The Aufses Archives staff has installed our latest exhibit in the lobby of the Annenberg Building. This season’s exhibit, Pediatric Developments, showcases the evolution of children’s medical care over the last two centuries in the histories of our Health System’s hospitals. This blog post focuses only on the Mount Sinai Hospital histories presented in the exhibit.
While the prevailing narrative is that the field of pediatrics slowly grew into a medical specialty in the early 20th century, the care provided at our hospitals was ahead of the curve with early establishment of wards and services tailored specifically to children. Our doctors and health care workers sought to treat not only the serious and often fatal childhood ailments (many now preventable through routine vaccination), but worked to improve living conditions, nutrition, education, psychology, and convalescence while contributing to the development of Pediatrics as a specialty.
150 years ago, Mount Sinai Hospital established an “Outdoor Dispensary” for patients who did not need to be admitted overnight. This was due to the advocacy of Dr. Abraham Jacobi, the progenitor of Pediatrics, who was a foundational force from his appointment in 1860 to the Jews’ Hospital as Attending Physician, until his death in 1919. Children had always been admitted to the Hospital, but they were placed on adult wards.
In 1875, a Children’s Department in the Mount Sinai Hospital Dispensary was organized with Dr. Mary Putnam Jacobi serving as head of the service. Together, the Drs. Jacobi had published Infant Diet in 1874 and married several months later. Because the facilities for children in the Dispensary were not sufficient to care for the great number referred to the Hospital, an inpatient Pediatric ward was opened in 1879 with Dr. Abraham Jacobi as Chief. Remarkably this was the first inpatient pediatric department in New York City.
135 years ago in 1887, Dr. Sara Welt was the first woman to be appointed an Adjunct Pediatrician. She spent her whole career at Mount Sinai Hospital and remained closely affiliated until her death in 1943, at which time she bequeathed nearly $1 million to support the Pediatric Clinic and establish the Sara Welt Fellowship in Research Medicine, a loan fund for young physicians who needed financial assistance.
Dr. Ira Wile, who joined the Mount Sinai Hospital Pediatric staff in 1904, developed an early interest in child psychiatry, behavioral and social problems of children, and child education. In 1919, he opened the first child guidance clinic in the United States. Named the Children’s Health Class, it became the first vehicle through which preventive medicine was integrated on an equal footing with the rest of the pediatric activities of the Hospital. He stated, prophetically, that “the attention of the clinic is directed chiefly to the periodic examination of children between infancy and school age. This is a period during which the health of poorer children is commonly neglected, and when physical and psychological mismanagement may readily implant the seeds of disease against which the Department of Health and other agencies subsequently struggle in vain.”
In 1889, Dr. Henry Koplik founded the first station for the distribution of sterilized milk in New York City at the Good Samaritan Dispensary in lower Manhattan. In 1896, Koplik described the diagnostic spots of measles in the buccal mucous membranes, which to this day bear the name “Koplik spots.” He was one of the first pediatricians to take an interest in bacteriology and conducted fundamental studies on diphtheria and pertussis organisms. In 1902, he assumed the coveted role of Attending Pediatrician at Mount Sinai Hospital. For the next 25 years, he served on the Medical Board, taught at the School of Nursing, and was a consulting expert on Pediatrics.
In 1923, Mount Sinai Hospital invited Dr. Béla Schick, a pediatrician of renown in Europe, to come to Mount Sinai and serve as Pediatrician to the Hospital. In collaboration with Dr. Clemens von Pirquet, Schick had already conducted his groundbreaking work on antigen/antibody reactions, which laid the foundation for immunity and hypersensitivity. They introduced the term “allergy.” Schick also had done his pioneering studies on diphtheria, developing a skin test with toxin from diphtheria organisms. The “Schick Test” was the first of many skin tests used to determine whether a child was immune or susceptible. In his later years Dr. Schick also focused on infant and child nutrition, as evidenced by this Diet Manual from 1939.
Dr. Jean Pakter, pictured, spent five years at Mount Sinai Hospital, finishing her residency in 1939. An advocate for maternal and child health, she devoted her life to serving not only the City of New York, as Director of the Department of Health’s Bureau of Maternity Services and Family Planning from 1960 to 1982, but the nation as well. Her discipline for gathering and sharing statistics led to many noteworthy studies on prematurity, maternal and fetal mortality, abortion, sudden infant death syndrome, and promotion of breast feeding. Her Mount Sinai training of using scientific study and clinical expertise as a means of enacting social change led deservedly to numerous honors, awards, and citations, most notably in the Roe v. Wade decision.
