The combined interests and influences of a band of civic-minded black women, Northern philanthropists, and a consortium of white and black physicians led to the sustainment of Flint-Goodridge Hospital as New Orleans’ only black hospital for eighty-seven years.
Flint-Goodridge Hospital, Canal Street, ca. 1916
The Methodist Episcopal Church founded New Orleans University in 1873 to provide an opportunity for higher education to people of color. The university’s charter included language which would allow for its eventual expansion to include a school of medicine. In 1889, the Medical College of New Orleans University opened its doors. The first class was graduated in 1892.
In 1894, a group of colored women interested in racial uplift and progress formed the Phyllis Wheatley Club of New Orleans with Sylvania F. Williams as their president. Sylvanie Francoz Williams was a native of New Iberia, Louisiana who alongside her husband served as public school principals for over thirty years. The women of the Wheatley Club sensed a need for a hospital to serve their community and to provide a training ground for colored nurses. In 1896, the Phyllis Wheatley Sanitarium and Training School for Negro Nurses was opened within the building of the newly-established New Orleans University Medical College.
Mrs. Sylvanie Francoz Williams, President of the Phyllis Wheatley Club
After a few years of operation, the Wheatley Club could no longer maintain administration of the hospital. Through the efforts of Bishop Willard Francis Mallalieu of the Methodist Episcopal Church, northern philanthropists were enlisted to aid the Medical College and the Phyllis Wheatley Sanitarium. In 1901, John Flint of Fall River, Massachusetts gave a substantial sum of money which was used to purchase the property at 1566 Canal Street, which would house the newly renamed “Flint Medical College of New Orleans University.” Mrs. Caroline Mudge of Boston contributed the funds to buy the lot adjacent to the College to serve as Sarah Goodridge Hospital, named for Mrs. Mudge’s mother. The affiliated training program for nurses maintained the name of Phyllis Wheatley.
The Flint Medical College was closed in 1910 after having graduated a total of one hundred and sixteen doctors. Included in this number are Emma Wakefield, the first colored woman in Louisiana to earn a degree in medicine, and Ella N. Prescott, the second colored woman to do the same. In 1915, the School of Pharmacy, which had been added in 1900, was closed as well. In that same year, all of the buildings were turned over to the hospital, under the name of the Flint-Goodridge Hospital.
The hospital continued to exist under the administration of New Orleans University and the Methodist Episcopal Church. The original buildings were so dilapidated by the middle of the 1910s that a decision was made to remodel them. The remodeled buildings were dedicated on 11 March 1916.
Beginning in 1929, discussions were had as to the merging of Straight College and New Orleans University. In 1930, plans were solidified to create a new university, to bear the name of Dr. James Hardy Dillard. A goal of $2,000,000 was set for the erection of the new Flint-Goodridge Hospital to be attached to Dillard University. A half million dollars each came from the Rockefeller Fund, the Congregational Church, and the Methodist Episcopal Church. A quarter million was contributed from the Julius Rosenwald Fund. The remainder came from the people of New Orleans, some $200,000 from whites and $50,000 from the black community. On 1 February 1932, the imposing edifice erected to house the Flint-Goodridge Hospital was dedicated. The Board of Trustees of Dillard University needed a dynamic individual to serve as Superintendent of the hospital. They found their man in Albert Walter Dent, a twenty-seven year old Atlantan and Morehouse alumnus.
Dent had a daunting task before him. The vast majority of his medical staff had never had an opportunity to complete a residency for lack of colored hospitals. He enlisted the aid of white doctors associated with Tulane and Louisiana State universities to serve as consultants to the hospital’s departments. The white physicians and those colored physicians with the ability conducted regular post-graduate seminars which drew doctors from upwards of one hundred and fifty miles away. These efforts were praised as an example of black and white professionals’ ability to work together.
When Dent first arrived, twenty percent of the hospital’s beds were allotted for free care. He lowered expenses all around and was able to increase the percentage of free beds to half of the hospital’s total. He took advantage of a New Deal program, the National Youth Administration to offer training as orderlies and nursemaids to young people. Since their stipends came from the government agency, he could eliminate the cost of their salaries. Many colored women utilized the services of midwives due to their inexpensive cost despite the fact that many midwives did not have knowledge of the best practices in maternity care. Dent convinced the University’s Board to allow him to offer a flat maternity rate of ten dollars which covered care, the costs of medicine, and any necessary procedures.
The young superintendent realized that while the free beds were always occupied, only half of the paid beds were ever used. He knew that increasing the revenue from the paid beds, the free ones would be less of a drain on the hospital’s resources. He drew on his experience as an executive with the black-owned Atlanta Life Insurance Company, and began offering a six dollar-a-year hospitalization plan to the city’s colored teachers and postmen. While the program met with success, it was still not enough. Dent proposed an innovative plan – to offer medical coverage to the colored population for what would equate to a penny a day. The Board refused to take on such a risky plan without a safeguard in case of failure. Dent approached the administrators of the Rosenwald Fund, who contributed a fund of $4,500.00 in the event the venture failed. The penny-a-day plan worked tremendously and several thousand people were enrolled within a year’s time.
Flint-Goodridge Hospital, Louisiana Avenue at LaSalle Street
A large number of the city’s colored physicians spent some portion of their careers on staff at Flint-Goodridge. The complete list of those doctors would be a lengthy one although we offer the names of a few whose careers were especially linked with the hospital – Dr. William Elliot Weeks, Dr. Eugene Charles Thornhill, Dr. Clarence Clement Haydel, Dr. Ernest E. Cherrie, Dr. Alvin James Smith, Dr. Charles Houma Dixon Bowers, Dr. Rubie Justin Vining, and Dr. Rivers Frederick, who served as Chief Surgeon for twenty-two years.
