Seattle Now & Then: Virginia Mason

(click to enlarge photos)

THEN: An early view of Virginia Mason Hospital, which opened in the fall of 1920 at the northwest corner of Terry Avenue and Spring Street. In 1980 for its anniversary, the clinic-hospital could make the proud statement that it had “spanned sixty years and four city blocks.” Courtesy Lawton Gowey
THEN: An early view of Virginia Mason Hospital, which opened in the fall of 1920 at the northwest corner of Terry Avenue and Spring Street. In 1980 for its anniversary, the clinic-hospital could make the proud statement that it had “spanned sixty years and four city blocks.” Courtesy Lawton Gowey
NOW: From it 80-bed capacity in 1920, the year of its founding, the Virginia Mason Hospital, now in its 95th year, has grown into a 336-bed teaching hospital, part of the Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center.
NOW: From it 80-bed capacity in 1920, the year of its founding, the Virginia Mason Hospital, now in its 95th year, has grown into a 336-bed teaching hospital, part of the Virginia Mason Hospital and Seattle Medical Center.

The rightly famous Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, was the inspiration for an enterprising cadre of Seattle physicians who organized to build a hospital that worked cooperatively with a clinic of specialty-trained doctors, including themselves.  Architects Bebb and Gould, prospering partners who garnered many architectural commissions, designed the Italianate-styled six-story Virginia Mason Hospital at the northwest corner of Terry Avenue and Spring Street.  The reinforced concrete structure was constructed so that it could be easily added to if the new institution’s intentions should flourish, or converted into another fine First Hill hotel or apartment house should they flop. 

A promotion for the hospital's bond, published in The Seattle Times, August 16, 1920.
A promotion for the hospital’s bonds, published in The Seattle Times, August 16, 1920.

Obviously the doctors’ plans prevailed.  They managed with an issue of mortgage bonds for the $90,000 structure, and they contributed considerable self-help.  The staff, including the doctors, “were on their hands and knees scrubbing and sealing bare concrete floors, and painting walls” before the autumn 1920 opening. An advertisement in The Seattle Times for the bond sale assured potential stockholders that the seven Seattle physicians involved had a “combined net worth estimated conservatively at $375,000.” 

A intersection portrait of the founders in 1929.
A intersection portrait of the hospital’s physicians  in 1929. Founder James Tate Mason stands in the back row, second from the left.   Dr. John. M. Blackford stands to the left of Mason.
Virginia Mason Hospital, 1940.
Virginia Mason Hospital, 1940.

Chief among them, the founder, was the surgeon James Tate Mason, who in 1907 for a salary of one-hundred dollars hired on as ship’s doctor for his passage around the horn from Philadelphia to Seattle.  Mason also bought a return railroad ticket that he never used.  Arriving in Seattle with only fifty dollars in his pocket, the young physician was first employed as company doctor for the Pacific Coast Coal Company mines in Black Diamond and Franklin. That job was followed by stints as physician for the King County Jail, and, beginning in 1912, four years as county coroner.  Following his marriage in 1911 to Laura DeWolfe Wittlesey, the couple had two sons and one daughter.  The last was named Virginia, and by that issues the at once sentimental and extraordinary naming of the hospital. John M. Blackford, one of the hospital’s original partners, also had a young daughter named Virginia, and what’s more, Mason.  Virginia Blackford had been named after her aunt Virginia Mason.  The name for the hospital was agreed on by the wives of Mason and Blackford and simply announced to their husbands.      

A portrait of Dr. James Tate Mason painted by Neal Ordayne. The painting was given to the hospital by, its Seattle Times caption reads, "nurses of teh staff and graduates of the hospital's nursing school, was unveiled by Mrs. Virginia Mason Elliott, Dr. Mason's daughter, for whom the hospital was named. In the picture are Dr. George A. Dowling, Mrs. Elliott and Miss Anna J. Fraser, at right, superintendent of the hospital." ca. 1937
A portrait of Dr. James Tate Mason painted by Neal Ordayne. The painting was given to the hospital by, its Seattle Times caption reads, “nurses of the staff and graduates of the hospital’s nursing school, was unveiled by Mrs. Virginia Mason Elliott, Dr. Mason’s daughter, for whom the hospital was named. In the picture are Dr. George A. Dowling, Mrs. Elliott and Miss Anna J. Fraser, at right, superintendent of the hospital.” ca. 1937
The Seattle Times obituary
The Seattle Times March 31, 2002 obituary for the Virginia Mason Hospital’s namesake – one of them.

