Woman's Hospital Association
On May 12, 1888, at the urging of Edward H. Hill, M.D., a group of women gathered to discuss the need for a hospital in the Twin Cities. Though historical accounts differ on the original number, it appears that about 15 women attended the meeting. Among the first members of the group were Mrs. Jonathan L.H. Cobb, Mrs. Nelson Howard, Mrs. Wallace H. White, Mrs. Charles O. Morrell, Mrs. George Haskell and Mrs. A.L. Talbot. Dr. Hill spoke earnestly to the women at the meeting about the ways they could assist in the founding of a hospital.
The women continued to meet in one another's homes, where they sewed sheets and linen for the hospital they hoped to help create. By the fall of that year, with the assistance of Judge William H. Newell, they incorporated their organization. Mrs. Cobb was elected president, Mrs. Haskell, secretary, and Mrs. White, treasurer. A membership fee was set at 25 cents, and with a start-up fund of $4.25 the group set out "to aid in the establishment, supervision and management of a city hospital." The group soon began meeting at the Board of Trade rooms on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.
Historical records are unclear as to the original formal name of this new organization. The Central Maine General Hospital Annual Report refers to it variously as the Ladies' Hospital Aid Association, Women's Hospital Association and Woman's Hospital Aid Association. The 1900 Annual Report settled on Woman's Hospital Association.
A hospital opens its doors
When the hospital buildings were purchased in 1891, the WHA agreed to provide sheets, linen and furnishings. The women visited the homes of well-to-do people and the offices of local mill agents seeking assistance. Early WHA reports list donations from the Androscoggin, Avon, Bates, Columbia and Continental mills and free service from the Bleachery. When the hospital opened on July 1, membership in the WHA had grown to 71 women. That year, the WHA presented $781 to the board of directors, a considerable sum, given that the hospital spent only $1,118 for food and $1,200 for medical supplies during its first year.
Although it continued to provide the hospital with sewn goods, the WHA intensified its fund-raising efforts by organizing social events, including whist parties, bazaars, a Trolley Day, Tag Day and a Charity Ball. The first Charity Ball and Concert was held in 1893 at Lewiston City Hall.
It featured music by Professor George T. Wilson's orchestra and included dances such as the lancer, waltz, schottische, quadrille, two-step, Portland Fancy and the minuet. The ball became a major social event, and would eventually become an important fund-raiser as well.
The Charity Ball provided many memorable evenings, such as the Colonial Ball theme night when George Washington led a grand march, followed by women in full colonial costume dancing the minuet. Another year, at the "Living Whist," dances and costumes were based on the popular card game. Mrs. Charles Osgood dressed as the Queen of Diamonds, wearing a costume that "sparkled and gleamed with diamonds of all sizes." According to a news account of the ball, the diamonds sewn into the costume were so valuable that three detectives were hired to guard them.
Building begins anew
In 1899, responding to needs for the new East Wing, the WHA noted a "banner year," having earned $2,000. In 1904, the WHA proudly turned over
the last $400 needed to earn a $5,000 perpetual free bed. When the hospital celebrated its fifteenth birthday in 1906, the WHA sponsored an anniversary party at the Kora Temple. Dr. Wallace K. Oakes spoke to the gathering, noting that hospital admissions had increased from 135 to 1,000 and that "something must be done" if the hospital was to continue to develop. WHA membership had reached 200 by that time, and the women again accepted the challenge of "helping to operate" the hospital.
When the new Center Building opened on June 21, 1915, WHA President Mrs. George Fenderson presented CMGH President William Pennell with $5,000, saying that the group "already had a nucleus around which to build another generous contribution." President Pennell thanked Mrs. Fenderson, telling her the hospital could never have succeeded without the WHA's help.
A 10-day WHA membership campaign in 1921 raised $1,685 and 968 new members. That year the WHA established a "luxury fund" to provide "little comforts" which should "rightly be at the disposal of any invalid, but which some cannot provide." In 1925, the Lewiston Armory opened to great acclaim, and the WHA moved the Charity Ball to the new structure.
By June 1931, the WHA claimed more than 800 members and presented $5,000 to the hospital to help furnish the new children's ward in the West Wing. Such a gift during the Depression must have seemed phenomenal. The 1930s brought a subtle change of purpose for the WHA: the women had clearly decided their contributions were important, and they became more direct and specific in the ways they hoped to influence hospital policy. By 1935 the woman's group had established four separate funds. Their fund-raising efforts netted some $16,000 that year. Two years later, the WHA gave $5,000 to start a cancer clinic, and donated another $300 to the Red Cross following the flood, which ravaged the Twin Cities.
In 1938, WHA President Martha Louise Barrell noted proudly that social worker Beatrice Macaulay had been hired with a $2,000 donation from the WHA. She went on to suggest that the hospital should establish an Occupational Therapy Department, as the "benefit would be threefold: -- to the patient, to the doctor and to the hospital." Although the WHA continued to encourage its members to meet monthly between October and June to sew for the hospital, the group's activities were changing: its meetings increasingly featured speakers; the group's constitution was revised and financial investments were considered; committees were formed to assist with hospital functions.
