(click to enlarge photos)
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
FIVE EARLY HOSPITALS & TWO FIRST HILL HOMES, ONE LARGE AND ONE SMALL.