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Key West: Hospitals

Key West: The Old and the New



The urgent need for a hospital where sick seamen could be cared for was early manifest in Key West.

The allowances for ports south of the Potomac at that time, were, "for suitable boarding, lodging and nursing three dollars per week; for necessary medicines, the usual apothecary rates; for medical services twenty-five cents for each day, when the aggregate time for which they are rendered shall average less than twenty-five days to each patient. When the average time to each patient amounts to more than twenty-five days, and the number of patients does not exceed ten, six dollars and twenty-five cents for each patient, and when there is a greater number than ten, three dollars and twelve and a half cents for each patient; and for funeral charge six dollars."

This was so inadequate that it was presented by the grand inquest of the county as a grievance demanding redress. In 1835 Mr. William A. Whitehead thus called attention to the urgent need for a marine hospital at this port:

"An object long had in view by the citizens of Key West is the establishment here of a marine hospital, or accommodation for the sick of a more general character than exist at present.

"The want of public institutions, where the destitute and diseased seaman may obtain the relief of which he stands in need, must always be an evil deeply felt in every mercantile community; and our peculiar situation renders it especially necessary that there should be greater comforts within the reach of the sick, than are now to be obtained upon the island under the present administration of the marine hospital fund.

"Situated as Key West is, it is calculated at all times to become a receptacle for the sick of vessels leaving the ports of West Florida, Alabama and Louisiana, and also of those bound to the northward from the coast of Mexico, as there is no port offering equal advantages as a stopping place, and none between Charleston and Pensacola possessing the superior attraction of a hospital. Such being the case, seamen are brought here sick to be left to the care of strangers, dependent upon private charity (there being no municipal regulations for their support), and the hospital fund of the United States for their nursing and subsistence.

"We would therefore recommend an application to congress, through our delegate, for the establishment here of some public accommodations for the sick seaman, whereby his comfort may be in some measure secured while incapacitated by disease to which all are liable-from pursuing his usual avocations."

In February, 1836, the territorial delegate from Florida, Colonel Joseph M. White, introduced in congress a resolution inquiring "into the expediency of providing at Key West greater comforts for the sick and disabled seamen than the present regulations for the disbursement of the Marine Hospital Funds will admit of their receiving."

This was a step, but it did not go far enough for our citizens, who had set out to have an hospital established here, and would be satisfied with nothing less.

A memorial was prepared and forwarded to congress, setting forth the many reasons why such an institution was specially needed here, "not only for our own seamen, but likewise for those navigating vessels carrying on the trade of St. Marks, Apalachicola" (then two of the principal cotton shipping ports of the United States), Mobile, New Orleans, and other ports: "Key West being so situated as to be the most favorable stopping place for all vessels engaged in the commerce of the gulf, that may have sickness on board, and for the many shipwrecked seamen brought into Key West."

After a few years their efforts were rewarded, and in 1844 the Marine Hospital on Emma street, at the foot of Fleming, was erected. During the Civil War, and again in the Spanish American War, it was used by the navy.


When the army post was established here, a commodious, well ventilated hospital was erected, which is a model of fitness and adaptability. Its wide piaSt. Johns and Ocklawaha Riversas on all sides protect it from the rays of the sun, and cool breezes soothe the stricken patient.


Another hospital, although only a temporary one, will be remembered as long as there are any survivors of the Spanish-American War. It was called The Key West Convent Hospital.

Shortly before war was declared, the Sister Superior of the convent of Mary Immaculate, called on Captain James M. Forsyth, commandant of the Key West naval station, and offered the services of herself and her sisters, and the convent and their two schools for hospitals, in the event of actual hostilities. Upon this noble offer being communicated to the commander in chief of the naval forces here, he replied to Captain Forsyth:



"I. Acknowledging your letter of the 5th instant, stating that the Lady Superior in charge of the schools of the 'Sisters of the Holy Names, Convent of Mary Immaculate,' at Key West, has called on you, and offered, in case of war, to place the convent and two school buildings of the order at the disposition of the naval authorities for hospital purposes, and that the Sisters tender their personal services as nurses.

