The first St. Joseph's Hospital
St. Joseph's Hospital, the first permanent hospital in the Northwest, began its institutional career June 7, 1858, two years after the arrival of the Sisters of Providence at Fort Vancouver. A glance at the registers of the time shows that patients came from Portland, St. Paul, Oregon City, The Cascades, Walla Walla, Cowlitz, and many other points.
In the 1850s, a group of French Canadian nuns arrived from Montreal to join Father Blanchet in the far flung Hudson's Bay outpost of Fort Vancouver. Their leader was Sister Joseph (nee Esther Pariseau), whose gifts as seamstress, carpenter, painter, sculptor, blacksmith, farmer, watchmaker, locksmith, architect and mechanic were to become legend in Northwest history. During her tenure here, she became Mother Joseph.
In March, 1858, the Sisters were asked to care for John Lloyd, a young man suffering from tuberculosis. The Sisters had no place for him but were eager to undertake his care, and the idea of building a small hospital was born.
The first step was organizing an association known as The Ladies of Charity. Sixteen members, women of all creeds, were present at the first meeting on April 6, 1858. Another 13 who could not attend asked that their names be registered for membership. It would have been easy enough to find land on which to build, but to build at that particular time seemed out of the question. Prices of both construction materials and labor were prohibitive, with "lumber at forty dollars a thousand, and a working man at eight dollars a day."
Sister Joseph* came to their aid by offering them part of a building which she had intended for both laundry and bakery. Its dimensions were only 20 by 16 feet. Her offer was accepted with visible relief. They left her part of the little house for a bakery, and pledged themselves to begin immediately to complete and furnish the rest for occupancy.
The rate to be charged by the hospital was $1.00 a day.
Twice each month, the Ladies of Charity met to sew for the hospital. Each pledged to contribute twelve and one-half cents a week for the cause and to undertake general collections for the support of the poor who could not afford the dollar-a-day rate at the hospital.
In the room adjoining the bakery, rough boards were covered with lightweight muslin fabric and then with a simple wallpaper. The room was furnished with four beds, which Sister Joseph herself helped make, four bedside tables and four chairs.
While the remainder of the house continued to do duty as a laundry and bakery, the first "fully-equipped" hospital in the Northwest was complete.
On Saturday, June 7, 1858, the Right Reverend A.M.A. Blanchet came to bless the new St. Joseph's Hospital. John Lloyd followed the bishop in.
The need to provide for women patients soon became imperative. The little 20 by 16 foot hospital building again yielded space, as the west side of the north section was fitted with three beds for women. Incredible as it may seem, the strip left on the east side was still able to accommodate the bake oven.
Hospital charges were $1.00 a day and a year in the hospital was not unusual. A typical account was that of George C. Coffee:
- 110 days attendance $110.00
- 2 bottles of brandy and 6 bottles of whiskey $8
- Burial expenses $25
From this first success, Mother Joseph went on to found many hospitals, orphanages and institutions throughout Northwest, from Vancouver, to Portland, Seattle, Spokane and to Idaho and Montana. After her death, Mother Joseph was honored by the American Architects Association as the first architect of the Pacific Northwest. The State of Washington designated Mother Joseph as one of its distinguished citizens. Her statue stands with the distinguished citizens of other states in Statuary Hall of the United States Congress.
For more information about Mother Joseph, visit the Sisters of Providence Web site, www.providence.org/phs/archives.
* Is it Sister Joseph or Mother Joseph? The title of Mother is an honorary title, bestowed to a nun who has been given charge of a mission. Sister Joseph could have been called Mother when she left Montreal. Although everyone called her Mother Joseph, as long as she lived she referred to herself and signed documents as Sister Joseph.