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St. Elizabeth Hospital, Dayton

May 23rd, 2017posted by Sarah L. Ater

Founded in 1878, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Dayton was the first hospital in the city. This was accomplished largely through the efforts of Rev. J.F. Hahne and the Sisters of the Poor of St. Francis. Prior to the founding of this hospital, Dayton greatly felt the need of a haven for the injured and sick of the city. Reports were made of soldiers returning from the War of 1812: “Under the wagons filled with wounded hung icicles of blood six inches long. No church services were held that morning, the worshipers preferring to unite in giving immediate relief to the sufferers…Dayton was turned into a hospital camp. Every home that had a spare bed was opened, and many were cared for by Doctor Steele in the camp hospital on the courthouse lot.” Two cholera epidemics racked the city in 1833 and 1848, the latter being far more vicious. “May stories were told of the dreadful suddenness of the illness, people quite well at breakfast time, desperately ill at noon, and dead before sunset. People were frantic with terror, as well as they might be with a death list of 216 out of a small village in one short summer.”

Sketch of first St. Elizabeth Hospital, taken from The Catholic Telegraph.

St. Elizabeth Hospital was dedicated on 15 August 1878 after four years of Rev. Hahne negotiating with the Sisters in Cincinnati to open a hospital in Dayton. At that time the population of Dayton was 40,000 persons and this would be the only hospital in the city until the establishment of Miami Valley Hospital in 1893. The dedication procession started at Emmanuel Catholic Church and proceeded across the street to the hospital on Franklin Street. This first hospital was in a two story brick house that held 12 beds. The dedication was a grand affair with numerous priests, government leaders, and local citizens. Praising the Sisters of the Sick Poor, Rev. Hahne said, “Wherever you find them, you will hear them praised. Day and night these Sisters are in attendance. Sacrificing everything, nursing with love and care…They nurse alike with general care all, no matter what nation, race, or color they [the patients] belong to.”

Rev. William Carey spoke about who the hospital would be there to serve. “The Good Samaritan asked not of the wounded traveler concerning his religion, or his country, but took him in and cared for him. This is what we have to do as Christians, for God has commanded us to take care of the poor.”

As could be imagined, a hospital with only 12 beds was soon much too small. A new St. Elizabeth Hospital was opened just four years later in 1882 on Hopeland Street and now had a capacity for 260 beds. The building underwent many more additions in 1884 and 1910. In expanding its size, the hospital added services for the sick. Some examples include an eye, ear, nose, and throat clinic founded in 1885, X-Ray technology in 1898, St. Ann Maternity hospital founded in 1916, a pediatric clinic founded in 1922, and dermatological and pre-natal clinics institution in 1927, among many other advances.

1882 building

For financial assistance, the hospital relied on the charity of local citizens and churches, as well as government contributions. For charity, the Sisters were active in securing donations. As early as 1883, they would go from house to house begging for alms to aid the hospital. By 1930 the hospital was receiving substantial assistance from the Community Chest, the City of Dayton, and the County Government.

The hospital established a nursing school in 1915 to train young women in the care of patients. They were trained in classrooms and in the operating room. For students living at the hospital, in 1929 the school built home-like dorms with modern amenities and could house fifty nurses. The school ultimately closed in 1974.

St. Elizabeth Cardiac Care Unit, circa 1974.

St. Elizabeth Hospital was renamed St. Elizabeth Medical Center in May 1969 to mirror the growing services offered to the community. Sr. Mary Edward, S.F.P., the executive director of the medial center at that time, said the change was motivated by the expansion of services. “Hospital” usual refers to bed car to the acutely ill, but since St. Elizabeth was offering so many services to the community and a diversified program of training and education, “medical center” was more appropriate.

The hospital underwent a large expansion and renovation program in 1953 and was completed in 1977.  This included the demolition of former hospital complex in 1970 and the dedication of a new wing on the southwest end of the building. The bell from the 1882 building was donated to the University of Dayton and the organ to the Pontifical College Josephinum.

Later called Franciscan Medical Center in 1996, the facility closed in 2000, citing financial reasons. Since 2006 it is now the Medical Center at Elizabeth Place.


Laboring on the Mission is a blog of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Archives. The title is taken from a letter written by Bishop Edward Fenwick, OP, describing his mission work in Ohio. Whether in the wilds of the 19th century or the baby boom of the 1950s, the Catholic Church continues the mission entrusted to her by Jesus Christ. Here we tell that story.