West Chester Dispensary

West Market Street in West Chester, location of the West Chester Dispensary which operated in two rooms above a hardware store from 1880-1882.

West Chester, Pennsylvania

In the last decade of the 19th century, the seat of Chester County was a thriving community of 8,028 people. West Chester was incorporated as a Borough in 1799, and nearly 100 years later claimed numerous private and public educational institutions, including West Chester State Normal College. There were churches of various denominations and a great mix of commercial activity involving banks, retail stores, lumber yards, nurseries and more. Rail service connected West Chester with Philadelphia. The Daily Local News had been in circulation since 1872, and the First West Chester Fire Company celebrated its centennial in 1899 along with the Borough.

Physicians had lived and practiced in Chester County since before the American Revolution. The Chester County Medical Society had been established in 1828 and flourished along with the community.

But there was no hospital.

In December of 1880, a group of physicians opened the West Chester Dispensary, primarily to provide medical care to the poor and indigent of the area. They rented rooms above A. M. Kinnard & Brother, a hardware and gunsmith store on West Market Street in West Chester. Staffed with two physicians, the Dispensary was open as long as there were patients to be seen. The physicians also visited the homes of patients who were unable to travel.

By March 1881, the Dispensary was treating 35 patients a week. However, expenses invariably exceeded income; unable to raise sufficient funds to cover operating costs, the physicians were forced to close the Dispensary in 1882.

But the seed had been planted. The community had seen, and come to appreciate, what a medical facility could mean to its people. Before long there was renewed activity to spur the establishment of a hospital.

Chester County Medical Society Report


On May 19, 1892, local citizens joined with physicians at a public meeting to discuss the possibility of a hospital for West Chester. As a result, select members of the Chester County Medical Society were asked to produce a circular outlining the need for a hospital, and committees were formed to solicit contributions and to prepare a charter and rules of organization. By the end of the summer the Board of Managers was selected and eight physicians were appointed to provide medical care at the planned hospital on a rotating basis.

A charter was granted to the founders of the West Chester Hospital on September 12, 1892; the name was changed to The Chester County Hospital one year later. Land on the north side of Marshall Square was purchased and bids were accepted for construction of the new facility. The cost exceeded available funds despite vigorous fund-raising, but the Board of Managers was unwilling to abandon or delay the project and proceeded with construction of a rear portion of the main building to house patients until the total facility could be completed. Ground was broken on October 31, 1892.

Softball team

Early Doctors, 1902
Hospital Physicians formed a softball in 1902 (with a bull terrier mascot) to play benefit games against teams of local bankers, lawyers and others. They generated funds to purchase a sterilizer for the Hospital and a piano for the Nurses' Home.

Left to right, standing: Drs. Oscar Dicks, Joseph Scattergood, Charles Palmer, Jackson Taylor, LeRoy Barber and Henry Walter. Seated, left to right: Drs. John Farrell and Addison Rothrock, Mr. Jones (druggist) and Dr. Joseph Hemphill.

Community support was widespread. Fund-raising activities such as concerts, dances, Shakespeare readings, cake sales and children's fairs were organized by local citizens. The Cold Storage Ice Company offered to supply free ice to the Hospital and the Electric Light Company and the telephone company provided utilities free of charge.

Dr. Thomas D. Dunn

Dr. Thomas D. Dunn 1854,55-1898
studied medicine with Dr. Jacob Price, then earned a medical degree from the University of Pennsylvania in 1881. A leader among physicians calling for a hospital to be established in West Chester, Dunn was elected first president of the medical staff upon its organization in 1892. After his death in 1898, the Hospital's Annual Report said: "It was through his efforts that this hospital was first founded; its prosperity was the dearest wish of his heart; upon it he lavished time, strength and energy . . ."

Dr. Jacob Price

Dr. Jacob Price 1826-1905
was practicing medicine in West Chester by 1850 and was one of the area's most respected physicians of his time. He succeeded Dr. Dunn as president of the medical staff in 1898, a position he held until 1904.

Robert T. Cornwell

Robert T. Cornwell 1835-1927
was the first president of the Board of Managers from 1892-1920. A Civil War veteran and lawyer, Cornwell was active in West Chester's legal, financial and educational affairs. His devotion to the Hospital was carried on in the service of his grandson, Gibbons Gray Cornwell (1902-1986) who was president of the Board of Directors,1957-1972. His great-grandson, Daniel Cornwell was also appointed to the Board.

Traditions Eight physicians were selected to staff the Hospital in its first year.

