I recently read a piece about Hamilton Square in the Roosevelt Island Historical Society’s From the Archives email. This park, which was named for Alexander Hamilton, existed on the Upper East Side of Manhattan from around 1807-1869. I found this fascinating since The Mount Sinai Hospital moved to Lexington Ave. and 66th St. in 1872. I knew that the City had ‘seeded’ this area with non-profit entities: Hunter College, many hospitals and schools, but I had never heard about the Square itself, which ran from 66th to 69th Streets between 3rd and 5th Avenues. Finally, Mount Sinai had a Hamilton connection, even though he died in 1804, 48 years before the Hospital was created!
Map of Hamilton Square from the New-York Historical Society
When the Square was broken up, The Mount Sinai Hospital (MSH) was located on W. 28th Street, between 7th & 8th Avenues. It had been founded in 1852 as the Jews’ Hospital in the City of New York (the name was changed in 1866) and had opened its first building in 1855. After the Civil War, the leadership realized that the facility was inadequate and the location less than ideal due to the growth of the City. On November 2, 1867 the Directors authorized the purchase of ten lots of land from 65th to 66th Street on the west side of Park (then 4th) Ave. and later added eight more lots there. But then on October 6, 1868, the City leased Mount Sinai twelve lots of land between 66th and 67th on Lexington Ave. for $1 a year for 99 years. Somehow, over the interim, the City and Mount Sinai had reached an agreement on the Hospital taking over part of the former Hamilton Square. The earlier lots were later sold, saving Mount Sinai thousands of dollars. On May 25, 1870, the cornerstone for the second MSH was laid. The President of the Hospital, Benjamin Nathan, and Mayor Oakley Hall were there. (Within two months, Nathan was murdered in his bed on a ‘dark and stormy night.’)
On May 29, 1872, a dedication ceremony was held for the new Mount Sinai Hospital. When the building opened, it had a greatly expanded capacity of 110 beds. The building was designed by the well-known architect, Griffeth Thomas, and cost $335,000 to complete. It had an operating room in the basement of the north wards, rooms for our newly created House Staff to live in, a meeting room for the Directors, and a synagogue. Lexington Ave. remained unpaved for two more years, and the Hospital never wired the facility for electricity. A telephone was installed in 1882; the number was “Thirty-Ninth St., 257”. It was at this site that Mount Sinai transformed into what we would recognize as a modern hospital, with medical education and research joining its core mission of providing patient care.
In typical Mount Sinai fashion, this facility quickly became too small. Additional buildings were built and major renovations were begun in 1882. In 1890, Mount Sinai added a building across from the Hospital on the north side of 67th St. for our nursing school and Out Patient Department. This building is the only remnant of Mount Sinai that remains there today. It later served as the home of the Neurological Institute, the Polish legation, and finally became a school for the Archdiocese of NY. The Mount Sinai Hospital moved from Lexington Ave. in 1904 to its current East Side location on 100th St., between Madison and 5th Avenues. The name of Hamilton continues on various buildings and neighborhoods of the City, making its most recent appearance on Broadway.
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 started out as a story about Althea Gibson, the first African American to win at Wimbledon, which she did on July 6, 1957. It was also about a summer sport, and being outside – two things people today find important and hopeful. But, as often happens in the Archives, those stories reminded us of other stories, which are, of course, about Mount Sinai.
In 1950, Harlem-born Althea Gibson made her U.S. Open debut at a time when tennis was largely segregated. On July 6, 1957, when she claimed the women’s singles tennis title, she became the first African American to win a championship at London’s All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, aka Wimbledon. (Arthur Ashe was the first African American to win the men’s singles crown at Wimbledon in 1975. Ashe later had quadruple bypass surgery at St. Luke’s Hospital in 1979.) The Associated Press named Althea Gibson Female Athlete of the Year in 1957 and 1958. During the 1950’s, Gibson won 56 singles and doubles titles, including 11 major titles. Gibson retired from tennis and later became a professional golfer. She was voted into the National Lawn Tennis Association Hall of Fame in 1971 and died in 2003.
The Mount Sinai Hospital tennis courts on 5th Ave and 99th St, behind 5 E. 98th St., where KP is today.
Tennis has a long, up-and-down history at Mount Sinai. The first tennis court was built at the Hospital in the late 1800’s, back when the Hospital was still located at Lexington Avenue and 67th St. Space was tight, so the court was built between buildings, and the only way to get to it was to climb through a window on one of the wards. (Fortunately, a gong would sound whenever an Attending arrived at the Hospital, so the players were warned to get back inside.) In 1904, Mount Sinai moved uptown to 100th St., and it took 20 years before tennis returned. The growing House Staff asked the Trustees to build tennis courts that they could use for exercise. The Trustees
A small pewter trophy belonging to Noreen McGuire, School of Nursing Class of 1932. The trophy was for winning the tennis tournament in 1929.
eventually agreed in June 1923 and two courts were built on the southeast corner of 99th St and 5th Ave. Mount Sinai had purchased the land for future expansion needs, but had recently completed major additions to the campus and had no immediate plans to build. The courts were used by the Mount Sinai Hospital School of Nursing for gym classes, and nurses and doctors could sign up to play when a court was free.