Polio, measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis… many of the serious and often fatal childhood ailments that were common in the nascent years of the field of Pediatrics are today prophylactically addressed through routine childhood vaccinations. One of the most notable vaccines was for polio, released in 1955. Developed by Dr. Jonas Salk, who interned at Mount Sinai Hospital from 1940-1942, the evaluation of the vaccine was conducted by pioneering Black scientists, Russell W. Brown and James H.M. Henderson at Tuskegee Institute, by creating the first HeLa cell factory.
This casebook entry from 1910 shows a child being treated for poliomyelitis, bronchopneumonia, and scoliosis. While this child was discharged with their conditions improved, the case book is filled with patients seen by Dr. Henry Koplik and Dr. Burrill Crohn (listed as Attending and House Staff above) who succumbed to illnesses that are preventable today.
We welcome you to visit the exhibit in person to read about the histories of Mount Sinai Morningside, Mount Sinai West, and Mount Sinai Beth Israel.
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
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.
Title page of the 1864 Annual Report of the Directors of Jews’ Hospital in New York
Mount Sinai Hospital’s predecessor institution, Jews’ Hospital in New York, was established in 1852, opened in 1855, and initially admitted only people of the Jewish faith and accident victims. A mere twelve years later in 1864 the Board of Directors decided to open the hospital to all, regardless of faith. Then in 1866, to reflect this new policy, the institution changed its name to Mount Sinai Hospital. But why did the Hospital become non-sectarian? At a point in time when many Hospitals founded by other creeds continued their religious affiliations, Jews’ Hospital broke with tradition. It might come as a surprise that the decision to treat people regardless of faith was influenced by the Civil War and the New York City Draft Riots of 1863, one of the “bloodiest race riots in American history.” The profound devastation wrought upon Black people during the gruesome riots shaped New York as we know it today and had a profound impact on the early days of our health system.
In the introduction to The First Hundred Years of The Mount Sinai Hospital of New York, 1852-1952, the authors posit that Jews’ Hospital, as it was in the geographic center of the riots, was “the asylum for their dead and injured. An eventual result for the Hospital was its adoption of the nonsectarianism which has been its policy ever since.” Which begs the question: who did they treat, and did treating victims of the riots actually persuade the Hospital’s Leadership to change its policy? To answer that question, we need to know what occurred in New York City during the years leading up to the 1864 decision. The United States was in the thick of the Civil War which raged from 1861 to 1865. New York City, while positioned as a northern city allied with the Union, was in fact quite a conservative city due to its financial connections to the south.
Section 1869 map of New York showing the Jews’ Hospital in blue rectangle (map courtesy of Lionel Pincus and Princess Firyal Map Division, The New York Public Library)
During the Civil War the Jews’ Hospital in New York was located on the south side of 28th Street between 6th and 7th Avenues and admitted on average 30 patients a month. In 1864 the staff consisted of three consulting surgeons, three attending surgeons, four attending physicians, “one resident physician and house surgeon, one superintendent, three nurses, three domestics, and one cook.” Annual reports state that from 1855 to 1860 the Hospital treated 1,285 people. However, during the war years, we are unable to say how many in total were admitted because we do not have annual reports for the years 1861, 1862, and 1863. However, Dr. Teller, House Physician and Surgeon, gave monthly reports on all but a few occasions to The Occident and American Jewish Advocate:
Dr. Teller either did not report the 1863 June and July statistics or the newspaper did not include them. But August, the month after the draft riots, the number of patients treated, 113, is higher than usual.
The Hospital underwent a great transformation during the Civil War. One of its three Attending Surgeons, Dr. Israel Moses, left to serve in the Union Army. Joseph Seligman, who had been on the Hospital’s Board since 1855 resigned his position in 1862 because of his “increasing responsibilities” frequently attending advisory meetings with President Lincoln. The most dramatic change was in 1861 when the Board of Directors resolved to establish a ward for injured Union soldiers, first totaling 48, then 69 beds.