Harry W. Aitken
Mary H. Cheyney
Thomas Dunn
Perry C. Hoskins
Isaac Massey
Ellwood Patrick
William T. Sharpless
Charles E. Woodward
The first Head Nurse was Mary Marshall, a graduate of the Training School for Nurses at the University of Pennsylvania. She was assisted by Misses Lily Horth and Marian Pusey.
Marguerite G. Townsend

Marguerite G. Townsend
was one of many women who took an active role in founding the Hospital. She was elected secretary of the first Board of Managers, serving in this capacity until 1921. She was also active on the Committee for the Training School for Nurses and in assisting the Women's Auxiliary.

Dr. Percy C. Hoskins

Dr. Percy C. Hoskins, 1852-1919
began his medical education reading with his father, Dr. John R. Hoskins, and later graduated from Jefferson Medical College in 1875. Active in the Hospital's founding, Hoskins was a member of the first staff of physicians. His son, Dr. John R. Hoskins was a resident at the Hospital in 1906 and an area physician until his death in 1911, and his grandson, Robert S. Gawthrop, Jr., has served on the Hospital Board of Directors.

Lily Horth

Lily Horth
was a nursing assisant when the Hospital opened in 1893 and a member of the first graduating class of the Training School for Nurses in 1895.

Dr. Charles E. Woodward

Dr. Charles E. Woodward 1846-1923
was a physician at the West Chester Dispensary and a leader in the founding of the Hospital. One of the first staff doctors of the Hospital, Woodward specialized in surgery. His son, Dr. W. Wellington Woodward was also a physician at the Hospital until his death in 1924.

Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock

Dr. Joseph T. Rothrock 1839-1922
was a physician who served on the first Board of Managers. He was also known as the "Father of Pennsylvania Forestry" for his accomplishments in the field of botany, an interest of many 19th century physicians. His sons, Dr. Henry A. Rothrock (1872-1957) and Dr. Addison M. Rothrock (1870-1940), as well as his grandson, Dr. Henry A. Rothrock Jr. (1903-1982) were physicians at the Hospital.

William Scattergood

William Scattergood 1843-1914
was a local businessman who served on the first Board of Managers. His son, Dr. Joseph Scattergood (1870-1949), and grandson, Dr. Joseph Scattergood Jr. (1905-1948) were both physicians at the Hospital.

Dr. Thomas E. Parke

Dr. Thomas E. Parke 1854-1913
was a physician who was active in the founding and management of the Hospital. A member of the first Board of Managers, he served many years on the Committee for the Training School. Parke's son, Dr. Thomas Parke (1901-1965) was a physician at the Hospital.

Dr. William T. Sharpless

Dr. William T. Sharpless 1856-1947
was a member of the Hospital's first staff. He practiced until 1923 when he made Physician Emeritus and joined the Hospital Board of Managers.

Main building, rear portion

In March 1893, only this rear portion of the main building was completed.

The Hospital opened the rear portion structure for patients in March, 1893. The first floor served as a kitchen and housed equipment for surgery as well. The second floor was divided into three rooms — two wards and a room for the Matron (Head Nurse). Five iron-frame cots were in the wards ready for use.

Dr. Mary Cheyney

Surgery performed soon after the Hospital's opening. Staff included Dr. Mary H. Cheyney (in black dress) and Dr. Ellwood Patrick (far right).

Fame Fire Company No. 3

Members of Fame Fire Company No. 3 in West Chester provided ambulance service to the Hospital beginning in 1894. The ambulance was a horse-drawn wagon.


The first patient was admitted on March 1, 1893. He was described in the Daily Local News as:

Fred, son of Nelson Stanley, who resides in the dwelling portion of the house of the West Chester Fire Company. He has been confined to his bed for a year past with sciatic rheumatism and has suffered terribly with the disease. During his illness the lad was frequently disturbed and caused additional suffering by the ringing of the fire bells and the tramp of the members of the company upon the stairways. The removal will afford the little sufferer much more comfort.

Benjamin Bush

Benjamin Bush, the first surgical patient.

March 4 brought the first surgical patient. Benjamin Bush was discovered lying near the railroad tracks with both legs badly mangled. He was carried to the baggage room of the Market Street station where Drs. Isaac Massey and Thomas Dunn were summoned to bandage his limbs. Bush was loaded onto a grocery wagon and carted to the Hospital where his legs were amputated.

