Collection Snapshot: Doctors Hospital

Prescriptions for 35 cents. Those were the days.

Prescriptions for 35 cents. Those were the days.

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)

Status: Processed

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.

For additional background on Doctors Hospital, check out John DeFerrari’s great post on Greater Greater Washington.

The art of bedmaking: One of the many lessons caught in the publicity stills for Doctors Hospital.

The art of bedmaking: One of the many lessons caught in the publicity stills for Doctors Hospital.

This image of Doctors Hospital shows editors marks.

This image of Doctors Hospital shows editors marks. The collection includes both working documents and finished products such as a full folio newspaper ad for Doctors Hospital which ran in the April 16, 1940 edition of the Evening Star.

4 Comments

  1. Brian Steinbach's Gravatar Brian Steinbach
    March 9, 2015    

    Nice article and informative summary of the history of my sister’s 1947 birthplace.
    However, there is one glaring error. The Quakers (Society of Friends) did not own the Sidwell property, certainly not by the 30’s – it was owned by the school itself. In fact, the Washington Meeting had nothing to do with its founding. As stated on Sidwell’s web site,
    “Thomas Watson Sidwell opened Friends’ Select School (as Sidwell Friends was then known) in 1883 as an initiative in co-ed, urban day-school education. Sidwell, then 24 years old, had been a teacher at Baltimore Friends School, headed at the time by Eli Lamb, a leading Quaker educator. Lamb opened the way for Sidwell to begin a school in Washington by sponsoring authorization of the venture within the Baltimore Yearly Meeting. While the Alexandria Monthly and Baltimore Yearly Meetings offered some nominal assistance, this was, from the beginning, a proprietary operation.”
    Neither Yearly Meeting had any significant involvement after the founding years. The property was sold a year after Mr. Sidwell’s death, in 1937, as the school consolidated operations on Wisconsin avenue. See http://www.sidwell.edu/about_sfs/history/index.aspx
    Just wanted to set the record straight.

    • March 10, 2015    

      Thanks for your comment! We’ve updated the posting. Consider the record less bent!

    • Karla C's Gravatar Karla C
      March 17, 2015    

      Thank you for your historical correctness, as I was born there in 1958, delivered by Doctor Pincock.

      • Karla Chimick's Gravatar Karla Chimick
        April 16, 2015    

        I was one of those girls, and they called me “Little Miss Rosebud.”

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