The federal draft law was put into place in the summer of 1863, but it provided an exemption for people who could pay $300 or find someone to take their place. This infuriated the working class, the Irish and other recent immigrants, especially in New York, where Union loyalty was not a given. After the names had been drawn for the first round and published in the weekend’s papers, many New Yorkers were enraged. A large mob formed on the next day, and proceeded to attack and burn down the Provost Marshal’s building, where the draft was taking place. From there the mob moved all around the city, rioting, burning down entire buildings, injuring innocent bystanders, looting and committing outright murder. Described as “bitter street-to-street warfare”, the city was in chaos for four days.
Black people were the primary target of the mob’s atrocious violence due to racism and scapegoating, newspapers having created the narrative that enslaved people, once free, would take jobs from recent immigrants. Mobs lynched eleven Black men, hanging their mutilated bodies from lampposts. The total death count is unknown, but estimates range from over 100 to several hundred. The repercussions of the four days of extreme violence shape New York City even today. Because of the riots, it is estimated that nearly a thousand Black New Yorkers fled Manhattan en masse, seeking permanent refuge elsewhere, leaving behind their homes and communities. In their exodus from what was a racially integrated city, they settled in safer places, such as the historic Black community of Weeksville in Brooklyn (which was a city in its own right at the time). In the aftermath, New York became a more segregated city.
Excerpt from the July 21, 1863 edition of The New York Herald showing 106 deaths from violent causes, presumably the Draft Riots.
One early Mount Sinai doctor recalled:
In the early [1860’s] the hospital must have had its share of the casualties from the draft riots which occurred in the neighborhood, and of which I was in part an eyewitness: the burning of the colored Orphan Asylum in 40th Street, the attack on the Provost Marshall’s office on Broadway and 28th Street, the hanging of a [Black man] to a lamp post at 6th Avenue and 33rd Street, and the escape of frightened colored men, women, and children from the mob to the State Arsenal at 35th Street and Seventh Avenue under protection of a squad of soldiers.
Do we know how many people were treated at the Jews’ Hospital? While the Archives does not possess the case books from that era, we know that, “the geography of the rioting was such that Jews’ Hospital was frequently the center of its fury, and during the bloody days that ensued, it became the sanctuary of the sick and the wounded.” The newspapers of the time described multiple extremely violent events that took place only a few blocks from the Hospital. In all likelihood, the Hospital treated dozens of riot victims and the staff would witness the particular terror and brutal violence inflicted upon Black people.
In reading the minutes’ book entries of the subsequent months, there seems to be no end to the mundane issues the Board of Directors addressed. Rarely is there an explanation of motive or greater historical context included with a decision recorded in such matter of fact reports. However, in the months following the riots, the Hospital’s Board of Directors were:
Sensitive to their obligations to the country and the community during this period, the Board of Directors was also preparing the ground for the nonsectarian policy which has distinguished the Hospital ever since. Accident patients of all nationalities, races and religions had been accepted since the first day of the Hospital’s existence. But the national crisis crystallized the Board’s determination to rise above sectarianism and abolish it completely. In 1864, the Executive Committee had reported, “The Committee deem it proper to observe that many of those admitted to the Hospital were not of our faith, no distinction ever being made as to either the nationality or the religious belief of the sufferer.”
Albon P. Man. “Labor Competition and the New York Draft Riots of 1863.” The Journal of Negro History, vol. 36, no. 4, 1951, pp. 375–405. https://doi.org/10.2307/2715371.
Hirsch, Joseph and Doherty, Beka. The First Hundred Years of the Mount Sinai Hospital of New York, 1852-1952. Random House: New York, 1952.
Jews’ Hospital in New York. Annual Report of the Directors of the Jews’ Hospital in New York, 1860. https://archive.org/details/annualreportofdi1860jews/page/18/mode/2up
Meyer, Alfred. “Recollections of Old Mount Sinai Days.” Journal of the Mount Sinai Hospital, vol. 3, no. 6, 1937, pp. 295-307.
On August 27th, it will be 165 years since the first baby was born at The Mount Sinai Hospital in 1856. The mother was a Mrs. Lichtenstein. She named the baby Isaac Touro, in honor of a Hospital benefactor, Judah Touro (1775-1854), who had helped support the young Jews’ Hospital in New York, as Mount Sinai was then known. (Judah Touro also gave money for the founding of Touro Infirmary in New Orleans and today’s Touro College and University System is named for Judah and his father Isaac.)