Dr. Joseph Scattergood, Sr., a second year medical student at the time, later described the scene:

Everybody was jammed together around the operating table … when we ran short of ligatures Dr. McClurg pulled some black silk thread from his pocket which was used to tie off arteries. Naturally, infection followed. Only the instruments had been boiled and they were few at that. None of the emergency ligatures was sterilized, but the patient survived.

Bush's plight generated great compassion and the community contributed to the purchase of artificial legs for him. His case also strengthened community support for the new Hospital.

Women's Auxiliary

Donation Day

Answering the call of the Board of Managers, local women met in Liberty Hall on August 5, 1893, to organize a Women's Auxiliary. Marguerite Townsend of the Board and Dr. Thomas Dunn told the group of the great needs of the Hospital and 50 women enthusiastically pledged their support. A tour of the Hospital followed but because of its limited capacity, "all the women could not get inside at once, but the majority waited outside, while a few at a time went through the building, and about two hours were occupied in making the complete round." (Daily Local News, August 7, 1893).

Even before the August meeting in West Chester, a group of women had met in July in Kennett Square to form what would become the first branch of the Women's Auxiliary. By the end of the first year, there were eight branches with 398 members and 17 honorary members.

Members were fervent in their desire to further the cause of the Hospital in the community. Funds were raised through lectures, suppers, fairs, dramatic performances, spelling bees, teas, and other events. A Visiting Committee of the Auxiliary toured the Hospital each month and reported on various needs. Members would respond, in some instances holding sewing meetings to provide needed patient garments and other linens.

During its first year, the Auxiliary organized Donation Day, which became an annual event. It helped to replenish the Hospital supply cupboard with various items contributed by Auxilians, school children and local residents — linens, hospital garments, dishes, furniture, books, toiletries, food staples and fresh produce, as well as money.

The Auxiliary also concerned itself with the Training School and created a load fund for students. Various recreational events were organized for the staff nurses, and in 1919 the Auxiliary purchased a house on Marshall Square which was maintained for a number of years "for the comfort and accommodations of our nurses."

First Annual Commencement

School of Nursing

In January 1894, the Board of Managers established a training school for nurses affiliated with the Hospital. As noted in the 1893-94 Annual Report, it would "secure a better class of nurses, and provide better care for patients … be more economical for the hospital to train its own nurses than to pay skilled assistants, in emergencies, from city institutions, (and it would) prove a convenience and benefit to the county."

Julie King, Head Hurse

Julie King, Superintendent and Head Nurse, with nursing student (circa 1896).

The school opened on April 1, 1894, a two-year course of study with five students enrolled. Because Lily Horth and Nellie Schwaderer had a year's prior experience in the Hospital, they were able to graduate the following year in July 1895, at the Training School's first commencement.

In 1899, the course was expanded to three years with entrance examinations twice a year. The course included lessons in practical nursing taught by the Nursing Superintendent of the Hospital; demonstrations in massage and dietetics; and medical lectures by the hospital physicians on such topics as preparation for surgery, treatment of minor ailments, diseases of the circulatory system, and ailments of early infancy. Generally, the students attended the medical lectures in the evening after 12 hours of duty in the wards.

Ida Marguerite Harrar

Nurse Ida Marguerite Harrar (Class of 1912) and nursery patient, 1910.

Student nurses

Student nurses, circa 1920.

Elizabeth Lugg and Ruth Moore, Class of 1918.

Elizabeth Lugg and Ruth Moore

More than 20 nurses, along with a number of physicians, left the staff to serve in the armed forces in World War I. It was a period of great strain for the Hospital. In addition to the shortage of personnel, successive epidemics of typhoid, influenza and scarlet fever struck the community. Three nurses died from diseases contracted while treating patients. Many graduate nurses returned to work at the Hospital during this difficult time, a testimony to the devotion of the Training School alumnae.

Emily Holmes, Superintendent of the Hospital since 1913, resigned her position in 1920. Esther Shafer was appointed to succeed her. At this time the position of Directress of Nurses was created to relieve the Superintendent of some of her duties at the Training School. Elizabeth Hodgkins served as the first Directress of Nurses. The following year, 1921, twelve nurses comprised the graduating class of the Training School.

Training school nurses

Training School nursing students attended to patients in the Hospital ward. Left to right: Emma Ridings (Class of 1897), Laura McFarland and Anna Matlack (both Class of 1896).

Nurses' Home

The original Nurses' Home was built in 1898 to provide living quarters for both students and graduate nurses working in the adjacent Hospital.

We are grateful to the Hagley Museum and Library and the many individuals who loaned or donated photographs to the Hospital Archives.

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The Chester County Hospital