Title: Doctors Hospital Publicity Records, 1940-1979 (MS 0792)
Content: When was the last time you saw a pharmacy register ring up at 35 cents – or heard baby girls described as a “combination of Eve, Salome, and Florence Nightingale,” – or attended an evening function where cigarettes were literally on the menu? Publicity materials for Doctors Hospital, which opened in 1940 on the 1800 block of Eye Street, NW, offer these gems and more.
Processed by Historical Society intern Elise Fariello, the collection provides insight into mid-20th-century medical advances and their presentation (as seen through photographs and advertisements), as well as social attitudes. That oddball description of newborn girls? That’s from a template It’s a Girl! card found among the records. The questionable menu item? Printed on the verso of hospital holiday cards from 1940 to 1942. In addition to the publicity materials, selected administrative documents and news clippings provide varying perspectives on the bankruptcy process. There is no medical or otherwise private information in the records. (.5 cubic ft.; 1 oversize folder; 5 maps)
Background: In 1925, a group of doctors opened medical office building called the Washington Medical Building at the corner of 18th and I Street NW. As revealed in the hospital’s published history, these doctors were interested in creating a space that was “owned, occupied and operated” by medical professionals and designed to fit their and their patients’ needs. Soon it was clear that the Washington Medical Building did not give the physicians enough room to grow their practice. In 1929 they purchased the plot at the corner of 19th and I Street, the opposite end of the street from the Washington Medical Building, and constructed the Columbia Medical Building. The physicians had a vision of a block-long modern medical complex that eliminated “all possible traces of the depressing atmosphere found in so many hospitals” connecting their two facilities.
It took over ten years to see that vision through. The block in between was owned and occupied by a school run by Quaker Thomas Sidwell; following Sidwell’s death in 1936 the land was sold to the doctors. (For additional background on what started on this block in 1883 as Friends’ Select School, and eventually became the Sidwell Friends School located on Wisconsin Avenue and in Bethesda, see Sidwell Friends: A History).
The facility the property’s new owners constructed, Doctors Hospital, located on the entire 1800 block of I Street NW, opened in 1940. The doctors emphasized the importance of a well-integrated medical institution, where the offices and laboratories were physically located near the patients. The hospital widely advertised its advanced technology and high patient (and employee) care standards, particularly the quality of food (those menus!). However, the hospital was plagued with financial and spatial difficulties by the early 1970s, and one of the three building components was torn down to build the Metro. The hospital attempted to gain more space, but in 1977 the first building of the International Square Complex was built and the hospital was out of options for expansion.
The hospital announced its bankruptcy in September 1979 and closed just a few weeks later. By 1982, the International Square Complex comprised the entire block where Doctors Hospital once stood.