Some of you may have read the sad story about the murder of a woman in the Justice Story column of the Daily News on Sunday. It is about how Irma Pradier thought she was going to run off with her boyfriend to California, but instead she was found murdered the next day along the Harlem Speedway, today known as the Harlem River Drive. I was particularly interested in this because it noted that she had been a maid at The Mount Sinai Hospital, and had even lived at the Hospital. I also realized that she had been hired before 1937, which meant there was a good chance the Aufses Archives had some record about her in our one existing employee logbook, which dates from 1882-1937. This lists all persons hired to work at Mount Sinai, which would exclude the medical staff who were generally not paid anything, or worked under a contract model.
And I was right!
Below is a portion of the page from our logbook that includes Irma Pradier. You can see from this she was hired February 13, 1934 and she lived ‘In,’ which would have meant the Employee Dormitory that faced 99th St., near Madison Ave. (across from today’s Atran and Berg buildings.) She was hired to be a Maid in the OPD (Out-Patient Department) for $35/month. (She would have also received a free meal as part of her compensation.) When she resigned on July 19, 1937, she had advanced to $47/month. As the News‘ article says, her reason for leaving is listed as “Going to Calif.” And the rest is history, or at least, an article in the Sunday Daily News.
The Irma Pradier entry from The Mount Sinai Hospital Employee Logbook
*The book is organized chronologically under each letter of the alphabet. Every entry was done by hand by an employee of the Personnel Office. This was THE official employment history of each worker. The blue bottom edge is from a long ago ink spill that saturated the pages. Note the other reasons for leaving employment. Some are fascinating!
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.
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.”
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.
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.
As a summer intern with the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives, I have become acquainted with Mount Sinai’s history and the efforts that go into preserving its legacy. One of the projects I have worked on is cataloging The Mount Sinai Hospital News, an in-house tabloid-style newsletter for Mount Sinai employees. Colleen Stapleton, Patient Navigator for the Liver Education & Action Program at Mount Sinai, volunteered with the Archives this spring and digitized the newsletters from 1958-71. In my work cataloging, I read some really entertaining stories that offered a glimpse into the personal lives of people who worked in The Mount Sinai Hospital (later Medical Center), whether that be birth announcements of their children, quirky stories about the things employees did outside of the hospital, or articles about celebratory dinners and ceremonies. One can also not forget the hospital’s bowling team.
While cataloging in July, I came across a story that made me pause because it felt like a full circle moment. The October 1971 issue of The Mount Sinai Medical Center News featured an article called “Everyone Talks about Mount Sinai’s Glorious History; Dr. Al Lyons, Arch Archivist, Does Something About It.” This article has history of the Aufses Archives and is within the archive. While the Aufses Archives is a site of historical preservation, it has its own history as well.
Caption: The objects featured in the article header are still in the Arthur H. Aufses Jr. MD Archives today!
The creation of what is now the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives is due to the work and advocacy of Dr. Albert S. Lyons in the 1960s to 1980s. Over this time, Dr. Lyons advocated for the need of creating the archive and in 1986, secured its future with the hiring of a full-time archivist, Barbara Niss, who remains the Director today. Dr. Lyons (1912-2006) spent over sixty years of his life working at Mount Sinai. He began as a surgical resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1938. He went on to become the founder and Chief of the Intestinal Rehabilitation Clinic and worked to help support patient needs post-surgery. He was also a Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He wrote a well-known book, Medicine: An Illustrated History, a volume of over six hundred pages, charting medicine from the prehistoric era to the twentieth century.
Beyond his clinical work, Dr. Lyons was committed to Mount Sinai’s institutional history and to history of medicine in general. He taught the History of Medicine elective courses in the medical school. In the 1960s, he convinced the hospital board to collect the institutional history of the hospital. In 1966, he was made Hospital Archivist by Mr. Gustave L. Levy, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Dr. Lyons’ passion for preserving the history of The Mount Sinai Hospital overlapped with the discussions and planning of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which welcomed its first students in the fall of 1968. In 1970, he was given the official title of Medical Center Archivist. Dr. Lyons also contributed a broad range of valuable materials to the Archives, including over eighty-five oral history interviews dating to 1965, a formative time for the field of oral history as well as for the Medical Center, as the School planned for and welcomed its first students.