Isaac Touro Lichtenstein was one of two babies born in the Hospital during its first year of operation. Until the 1920s, most babies were born at home or in one of the specialized women and child care hospitals around the City. This meant that many general hospitals, including Mount Sinai, never felt the need to add a formal obstetrical service to their offerings, thus limiting the number of babies born at the hospital over the years.
By the 1920s, as hospital births began to rise around the country, the Mount Sinai medical staff started to talk to the Board of Trustees about adding obstetrics. As the doctors saw it, the problems arising from not having babies born at the Hospital were: the Gynecology staff could not admit their obstetrical patients to Mount Sinai; there was no obstetrical training for the GYN residents, nor was there training for the pediatrics residents in newborn care. The last also applied to The Mount Sinai Hospital School of Nursing, which affiliated with the Sloane Hospital for Women so students could fill the gap in their education.
While the Trustees were increasingly sympathetic with the request to add an obstetrical service, it wasn’t until the middle of the 1940s that concrete plans were made for the erection of a new building to house obstetrics and gynecology, today’s Klingenstein Pavilion on Fifth Avenue. Every new building demands a fundraising campaign to make it a reality. Mount Sinai had just finished a major expansion that ended in 1922, with the addition of a new School of Nursing building and a semi-private pavilion seen as the next priorities. When these two buildings opened, the Depression was in full swing, which sapped Hospital and potential donor resources. This was followed quickly by World War II, but by the mid-1940s, the Hospital could see a window of opportunity on the horizon.
A fundraising campaign was begun when the war ended and on July 22, 1948, ground was broken for three buildings: the Klingenstein Pavilion, and the Atran and Berg Laboratories. In 1952, the obstetrical service started to operate as the building slowly opened. July marked the start of Mount Sinai’s first Prenatal Clinic, and the first prenatal clinic for women with diabetes in New York City started in the fall. The first OB patients were admitted in October, with the first baby born October 29, 1952 – 96 years after Isaac Touro Lichtenstein.
I recently spent some time reviewing the President’s Report section of the Annual Report of The Mount Sinai Hospital from 1921 (linked here, starting on page 190). The President then was George Blumenthal, a devoted trustee, and a smart businessman who had recently guided the Hospital through a major expansion program, the uncertainties of World War I, and the influenza epidemic of 1918. Reading the report reminded me of the joys – and problems – with reading primary historical sources: it is very easy in hindsight to see connections between two times that may not be related, and simple observations can seem very prescient.
Don’t get me wrong, parts of the report are very dated and irrelevant to today: the Hospital was unable to afford radium to use in patient treatment, and so that service was not provided. There was also a section on issues related to fund raising through the Federation of Jewish Charities (today’s UJA-Federation). But still, there were many issues that would seem familiar to our current leaders. The Hospital was perennially short of money, but after the epidemic and the war, wages were rising quickly for what today would be called “essential workers”. Adding to this was a restrictive immigration policy that limited the labor pool. The inability to hire as many trained nurses as they needed was a continuing struggle as well, something the whole country recognizes today.
George Blumenthal, President of The Mount Sinai Hospital from 1911-1938
And yet Blumenthal made the case – as we do today – for why private hospitals like Mount Sinai deserve the philanthropic support of the people. He says:
It is absolutely essential that private institutions like Mount Sinai should be leaders of progress in hospital work…. To discover, test and demonstrate new methods of treatment is recognized as one of the functions of private institutions and it is one of the strongest reasons for their existence and constitutes their most important claim on the generosity of the public which supports them.
A couple of pages later, Blumenthal makes a bold statement about the importance of Mount Sinai being a teaching hospital. At this time it had loose clinical ties to both Columbia and NYU. He envisioned something more:
A Hospital possessing the clinical and laboratory resources of Mount Sinai should have university affiliation or if this be impracticable should independently utilize its organization for teaching purposes, for in no other way can the fullest benefits be derived from the intensive study of interesting, varied and often perplexing clinical material. We hope the day is not very far off when work on these lines can be done either through affiliation with one of the many teaching institutions located in our city or by independent action.
And “independent action” it was. Even with academic affiliations with various medical schools, in the 1950s Mount Sinai was not satisfied that they were living up to their potential in terms of training the next generation of physician/scientists or using their immense clinical material for creating new medical knowledge to advance patient care. In 1963, the Trustees received a charter to create their own medical and graduate schools. The Mount Sinai School of Medicine opened in 1968.