The war years and beyond
World War II had a major impact on the Woman's Hospital Association. A shortage of nurses increased the demand for volunteers, and the WHA responded by forming a defense committee and furnishing casualty centers. In 1942, the WHA purchased 300 cots and donated $750 for supplies for the centers. Members sewed slings and sheets and went door-to-door seeking blood donors. The WHA voted in 1943 to forego the Charity Ball and sponsor instead a dinner-dance. The ball would resume in 1945.
Throughout the 1950s, the association grew in size and purpose. In 1951, under the direction of Lucy Webber, the WHA joined the Maine Association of Hospital Auxiliaries, the first statewide organization of its type. In February 1953, the WHA opened a coffee shop at the hospital.
According to Mrs. Webber's annual report, a committee headed by Mrs. Henry Thacher spent weeks investigating the possibility of opening a hospital coffee shop. Mrs. Webber and Mrs. Thacher traveled to several hospitals, including Eastern Maine General Hospital in Bangor, before going ahead with the project. Convinced that a coffee shop at CMMC could turn a profit, the WHA spent some $4,500 to purchase and install equipment. Two hostesses were hired to oversee the tiny business. Although receipts totaled only about half of its expenditures during its first year, by 1955 the coffee shop reported an income of nearly $2,000. Within five years, the enterprise would employ six paid workers and count on the help of more than 100 volunteers. It would show a profit of nearly $3,000 annually. The coffee shop would remain the group's biggest money-maker until its closing in the 1970s.
Meanwhile, the WHA continued to furnish the nurses' homes, provide toys and books for the children's ward (as well as funds for needy children), operate the book cart for patients, and decorate the hospital each Christmas. WHA representatives attended the annual meetings of the New England Hospital Assembly and gatherings of the Maine Association of Hospital Auxiliaries.
By 1960, some of the six financial funds that had been maintained for years by the WHA had been abolished to make more money available for general purposes. Bylaws that had not changed since 1937 had been revised, and dues had been increased from $1 to $2 a year. Cure, a newsletter, continued to be a success, offering four full pages of hospital news several times each year. The WHA was more than 300 members strong.
In 1961, the importance of the WHA was further recognized by hospital trustees when a liaison committee comprised of trustees and WHA members was formed to keep communications open.
Peppy the Puppet was born in January 1962 when WHA members set out to make 1,000 colorful clown puppets to be distributed to sick children at CMGH. Once again, the WHA had taken on a huge sewing project for the hospital. Peppy was an ongoing project of the association for years, and one member turned out 2,000 of the puppets single-handedly.
The commitment grows
In 1963, the WHA sponsored the Red Stocking Revue, two nights of entertainment that netted some $6,000 in donations. The WHA's continued fund-raising success prompted it to pledge $50,000 towards the construction of the Memorial Wing.
A milestone for the WHA came in 1971 when the group's president was invited to join trustees at their board meetings. The following year, another honor was heaped on the WHA when it received an award from the New England Hospital Association for its corridor art exhibit project. The art project was also featured in a national hospital journal.
As the East Wing was demolished to make way for the Dana S. Thompson Wing, the WHA worked to raise $100,000 for the project. As part of its effort, an antique auction was held and three of the six handmade copper urns that had graced the roof of the old wing were sold. With the opening of the Thompson Wing, a cafeteria was established and the coffee shop was vacated so a gift shop could be created.
Another source of WHA revenue was created when trustees agreed to purchase the old Lutheran Church on Main Street so the WHA could establish a second-hand shop called The Cupboard. By 1979, The Cupboard would be the WHA's second largest fund-raiser, second only to the Gift.
In 1983 the WHA again threw its considerable support behind a building project when it pledged another $100,000 towards the construction of the Cynthia A. Rydholm Cancer Treatment Center. In 1988, the WHA celebrated its centennial. In 100 years, the organization had grown from 15 or so members to some 600. It had evolved from a sewing circle into a highly effective fund-raising operation that even maintained a Legislative Committee. WHA membership had been opened to men. Still, the group's purpose remained unchanged: to help Central Maine Medical Center meet the healthcare needs of the people of the region.
The organization's major fund-raising source is the WHA Gift Shop, which is on the hospital's ground floor. The gift shop is filled with great cards, flowers and items intended to bring cheer and comfort to hospitalized patients.
The WHA also raises money for CMMC with events inducing The Red Stocking Revue, the Tree of Love, the Holiday Bake Sale, the Spring Bazaar and the annual Art Show.
WHA services include the Rotating Art Gallery, which features works by area artists. An especially popular service is The Baby Photo Program, which provides a free newborn photo service for families.
New WHA members are always welcome. FMI, contact the WHA office at 207-795-2464, 9 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.