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Thomas Jefferson University Hospital Turns 125 Years Old!

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JMC Hospital of 1877, designed by Frank Furness.

The first hospital of Jefferson Medical College opened its doors on September 17, 1877. It lays claim to being the second of its kind in the U.S. (Only four years before, rival University of Pennsylvania became the first in the nation to have a detached teaching hospital for its medical school.) It was a significant event for Jefferson and the Philadelphia community and was acknowledged as the area's most advanced place of healing.

Jefferson Medical College (later to become Thomas Jefferson University) was founded in 1824 and first operated out of the former Tivoli Theater just east of Washington Square. By 1825 JMC had established an outpatient dispensary or "infirmary" on its premises, which provided surgical and medical treatment.

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Outpatient orthopedic department.

There were at best a dozen hospitals in the entire nation at that time, as most patients were treated in their homes without benefit of post-operative observation. A teaching clinic staffed by medical faculty and students was a revolutionary idea and Jefferson was one of the first medical schools in the nation to encourage students to meet and treat patients as part of their education.

The 1877 Hospital was located on Sansom Street between 10th and 11th Streets. It was built at a cost of $186,000, much of which was raised by the college alumni, and boasted ample room for 125 beds and a clinical amphitheater that seated over 600 spectators.

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JMC Hospital ampitheater, ca. 1902.

The façade was designed in the highly idiosyncratic brick "Gothic" style of Frank Furness, Philadelphia’s great architect. A few years after completing his triumphant design for the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the five-story hospital was his "swan song" before he dissolved the partnership of Furness & Hewitt to establish his own firm.

In the first half-year of operation over 600 patients were treated at Jefferson Hospital. In 1879 a "Marine Ward" was established after JMC Hospital was selected to provide contract services for the Merchant Marine, so at any given time a large number of transient sailors were given berth there. At the opening of the new hospital building in 1907 (now known as "Old Main" still standing at 10th Street), it was noted that the 1877 structure had provided care for over 2,000,000 patients in its 30 years of active service. Between 1907 and 1922 (when it was razed and replaced by the Thompson Annex building) the first Jefferson Hospital functioned as the "Nurses’ Home", dormitory for Jefferson's School for Nursing.

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Nurses’ office. Maternity Department nursery.

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This article was initially published in the October 2002 issue of the JEFFLINE Forum 'zine.

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