Upon the opening of the new hospital in 1932 a Women’s Auxiliary was formed among the ladies of the city with Mrs. Dr. Leonidas T. Burbridge (nee Marie Harrison) serving as its first president. Other members and presidents included among others Mrs. Edgar P. Harney (nee Dixie Sanders), Mrs. Henry Sindos (nee Lydia Gumbel), and Mrs. Edgar Chase (nee Leah Lange). In 1946, the Auxiliary began its Crepe Myrtle Day in honor of Mrs. Burbridge, who served as president for twelve years. The annual affair drew its name from the crepe myrtles which beautified the hospital’s grounds.
In 1941, Albert Dent was called by the University’s Board of Trustees to serve as the third president of Dillard University. The thirty-six year old president had demonstrated his abilities over nearly a decade as superintendent at Flint-Goodridge. He would serve in his new position for the next twenty-eight years. The next two superintendents of the hospital, John L. Procope and Dr. S. Tanner Stafford, served brief and difficult tenures. Their efforts on behalf of the hospital were hampered by the impending World War.
Dr. Albert Walter Dent
In 1949, a new superintendent was appointed for the hospital, Clifton Caldwell Weill, a native of Alexandria, Louisiana, whose studies had concentrated specifically on medical administration. Albert Dent personally recruited Weill for the position. Weill was able to quickly eradicate the hospital’s $37,000 debt and implement a School of Anesthesia to prepare nurses in that field. In 1950, a much-needed blood bank was established. The importance of such a move is paramount when one considers that many Southern blood banks were segregated at the time. In 1953, a separate Board of Management was created for Flint-Goodridge Hospital, for the first time in over a half-century, removing it from the immediate supervision of an academic institution. Among the most active of the hospital’s Board members in this period was Mrs. Rosa F. Keller, a late noted local philanthropist. Albert Dent continued to sit on the hospital’s board while serving as President of Dillard University and maintained a keen interest in its future.
During Weil’s tenure, Mrs. Albert Walker Dent (nee Jessie Covington) had an ingenuous idea. She contacted John H. Johnson, the publisher and owner of Jet and Ebony magazines to ask him to sponsor a fashion show to benefit the hospital. After working with Mr. Johnson’s wife Eunice, the first Ebony Fashion Fair was held in 1958. Over the years, Mrs. Johnson expanded the Fashion Fair into a traveling affair which raised millions of dollars for worthy causes, one of them always being the Flint-Goodridge Hospital.
Within the same year as that first Fashion Fair, Superintendent Weil began a campaign to build a new addition to the hospital. Over $1.3 million dollars were raised to build a four story, ninety-six bed wing, which when completed in 1960, allowed for the expansion of the Physical Therapy Department. The Women’s Auxiliary can be credited with the creation of the Intensive Care Unit in 1963 and upon the development of pacemakers and defibrillators, the addition of Coronary Care in 1968. In the fall of 1968, a spacious and commodious building at Louisiana Avenue and Saratoga Street was dedicated as a Nurses’ Residence and public auditorium for the Hospital. This building, which was named Smith Hall, most recently served as the Greater St. Stephen Apartment Complex. In 1970, C. C. Weill completed his twenty-first and final year as Superintendent of Flint-Goodridge.
The desegregation measures of the 1960s meant that hospitals and other public institutions would no longer be able to deny admission to certain groups of people or exclude minority physicians from their staffs. Flint-Goodridge experienced a steady decline until its closure in 1983. For nearly two years before the closure, a group of forty-seven black doctors, two dentists, and one druggist had attempted to purchase the hospital. Investment banker Keith Butler, who aided the doctor’s group in their negotiations, noted that the sale was “part of a continuing pattern, a demolition of minority businesses that once thrived in the deep segregated South.” The hospital was sold to National Medical Enterprises for $1.8 million dollars. Archivist Florence Borders remarked poignantly that, “it comes at a time,” she went on, ”when we have called ourselves having made certain gains, therefore having more black doctors to practice and now with no black hospital to control. I find it sad that when the hospital was struggling in the Depression it was successful and now, after a period of affluence, it was not.”
Over its eighty-seven years, Flint-Goodridge Hospital nobly fulfilled its mission as a place where medical care could be assured to people of color, where men and women of color could freely pursue the healing arts, and where stereotypes as to the unworthiness and ineptitude of the colored race could be dispelled.
“The History of Flint-Goodridge Hospital of Dillard University.” Journal of the National Medical Association 61, no. 6 (November 1969): 533-536.
Claire Perry and George Session Perry, “Penny-A-Day Hospital,” Saturday Evening Post, September 2, 1939, 30, 67-68.
Patrick J. Maveety, “Dedication and Formal Opening of the New Flint-Goodridge Hospital at New Orleans,” The Christian Educator 27, no. 2 (May 1916): 1-2.
“Black-Owned Hospital Sold in New Orleans,” New York Times, March 7, 1983, accessed August 4, 2012, http://www.nytimes.com/1983/03/07/us/black-owned-hospital-sold-in-new-orleans.html.
“Fashion Fair Honors Mrs. Albert Dent,” Jet, November 18, 1978, 18.
“Funeral Rites Held for Hospital Administrator,” Jet, May 29, 1980, 18.