treatments for psychiatric disorders in the 1950s. She went on to chair the New York City Mayor’s Advisory Board on Narcotics in 1959 and worked at a clinic in East Harlem throughout the early 1960s, alongside her own private practice 

Photograph of Drs. Nyswander and Dole

Photograph of Drs. Nyswander and Dole

In 1964, she was invited by Dr. Vincent Dole, a physician at Rockefeller Hospital, to join a study on the biology of addiction, which ultimately led to the discovery of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. Drs. Nyswander and Dole married in 1965. From the late-1960s until her death in 1986, she was affiliated with Beth Israel Hospital, where thousands were eventually treated through the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program. She also served on the President’s Advisory Board for Mental Health during the Carter administration. Both she and her work with Dr. Dole received many honors. 

Headline reads: "Methadone Credited With Rehabilitating 850 Addicts"

Article from January 20, 1969 issue of “Drug Topics”

Dr. Nyswander was a fierce defender of what has been a controversial treatment since its inception. Though detractors argue that methadone replaces one opioid addiction for another, Nyswander and Dole saw that abstinence-focused treatments were not always effective and that the symptoms of withdrawal caused by detoxification were needlessly challenging and painful for the patient. Methadone, an opioid itself, prevents drug cravings and blocks the ‘high’ of heroin.

Dr. Nyswander passed away in 1986 at the age of 67.

 

Sources: 

Courtwright, David T., “The prepared mind: Marie Nyswander, methadone maintenance, and the metabolic theory of addiction,” Addiction 92, vol. 3 (1997): 257-265. Accessed March 23, 2021. 

Dole, Vincent, Biographical photographs, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY. 

“Dr. Marie Nyswander Dies at 67; Expert in Treating Drug Addicts,” The New York Times (New York, N.Y.), April 21, 1986. Accessed March 23, 2021. 

Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program clippings, AA088.S003.SS001.B003.F029 – AA088.S003.SS001.B003.F047, Mount Sinai Beth Israel collection, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY.  

COVID-19, Web Archives, and Preserving History Online

Our web archives are available online here. 

In March 2020, the world began witnessing history in real-time, and archivists scrambled to ensure that the story of COVID-19 would be well-preserved. But with so much happening at a distance, much of the communication and ephemera created in the last six months is online, meaning that archivists have had to eschew traditional practices in collecting physical material and focus increasingly on the enormous amount of material now online. For example, at the peak of the crisis, healthcare institutions like Mount Sinai were updating their websites multiple times a day so that staff and the public had the best and most recent information on policies and procedures regarding things like new treatments and personal protective equipment. This type of information will be valuable moving forward as historians try to understand a rapidly evolving crisis.  

Fortunately, technology exists to capture every version of these websites as they appear online. Web archiving has been a practice since the late-1990s, and since 2015 the Aufses Archives has used Archive-It, a web archiving service provided by the Internet Archive, to regularly capture information related to the Mount Sinai Health System. We also use this tool to capture web content related to the response to COVID-19, as well as day-to-day changes to the website. 

Screenshot of the Aufses Archives page on Archive-It.

Screenshot of the Aufses Archives page on Archive-It.

The easiest way to access our web archives is to browse the list of websites on the main screen. These results can be filtered using the groups, subjects, or creators on the left side of the screen. You can also use the search bar at the top of the screen to search the metadata created by the archivist. (We expect our COVID-19 group to be the most used group for the foreseeable future.) Information on COVID-19, as well as a wide range of subjects, has been collected by a number other academic institutions, and you can also browse their collections here. 

If you’re searching for a particular webpage instead of a whole website, or if you’re trying to search the original text of a website, the “Search Page Text” option may be of use. This feature supports keyword searching of individual web pages, much like Google. However, you can also filter by “Capture date range” which means you can search not just across subjects, but also across time.  

Screenshot of the “Search Page Text” functionality in Archive-It, after searching “COVID-19.”

With either searching method, once you’ve selected a link, you’ll be taken to a page of dates, each corresponding to a particular date of capture. While there’s no guarantee that every version of the website was captured, it will at least give you a sense of how the site has progressed over time. 

This page, related to the COVID-19 pandemic, had 72 captures at the time of writing, starting every day from March 23, 2020, to May 12, 2020. The crawl now occurs monthly, due to fewer updates of the website.

Once you’ve selected a date, you’re taken to a version of the website captured on that date. Shown below is our earliest Archive-It capture of the Mount Sinai Hospital homepage, as it appeared in February 2015. The website should play back in the same was as it originally appeared.  

A screenshot of the Mount Sinai homepage from February 2015.