In October of 1971, The Mount Sinai Medical Center News wrote about Dr. Lyons’ archival work. The article highlights the work and efforts of Dr. Lyons and serves as a call to action of sorts for the archive. Dr. Lyons is quoted in the first line as saying, “When in doubt, don’t throw it out.” He goes on to say that “too much of Mount Sinai’s past has already gone up in smoke,” due to people throwing out items without realizing their significance. He stresses as well that ordinary everyday materials are archival. He stresses that history is not necessarily in the distant past, that the events of the previous day are history. In this sense, Dr. Lyons de-mystifies the archives by showing that it should be in connection with the present moment and is not a disconnected abstract institution. The closing paragraph of the article instructs readers, “If you’ve uncovered some papers or objects you think may be worth saving, are planning some event to make current Medical History, etc. Drop Dr. Lyons a note.” In turn, “He and the Future will thank you!”
Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives and Records Management. “Lyons, Albert S., MD, Papers, 1932-2000.” Collection Guides. https://icahn.mssm.edu/about/ait/archives/collection/albert-lyons.
Aufses, Arthur H., Jr., and Barbara Niss. This House of Noble Deeds: The Mount Sinai Hospital, 1852-2002, New York University Press, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central, xi.
“Everyone Talks About Mount Sinai’s Glorious History; Dr. Al Lyons, Arch Archivist, Does Something About It.” Mount Sinai Medical Center News. October 1971. 5, 10.
An update to this blog post can be found here.
Founded in 1892, the early history of Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital was decorated with a series of success stories in the treatment of disease. Against the background of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, then affected by poverty, close living quarters, and dangerous working conditions, its residents, largely recent Jewish immigrants, were made vulnerable to many of the contagious diseases of that era. In its first years, Beth Israel contributed research to combat the typhoid epidemic of 1906-1907, established an after-care clinic to children affected by the 1916 polio epidemic, and is credited with finding the cure for trachoma, which had previously been a cause to turn away new immigrants at Ellis Island.
Only twenty-five years after Beth Israel’s opening, the United States was embroiled in the first World War. The Hospital encouraged its medical staff to join the Medical Reserve Corps, with approximately half of its doctors signing up. The Hospital had also encouraged its nurses, physicians and other staff to join the war effort.
This left Beth Israel in a precarious position when the 1918 Influenza epidemic reached New York City. Being chronically understaffed, Beth Israel’s Medical Board contacted the Department of Health for advice. The response was simply: “There is nothing to advise except the use of gauze masks which did not always prevent the disease.” In November 1918, the Hospital eliminated visiting hours, curtailed teaching hours, and turned the Male Medical Ward over to the Department of Health to use as an isolation facility for the pandemic. (The DOH never used the facility because they were similarly understaffed.)
Female ward of Beth Israel Hospital, Jefferson and Cherry Street, circa 1910
Ultimately, Beth Israel was only able to admit twenty-nine influenza patients. (Update: This number is disputed in other sources.) Seven members of the House Staff were awarded $25 (approximately $500 today) for “self-sacrificing services performed” and the Hospital offered special incentive pay to doctors and nurses to help combat the fact that they were understaffed.
Despite the limited patient intake, Beth Israel’s contributions to the 1918 flu pandemic were still impactful. In December 1918, Superintendent of the Hospital, Louis J. Frank, contacted Presidents Roosevelt and Taft to encourage universal nursing training in the education of women, likely in response to the chronic under-staffing at this time. By January 1919, many of the patients in the Hospital were admitted for “post-influenzal complications” leading to the care of many affected by the pandemic.
Authored by Stefana Breitwieser, Digital Archivist
Mount Sinai physicians have a long tradition of making important contributions to the scientific literature. A good example is the following case from the 1910s, when typhus swept the world, killing thousands of people.
In 1910, Nathan Brill, MD, a doctor in the Department of Medicine, published a description of what he thought was the endemic form of typhus; this became known as Brill’s Disease. (Later Hans Zinsser showed that it was not endemic, but a mild recrudescent form of epidemic typhus and the name was changed to Brill-Zinsser disease.) In 1913, Harry Plotz, MD, an intern working in Mount Sinai‘s Pathology Laboratory, believed that he had discovered an organism that caused typhus. He published a Letter in JAMA in 1914 outlining his research.