In 1922 the fledgling hospital expanded its maternity department, and throughout the 1920s The Times classifieds were replete with congratulatory birth announcements that included the name of the hospital.  Also in 1922 Virginia Mason added a school of nursing.  In 1925 interns were accepted in the first recognized training program for  doctors in the state.  Many other regional firsts followed, including the first electrocardiogram, the first use of insulin for diabetes treatment, the first use of intravenous anesthesia, and the first acceptance of fathers’ participation in births.  In 1934 Virginia Mason dissolved its private corporation in favor of operating on a nonprofit basis.

A Seattle Times clipping from Feb. 2, 1928.
A Seattle Times clipping from Feb. 2, 1928.

WEB EXTRAS

Anything to add, fellas?  As is our habit, Ron and I will attached a few more features.  First Ron pulls from related – by neighborhood or subject – features that have shown here on the blog earlier including last week’s coverage of the nearby Sorrento Hotel.  I will also look for others that have been in  hiding because of their age – older.

BOREN-&-University-Denny-&-Ainsworth-Homes-THEN-mr

THEN: Looking northwest to Seattle General Hospital at the northwest corner of Fifth Avenue and Marion Street, circa 1909. (Courtesy of Michael Maslan)

THEN: This detail from the prolific local photographer Asahel Curtis’s photograph of the Smith/Rininger home at the northwest corner of Columbia Street and Summit Avenue dates from the early twentieth century when motorcars, rolling or parked, were still very rare on the streets of Seattle, including these on First Hill. (Courtesy, Historic Seattle)

THEN: The Perry Apartments is nearly new in “postcard artist” M. L. Oakes look at them south on Boren to where it intersects with Madison Street. (Courtesy John Cooper)

childhaven-then-lr

THEN: Looking east on University Street towards Ninth Avenue, ca. 1925, with the Normandie Apartments on the left.

THEN:

THEN: First Hill’s distinguished Old Colony Apartments at 615 Boren Avenue, 1910.

sorrento-late-construction-WEB

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FIVE EARLY HOSPITALS & TWO FIRST HILL HOMES, ONE LARGE AND ONE SMALL.

Grace-Hospital-WEB

Appeared first in Pacific for May 10, 1987
Appeared first in Pacific for May 10, 1987

Grace---Summit-WEB

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PROVIDENCE-and-Central-THEN-ca.-1887-WEB

PROVIDENCE-MORFORD-clip-pg-1-WEB

Providence-sntv2-No.2-WEB

Providence-6-10-90-WEB2

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3. Wayside-Hospital-ship-S.S.-Idaho-Whittelsy-WEB

First appeared in Pacific - long ago.
First appeared in Pacific – long ago.

3. Idaho-sternwheeler-as-Wayside-Mission,-cracked-glass-neg.WEB

Click click CLICK to ENLARGE
Click click CLICK to ENLARGE

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4. Wayside Clarior color Yesler-Home-aka-Wayside-Hospital-at-Republican-&-2nd-ave-n.-corner-of-Repertoire-Theatre-now.by-Les-HamiltonWEB-

First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 30, 2001.
First appeared in Pacific, Sept. 30, 2001.

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Backus-Home-Boren-Univ-THEN-WEB

First appeared in Pacific August 10, 2003
First appeared in Pacific August 10, 2003

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Imogen Cunningham reflecting and shining on her First Hill porch - probably a self-portrait. (Courtesy, Frye Museum, U.W.)
Imogen Cunningham reflecting and shining on her First Hill porch – probably a self-portrait. (Courtesy, Frye Museum, U.W.)
Copied here from Seattle Now and Then, Vol. 1 - 1984.
Copied here from Seattle Now and Then, Vol. 1 – 1984.

Imogen-Cunningham;s-Porch-No.-2-WEB

7 thoughts on “Seattle Now & Then: Virginia Mason”

  1. There is a visual problem with your 8/16/2015 publication of the Virginia Mason Hospital. Clearly the street running from the corner off to the right in the old view runs downhill. However, in the more recent view the same street can be seen as running UP HILL. Did the city re-grade the street and thus fill in some of the lower buildings windows, or what? Please explain.

    1. Hi Ron,

      Look a bit more closely at the Now photo – maybe click on it to enlarge – and you will discover that there is no road running off to the right today. The Virginia Mason complex built its addition smack up against the wall of the old building – and, yes, they regraded to pour the foundations…

      Jean

  2. This was the first accurate written description of how the hospital got its name that I have read. I’ve heard the true story from my mother, Virginia Mason Blackford Morris, many times in the past. The only part that was left out was that the good doctors Blackford and Mason were polishing the floors in the new hospital when their wives came up with the name. Jay Morris

  3. I have a framed version of the “A intersection portrait of the hospital’s physicians in 1929.” photo. My grandfather, Dr. H. Noble Dick, is third from the left in the front.

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