Of course, the Mount Sinai Health System only represents a very small corner of the internet, and archivists are working to capture as much as possible. All the websites captured by the Aufses Archives contribute directly to the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine, which at the time of writing has 477 billion website captures, including a limited number of Mount Sinai webpages dating back to the 1990s, captured on an ad hoc basis. You can also contribute by adding URLs via the link on the Wayback homepage. 

Hortense Hirsch

This is a guest blog post by summer intern, Lily Stowe-Alekman. Lily is a junior at Smith College where she studies History, Archives, and the Study of Women and Gender.  

Even before given access to traditional pathways of change, women at The Mount Sinai Hospital have worked to make change in the institution. From the opening of The Mount Sinai Hospital in 1855, the wives and daughters of the Board of Trustees worked to provide services in order to provide comfort to patients and to address their social and emotional well-being. By 1917, the first year that women were allowed on the Board, the role of women, and their expectations of that role, had substantially changed. The growing power of women was expressed by the creation of their own organization to exert influence over the life of the Hospital, the Social Service Auxiliary. And according to Helen Rehr, DSW, the second Edith J. Baerwald Professor of Community Medicine (Social Work), they were a force to be reckoned with.1 When prompted in an interview about the Auxiliary, “…they weren’t social butterflies having their tea. That’s not an image you would draw,” Rehr responded “Not these women, never. In the 28 years that I’ve known them I don’t recall having tea with them. No, they were women who came with a commitment to the social organization.”  Hortense Hirsch, who served on the Auxiliary Board and Board of Trustees as one of the first woman able to be a Trustee, is a powerful example of the trailblazing women of the Auxiliary Board.

Black and white portrait of Hortense Hirsch, circa 1960.

A portrait of Hortense Hirsch, circa 1960.

In 1923, Mrs. Hortense Hirsch (1887-1990) began her work with the Social Services Auxiliary (today’s Auxiliary Board), of which she would continue to be a member for sixty-five years, including a tenure as president from 1951-1956. From there, she was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1932, where she remained until becoming an honorary trustee in 1986. She sat on several committees of the Board, including as a member of the Committee on Building Maintenance and Equipment, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Social Service, Chairman of the Committee on Convalescent Care, and as a member of the Committee on Ladies’ Auxiliary. Hirsch was president of the Neustadter Home for Convalescents beginning in 1937 when the Home affiliated with Mount Sinai, until she stepped down from the post in 1953.

A photograph of (from left to right) Helen Benjamin, member of the Women’s Auxiliary Board; Mrs. Edith Lehman, the first President of the Auxiliary Board from 1916-1917, Mrs. Ruth Cook, President from 1917-51; and Mrs. Hortense Hirsch, the presiding President of the Board at the fiftieth anniversary of the Auxiliary Board in 1956. Helen Benjamin holds a picture of the first social work volunteer from 1907.

Hortense Hirsch lived to be 103 years old, and by all accounts she remained steadfast in her dedication to social work and volunteerism for her whole life. After she graduated from Smith College in 1907 at the age of 19, she married Walter Hirsch and then moved to New York City in 1909. She began her work as a volunteer at Mount Sinai in 1917.  The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies later referred to her as the “honorary ‘Dean of Social Work Volunteers.’” As a thoroughly involved volunteer and then Auxiliary Board member, Hirsch dedicated many hours to the hospital.  Dr. Helen Rehr remarked in 1982, “The demands on her were great, but she always rose to it. There was no question on that score.”

Color candid photograph of Hortense Hirsch. She wears a red dress and a pearl necklace. She's opening an envelope and laughing.

Portrait of Hortense Hirsch, circa 1976.

Hortense Hirsch’s personality leaps off the pages of archival materials. When at Smith College, she maintained her own horse and buggy, which was against the rules, by paying a farmer for boarding, effectively evading the administration. In a New York Times article documenting her 100th birthday celebration, her daughter Carol Kridel told them, that while Hirsch was too ill to attend and she had to stay in bed, she was still “wearing a pink bedjacket and a pink bow in her silver hair.” The article also includes a story of Hirsch “[coming] to her 85th birthday and [tossing] her skirts high to show she approved of the latest rage—hotpants.”

Hortense Hirsch’s work on the Social Service and Women’s Auxiliary Board helped to transform the hospital. She worked tirelessly as a volunteer and board member. Hirsch’s work and legacy came from and continued those of the women who originally found pathways to affect changes at The Mount Sinai Hospital in the late 1800s. Hirsch served on the Board of Trustees, an opportunity that was not available to the women of previous generations. As Dr. Helen Rehr stated, “the Mrs. Hirsches are an outgrowth of that group of women who were the wives of the board of trustees” and ultimately transformed the hospital in the process.