Harry Plotz, MD as a Mount Sinai intern in 1915
Since this was such an important public health problem, in 1915, Mount Sinai’s Trustees took the unusual step of agreeing to fund a trip to gather blood specimens in the Balkans, where there was a typhus outbreak – and the early stages of World War I. As noted in Wikipedia: “disease ravaged the armies of the Eastern Front, where over 150,000 died in Serbia alone. Fatalities were generally between 10% and 40% of those infected and the disease was a major cause of death for those nursing the sick.”
The research results of this trip were described by the physicians Harry Plotz and George Baehr in a 1917 paper in the Journal of Infectious Diseases. The details of the trip itself are described in the 1916 Annual Report of The Mount Sinai Hospital This narrative also describes an additional trip by Dr. Peter Olitzky to Mexico, also funded by Mount Sinai, when the researchers in Europe were taken prisoner by the Austro-Hungarian government. This lengthy quote provides the Trustee President of Mount Sinai’s description of the events of 1915-16:
In pursuance of my remarks of last year in regard to the typhus expedition to Serbia, I wish to state that Drs. George Baehr and Harry Plotz after many difficulties established a laboratory at Belgrade in a hospital directed by the American Red Cross. Thirty-six hours before the bombardment of Belgrade, they left for Uskub and there set up a laboratory in the Lady Paget Hospital, and shortly thereafter the town was occupied by the Bulgarians. Very soon afterwards they were invited by the Bulgarian and Austrian Governments to work under their auspices. They then left for Sofia and afterwards went to Vienna, Lemberg and into Russia….
Because of the fact that Drs. Baehr and Plotz during the first six months of their stay in Europe, practically did not come in contact with typhus fever, it was considered important to send a second expedition into Mexico to determine the cause of the Mexican typhus fever, and to carry on other work which at that time we were not sure could be carried on in Europe. The second expedition consisted of Drs. Peter K. Olitzky and Bernard S. Denzer, accompanied by Mr. Irving Brout, a laboratory helper, and the expedition was under the guidance and care of Dr. Carlos E. Husk, a prominent surgeon attached to the staff of the American Smelting & Refining Co. The expenses of the expedition were defrayed in part by Trustees of the Mount Sinai Hospital and in part by the American Smelting & Refining Co.
It was first decided to go to Aguascalientes, but after the expedition reached Matehuala it was determined to remain there, as even at that distance from the border the danger, because of dis- turbances of international conditions, was very great. Early in March, because of the increasing danger in which the men were placed, they were requested to return. The members of the expedition did not, however, leave, because Dr. Olitzky had been stricken with a severe attack of typhus fever. Very shortly thereafter, the plants of the American Smelting & Refining Co. throughout Mexico were closed down, and Dr. Olitzky had to be removed to Laredo, Texas. Just before the departure Dr. Husk, who had been of the greatest aid in the accomplishment of a remarkable piece of work within four weeks, also fell ill of typhus fever, and was brought into Laredo in a very serious condition. Dr. Olitzky after going through a most dangerous attack of the disease, recovered, but unfortunately it proved impossible to save Dr. Husk’s life.
During the course of this expedition the same germ was found in the typhus fever cases in Mexico as had been found in New York and as was found by the members of the European expedition in Serbia, Bulgaria, Austria and Russia. Apart from that, the typhus germ was cultivated repeatedly from lice, which have in recent years been considered the agent in transferring typhus fever from one person to another. Some further scientific studies were made, and vaccination done on a rather large scale. The results of the vaccination cannot be determined at the present time because of the unsettled conditions in Mexico.
In the end, no successful vaccine has been developed for typhus, but antibiotics and public health measures have made it a treatable, rarely fatal disease in the U.S.
The story of typhus and Mount Sinai is important because it shows the institution’s commitment to research and developing new treatments during times of crisis. As shown here, this commitment is not solely from the medical and scientific staff, but also from the Trustees and supporters of Mount Sinai. When times are dire, as in today’s COVID-19 pandemic, Sinai finds a way to enable the work to get done to advance medical knowledge and improve the treatment of patients.