Wisdom of Our Past Informs Our Future

In 1920, the Hospital of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Southern Ohio was at a crossroads. Established in 1883 by a group of church ladies to care for Cincinnati’s children, the hospital was at capacity and in need of expansion. There was talk of building a pavilion, but the annual report that year said the project had been relegated to “the far distant future.”

Hospital leadership required that all important projects be approved by two committees—the Board of Trustees, led by William Cooper Procter (see photo right), and the Board of Lady Managers. But the two groups had different philosophies about what constituted the care of children.

The Lady Managers defined care as tending to the patients’ comfort. They were proud that the hospital had no affiliation with medical schools or colleges, believing that they were sparing parents from “the distressing dread that their dear ones ever are used for the purposes of clinical demonstration.”

A Children’s Hospital nursing class, circa 1916.

The Board of Trustees held a different view. Medicine was becoming more scientific. The Flexner Report on medical education, released in 1910, stated that physicians must go to college for two years before medical school to get training in the sciences; medical students needed experience in a hospital, and the hospital should be controlled by medical school faculty.

Feelings were strong on both sides, but the Board of Lady Managers eventually realized they could not prevail. After nearly 38 years of service, they relinquished their role in October 1921.

As a result, the superintendent and the nurses began reporting to the medical board. Meanwhile, a newly formed executive committee changed the institution’s name to “Children’s Hospital.”

Embracing Future Challenges

Cincinnati Children’s is already looking ahead to 2033 when we will celebrate our 150th anniversary. We’ve begun asking important questions about who we are and where we want to be as an institution. And we’ve realized that to become an even stronger organization, we need to focus not just on performance but also on our people and how we work together.

Understanding the history of Cincinnati Children’s will be more important than ever. “Knowing where we’ve been and the obstacles we’ve overcome provides the context that helps us feel like we’re part of a greater purpose,” said Mike Farrell, MD, former Chief of Staff and chair of the Medical Executive Staff History Committee.

“It will be imperative that we remain focused on our vision and mission. We say we want to be the leader, not a leader, in improving child health. When we crafted that statement, one word was deliberately left off —‘care.’ We recognized that child health involves more than just medical intervention and that the kid who goes to bed hungry every night is not well-positioned to learn, which affects everything.”

As we Pursue Our Potential Together, the emphasis will be on how to promote a caring and collaborative culture, one of curiosity and connections. It will be important to focus more on the bigger picture and how our individual goals align so we can meet the continually growing need for our services.

Our obligation to humanity is to send children into adulthood in the best possible condition—while also taking care of our people,” he said. “It’s going to take the wisdom of the past and the ability to project into the future to figure it out."

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