April 17, 1890 was the first day of a three-day open house that showcased the beautiful new Elliot Hospital building that would serve as Manchester’s first public hospital. The opening festivities were marred by the need for the hospital’s trustees to deal with a touchy issue.
Mary Elliot’s 1878 will had generously provided the funding to create the hospital, but it also included a controversial clause, “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.”
No one seemed to care about the directive to provide care to Manchester residents first. However, the instruction that the hospital show preference to admitting Protestants (and against admitting Catholics, many of whom were immigrants) made people uneasy.
Prejudice against Roman Catholics and ethnic immigrants certainly existed in Manchester in the 19th century. But it was also true that many people were more accepting. An example of this was the Women’s Aid and Relief Society, which was founded in 1875 by women from 11 local Protestant churches. The organization’s Women’s Aid Home provided medical care and other assistance to the poor of Manchester without regard to religion or race.
In 1882, a few months after the future hospital was incorporated, an editorial in a local newspaper criticized inflammatory statements made by an Elliot Hospital trustee, Judge Charles R. Morrison. Judge Morrison’s statements were not repeated in the editorial, but he apparently supported the exclusionary mindset expressed in the will. The editorial countered, “The walls which have so long divided and have often separated the various Christian churches are rapidly melting away under the enlightenment and more Christian Christianity of the day…Christ never asked the sick and needy what their particular creed was, but poured out his bounteous compassion upon all who sought relief at His hands; and any church or organization or individual that would strive to enkindle a bitter sectarian spirit in the management of so beneficent an institution as a public hospital, gives little evidence of being controlled by the spirit of the Master.”
The first speaker at the hospital’s open house was another original trustee, Benjamin C. Dean. He was the Superintendent of the Manchester Print Works, a native of England, and a member of Grace Episcopal Church. According to the Daily Mirror & American newspaper, he declared “…the hospital open for the reception of patients of whatever creed, nationality or color.” But, inconsistently, he went on to say, “When it was filled, and there was room for one, and when two came to the place, one a Catholic and the other a Protestant, the preference would be given to the Protestant; and when the choice was between a resident or non-resident, the preference would be given to the resident…” But, he also indicated that he “…hoped that the very first person admitted would be a Roman Catholic, that the broad and liberal basis of the institution could be at once proven.” The first person admitted was not Catholic, but she was a nonresident of Manchester. She had traveled a great distance from her home in Whitefield in northern New Hampshire for an eye operation.
The hospital’s first annual report, published in 1892, emphasized the care it had provided to its first 87 patients “irrespective of religion or nationality.” Mary Elliot’s instructions regarding hospital admissions were not made part of the Elliot Hospital’s incorporation papers, bylaws, or internal policies. It would have been impossible for the hospital to discriminate and still maintain goodwill in the community, as Manchester’s population was rapidly becoming more diverse. In 1878 the city had 16 Protestant churches (all predominantly Anglo-Saxon) and three Roman Catholic churches (two Irish-American and one Franco-American). In 1890 there were 22 Protestant churches (including four ethnic congregations — two German, one Swedish, and one Franco-American), five Roman Catholic churches (two Irish-American, two Franco-American, and one mixed congregation serving, among others, German-Americans), plus an unconventional Spiritualist group.
Soon there would be two Roman Catholic hospitals in Manchester. In 1892, Sacred Heart Hospital opened in downtown Manchester, and in 1894 Notre Dame de Lourdes Hospital opened on the West Side. Both would admit any person who needed medical care.
Next Week: The Elliot Hospital grows and adapts
Aurore Eaton is executive director of Manchester Historic Association; email her aty firstname.lastname@example.org