The Aufses Archives has a wonderful interview with Gus Burton from 1988. Mr. Burton joined Mount Sinai’s staff in 1948, first as an x-ray file clerk, and then later trained as a technician in the Dept. of Radiology. What initially attracted him to work at Mount Sinai was because there was a tennis court. Here is how he described it:
Burton: …Back in those days the buses that ran along Fifth Avenue were owned by a company called the Fifth Avenue Bus Company. They had double deckers. The top deck was so that you could ride the bus for a nickel. At the time I was a student at NYU and sometimes I would take the bus down because the classes were at Washington Square. It was almost like a bus tour going down Fifth Avenue, seeing all the different places, and I saw the Hospital. I wasn’t impressed with the hospital so much, but where Klingenstein is there used to be tennis courts. At that time I was an avid tennis player, and I could see these people playing tennis. I thought it was very, very interesting, because I had found that there weren’t many places to play tennis in New York and here these people were running around playing tennis. Eventually, one day I was coming back home and I got off the bus. It was approaching the end of the semester and I said I need to find some kind of work for the summer. It was raining pretty hard, so I ran under the canopy that they had by the [Guggenheim] Pavilion. So I said, let me just check in here and see what’s going on. In those days, they didn’t really have what you call a personnel office. I guess they called it an employment office. They had about one or two clerks and the person who ran it, a Mr. Kerr (?). I just walked in and asked them if they had any jobs available. Said Mr. Kerr, “we may have some available in the radiology department. We’ll refer you to the person there who is looking for somebody and see what happens.”
So I went over and I was interviewed by a Dr. Joan Lipsay. She was the second in command in the radiology department. She was just really impressed that I came along and, sure, we’ll take you and they hired me as an X-ray file clerk. So I have always said in the years since then, that I had enough sense to come in out of the rain.
Interviewer: Did you ever get to play tennis?
Burton: Well, I found out after I started working here that those tennis courts were for the professional staff, the doctors and the nurses, and they were the ones I had seen playing on them. It so happened that one of the radiologists on our staff was an avid tennis player, he used to play out there frequently so I was able to get with him and I did get a chance to play on those tennis courts.
Unfortunately for Mr. Burton, the tennis courts were closed later in 1948, when Mount Sinai began the process of building the Klingenstein Pavilion along 5th Ave. It would be 65 years before tennis came back to Mount Sinai, but this time it was in a much different form. In 2013, it was announced that The Mount Sinai Medical Center was now the official medical services provider for the United States Tennis Association (USTA) and the U.S. Open. In addition, Alexis C. Colvin, MD, from the Leni and Peter W. May Department of Orthopaedic Surgery, would serve as the USTA’s Chief Medical Officer. In 2020, this continues to be the case. Every now and then, a mini-tennis court is built in the Guggenheim Pavilion lobby to showcase the Hospital’s role with the USTA, and for a brief moment, tennis is played again at Mount Sinai.
This is a continuation of a guest blog post by Colleen Stapleton. Colleen is a Patient Navigator with the Liver Education and Action Program (LEAP) at Mount Sinai, where she works to improve linkage to care for patients living with Hepatitis C. You can read the original post here.
My first day scanning, the team and I addressed the technology involved in making our Mount Sinai News collection available online. I learned about the scanning specifications to best archive our newsletters digitally. These specifications included 300 dpi (dots per inch), “do not scale,” and others particular to our scanner.
I also learned how to navigate the interesting physical space of the IT office, where the scanner was placed in a small kitchenette. Since I was scanning during lunchtime, I saw a few lunches popped in and out of the microwave. I learned that I could go ahead and put the precious paper newsletters on a non-descript plastic yellow barrel drum object, but under no circumstances should papers be placed on the potentially wet nearby water cooler!
Starting with November of 1958, I began electronically piecing together our carefully preserved collection of Mount Sinai Hospital history.
Gently unfolding each 60-odd year old newsprint was both a physical challenge and delight. I soon fell into the rhythm of scanning the first page, then the second, then switching to scanning the inserted third and fourth pages. Since the newsletters are not stapled, in total I would carefully reverse the seams of two folded pages, then finish up with the back section of the first folded page.
After a few sessions, I noticed that the newsletters were getting considerably longer – some included 12 pages! This 12-page spread would include a total of three seams, and so unfolding and folding would come to resemble the act of taking apart and putting back together a precious Russian doll.
My first day at the scanner I became aware that any file containing more than five pages could not be sent via email to our Archives team account. I made the decision at this time to scan four pages at a time, sending the files to the Archives account in pieces. I soon saw the stacks of newsletters flowing from the “un-scanned” to the “scanned” pile.
After each session I would return to my desk and make sure every issue was represented and the scan quality was good. The various parts of each issue were then virtually ‘stitched’ together. Though some months came and went without Mount Sinai Hospital News editions, each newsletter is marked chronologically with issue numbers.
