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Looking Back with Aurore Eaton: The Elliot Hospital's grand opening

June 02. 2014 11:30PM

The first general hospital in Manchester, New Hampshire, which has often been called, “New Hampshire’s first voluntary hospital,” is the Elliot Hospital. The creation of the Elliot, which grew to be one of the state’s premiere medical institutions, was made possible through the generous bequest of Mary Elliot (1823-1880). She was the widow of prominent Manchester doctor John Seaver Elliot (1802-1876).

The original hospital building, an impressive Gothic-Revival brick structure, was constructed on a prominent hill in East Manchester with views of the downtown, the Merrimack River, and the Uncanoonuc Mountains several miles to the west. The building, which could accommodate 25 patients, was situated on a 27-acre semi-rural estate that would provide ample room for future expansion.

The new Elliot Hospital was opened to much acclaim during a three-day event that took place from Thursday, April 17, to Saturday, April 19, 1890. April 17th marked the formal opening for physicians and clergymen.

According to the Daily Mirror & American newspaper, “The exercises at Elliot Hospital yesterday were solemnly enthusiastic.” There were prayers and benedictions, and several notable speakers took the podium. Among these was Ex-Governor Frederick Smyth, who had previously been a vocal critic of the hospital’s Board of Trustees. According to the newspaper, “The Governor spoke in one of his happiest veins, and as he stood in the center of the crowded hallway, the inspiration of his earnestness was transferred to the faces turned upon him, and surrounded with smiles and tears, he added his word of tender and earnest congratulations. Very gracefully did he allude to the work of the trustees, admitting that he had criticized them for not going ahead more rapidly, but protesting also that he had always praised them behind their backs.”

The important ladies of Manchester were invited to tour the building on April 18, and on April 19 the hospital was opened to the general public. The trustees conducted essential business during the open house. This included the appointment of Dr. O.D. Abbott as the attending physician. He would have the duty of signing all admission certificates. Several other doctors were named as consulting physicians.

The trustees also announced that the hospital would be run by Miss Mary E. Barr. Matron Barr would have general charge of hospital operations. She would keep track of the patients, and manage the nurses and other workers. She would be responsible for the property, for purchasing supplies, and for all finances. She would receive and acknowledge charitable donations and meet with visitors, and show them around the facility. She would make sure that the nurses spent at least one hour a day exercising outdoors, weather permitting.

According to the hospital’s first annual report, Miss Barr was also “…requested and expected to exclude from conversation at her table, and elsewhere in the hospital, all topics of a personal nature about the patients, their complaints, disease, or treatment.” During the open house, the trustees also announced the appointment of Daniel S. Harriman as janitor. He would live in the hospital with his wife, and she would have her own housekeeping duties.

During the three-day celebration there was a great deal of enthusiasm and good will in evidence. Many gifts were kindly donated to help furnish and supply the new institution. These included parlor furniture, paintings to decorate the walls, and fresh flowers.

The trustees and hospital supporters were quite satisfied — the handsome new building was completed; the physicians, nurses and management structure were in place; and the philanthropy from the community needed to sustain the organization into the future seemed assured.

But, there was a note of discord in the proceedings that could not be ignored. The question in many minds was “How would the trustees come to grips with that troublesome clause in Mary Elliot’s will?”

The clause stated that, “In disposing of applications for admission to the hospital it is my will that preference be given to residents of this city and to Protestants or non-Catholics.”

Manchester was a city of immigrants, and many of these were Roman or Orthodox Catholic, and a good number were Jewish. Would these local citizens be excluded from receiving care in what was then Manchester’s only general hospital?

Next Week: Dealing with that troublesome clause in Mary Elliot’s will.

Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her at

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