"2. 1 cordially agree with your opinion expressed, that this is a most generous and patriotic tender, and beg that you will make known to the Lady Superior, and to the Sisters, my appreciation of their offer, and acceptance in case it becomes necessary. "Very respectfully,

(Signed) "W. T. SAMPSON,

"Captain U. S. N., Commander-in-Chief U. S. Naval Forces. North Atlantic Station."

On April 21st Dr. W. R. Hall, United States navy, arrived to convert the convent into an hospital, and in a short time it was ready for occupancy. The parlor became a drug store; the spacious class rooms of the first floor were converted into wards for the wounded soldiers, and the offices and operating rooms established on the second floor.

Among the first to be treated was Lieutenant John B. Bernadou of the torpedo boat Winslow. Father Chidwick of the Maine was also a patient.

The medical faculty, consisting of nine doctors, under the direction of Major W. R. Hall, were Majors W. C. Borden, S. T. Armstrong, Captain H. A. Shaw, Doctors B. E. Baker, H. P. Jackson, E. G. Ferguson, A. E. DeLipsey, F. M. E. Usher, H. Mann, R. C. Eve, T. A. Clayton and R. G. Plummer.


Early in 1908 Dr. John B. Maloney bought the homestead of Mr. Thomas Curry on Fleming street, near the corner of Simonton. He moved it to the back of the lot, enlarged and remodeled it, and on October 6th, that year, opened the Louise Maloney Hospital, named in honor of his wife.

Proving too small, he bought, in 1911, the residence of Mrs. Affie Sawyer, on Simonton street, remodelled and improved it, and connected it by a covered causeway with the hospital on Fleming street.

The operating room has a cement floor, and all contrivances necessary to preserve a perfectly aseptic condition, and is fully equipped with modern instruments and appliances.

The institution has thirty beds, two of which are maintained by the county of Monroe.

Since the hospital was opened it has treated six hundred and six cases. Mr. Upton Sinclair was a patient, for a short time, and says that it was while there that he adopted the orange and milk diet, which he has since strongly advocated.


In 1904, encouraged and inspired by Mrs. Dolores Mayg, a few philanthropic Cuban citizens, chief among whom was Don Sr. Antonio Diaz Carrasco, organized the Beneficencia Cubana, for benevolent and charitable work among the poor of their nationality.

In December, 1910, Mrs. Blanca Ferriol de Perez, Mrs. Carlotta Cenarro de Alayeto, Mrs. Maria Gustens, Mrs. Maria Manas de Betancourt, Mrs. Esperanza La Fe, Mrs. Felicia Rodriguez de Rueda, the Misses Caridad Rodriguez, Maria Escalante, Palmenia Hernandez, Maria L. Carrasco, Leopoldina Elizarde, and Ignacia and Angelica Fernandez, conceived the idea of establishing an hospital where the indigent of all nationalities could have the benefit of the best medical care and attention.

To this end they worked diligently for near two years, and on October 10, 1911, the Casa del Pobre, Mercedes hospital was dedicated.

It is situated on the corner of Division street and Salt Pond road, in the former residence of Mr. E. H. Gato, who generously gave it free of rent for a term of years. It is named Mercedes in honor of Mr. Gato's wife.

To Dr. Joseph N. Fogarty is due much credit for the early establishment of this hospital. He contributed liberally in cash; donated all the instruments and equipment for the operating room, and furnished and maintains a room. He is director of the institution, which he visits daily, besides giving, in his turn, his professional services for a month.

Messrs. Pedro Rueda, Benito Betancourt and Delegacion Canaria also furnished rooms in the hospital.

Excerpt from "Key West: The Old and the New" by Jefferson B. Browne. Published 1912.


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