The first Science News insert of the new Mount Sinai School of Medicine
One of my favorite developments in my scanning came with the advent of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine Science News, an insert that was developed as the medical school was founded and produced more and more significant scientific discoveries. There was also the Mount Sinai Medical Center News title change in November-December 1969 to correspond with the newly built school of medicine. The history of Mount Sinai was expanding before my eyes and I had to ensure my metadata reflected these changes!
Moving Forward with Metadata
After scanning part I of the MSH News archive, the team met with the Aufses Archives’ Digital Archivist to clarify our strategy moving forward. We confirmed our goal of making the Adobe PDFs of the News pages available online, creating a digital index of all MSH News electronic files, as well as providing readers with a search function powered by Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to more easily search the newsletter files.
We identified questions to the tune of “How should we put the PDF files online?” and “how can we most easily create an index to the publication?” We ultimately decided to OCR the PDF documents with Adobe and then dump the words into a database program used by the Aufses Archives called DBTextworks. We started with a few pilot issue files and we identified any necessary metadata fields for our project.
So began an exciting new phase: cleaning and inputting metadata. Unfortunately, this was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to stay home, and we have not been able to continue the scanning. However, the work continues with the efforts of a fantastic new summer intern working remotely — soon all of the scanned issues will be described and searchable.
Stay tuned for more blog installments exploring this digitization project along with coverage of the many unique historical Sinai snapshots found in the MSH News!
This is a guest blog post by Colleen Stapleton. Colleen is a Patient Navigator with the Liver Education and Action Program (LEAP) at Mount Sinai, where she works to improve linkage to care for patients living with Hepatitis C. Colleen is an advocate for innovative health literacy strategies and a volunteer with the the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, where she hopes to complete a history project mapping women’s contributions to the hospital.
Every Tuesday and Thursday before the global shutdown due to SARS-CoV-2, I left my office on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and walked a few blocks down to the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, the Annenberg Building on 5th Ave. The building, part of Mount Sinai Health System’s main hospital complex, is a labyrinth of offices and meeting spaces. On the 10th floor, next to IT offices and tucked behind the Otolaryngology suite, is the office of the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives.
I started volunteering with the archives as a way to keep in touch with my personal interests while working as a patient navigator on a public health project in the Mount Sinai Hospital Liver department. My interest in medical devices, most notably the Dalkon Shield IUD tragedy, had introduced me to historian Susan Perry’s fantastic project that took shape in her 1985 book Nightmare.
Perry’s work inspired me to scheme: how could I sharpen my historical eye? How could I hone my training in visual history and explore my personal investment in the stories of women in medicine? What I found in my project scanning and cataloguing Mount Sinai Health System newsletters, however, was much more upbeat than the project that had originally inspired me.
When I reached out to Mount Sinai’s archive I was generously invited to join a team dedicated to preserving the accomplishments of Mount Sinai providers, scientists, and workers. My lunch-hour task would be to make the Archives’ collection of newsletters more accessible to our archivists, and if possible the Archives’ online readership.
The first issue of The Mount Sinai Hospital News, which ran from 1958-1982
The Aufses Archives has many collections of newsletters. I am starting with the “Mount Sinai Hospital News.” The series consists of several large folders containing two sets of the title. The first newsletter set, set “one”, is known as the “preservation set.” As such, it isn’t handled frequently and contains the best copies. Set “two” contains the copies of the newsletter that are meant to be handled. This handling may occur when inquiries come in from several sources, including relatives of nursing school alumnae, providers previously employed by the hospital or medical school, and hospital or school departments sourcing historical projects, among others. Both sets are stored among the other contents preserved by the Archives.
The archives are not a museum, and so they contain mostly paper-based items and files pertaining to the history of the hospital and medical school. In addition to the collection of newsletters, the Archives includes photographs, meeting minutes, office files, and miscellanea. The collection does house selected objects, including some medical devices, dolls, and even a moulage kit from the 1990s recently passed along to the Emergency Department for use in emergency drills. One of the oldest objects, a ledger indicating notes from one of the first Mount Sinai Beth Israel board meetings, is written by hand in Yiddish and dates back to the 1890s.
At the start of the project, the team discussed plans for indexing a collection of newsletters. Would we keep an Excel file of key terms, titles, and dates? Could we also digitize the newsletters? After thinking about the “what” that we would like to make available, we discussed the “how” and “why” of the project. How would the Archives’ online readership access tools to search the newsletter collection? Would we be able to leverage resources to make every issue available online? What were the costs and benefits of spending time uploading each issue digitally?
I was happy to volunteer my help with scanning the newsletters, due in part to my history with an old archive project at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, NY. As a curatorial intern I had been dying to scan the museum’s collection of newspaper clippings highlighting exhibitions and visits by Yoko Ono and John Lennon among other fascinating historical happenings! As it happened, our crew in Syracuse was limited by resource shortages, and scanning would have to be pushed to the next summer.
After some thought and research into searchable PDF text formats, my inclination to scan and upload every issue into our database (then online) was accepted! I was carefully handed a small pile of newsletters, then headed into our neighboring IT office to commandeer the scanner for an hour. The process of scanning had begun!
Watch for Part II, coming soon.