Past Times

St. Agnes Hospital fought to serve

These student nurses were training at the St. Agnes Hospital Nursing School in 1949.
These student nurses were training at the St. Agnes Hospital Nursing School in 1949. Albert Barden Collection, North Carolina State Archives

The historic St. Agnes Hospital will be the subject of a program called “Envision Saint Agnes,” hosted by St. Augustine’s University and the City of Raleigh’s Office of Raleigh Arts on April 8. In 1953, writer Margaret Haywood took a look at the history of the then-57-year-old institution.

For some 57 years St. Agnes has stood in its quiet, peaceful surroundings at the end of Oakwood Avenue with its doors always opened to give the best medical care possible to the Negroes of Raleigh and the surrounding areas and to provide care for the poor and needy. Although the location is peaceful, the history of this institution has been anything but peaceful – a continuous struggle for funds and enlargement of facilities to meet the growing demands placed upon it.

St. Agnes was founded on hard work, great faith, love and $1,100, through Mrs. A. B. Hunter and the Rev. A. B. Hunter. This couple came from Philadelphia to Raleigh in 1888 so that Rev. Hunter could accept the Theology post at St. Augustine’s School. The Hunters saw the need for a medical center for the Negroes and resolved to start one.

In 1895, Mrs. Hunter addressed the Woman’s Auxiliary Group of the Episcopal Church at a General Convention in Minneapolis stressing the need for a hospital for Negroes in the community where St. Augustine’s was situated. A recently widowed churchman residing in California, Mr. I. L. Collins, read Mrs. Hunter’s speech and was so impressed that he donated $600 to the cause as a memorial to his wife. This sum along with an anonymous gift of $500 represented the original capital of the hospital. The name Agnes was chosen as a memorial to Mrs. Collins, whose Christian name was Agnes.

With this sum, the hospital opened in 1896 in the former frame residence of Rev. Robert B. Sutton, third principal of the school who died in March of that year. The Board of Trustees approved the use of the building for the hospital and nurses’ home.

During its first two months of operations, the hospital had only four patients and four nurses in training. However, by the year ending in May 1899, the hospital had shown marked growth: 60 patients treated in the hospital; 23 surgical operations; 1,670 hospital days; 436 dispensary cases.

By 1903, the way was made clear for alterations and improvements to the hospital. A new operating room with a tile floor, a new kitchen, a sterilization room and two bathrooms were among the more outstanding renovations.

However, these alterations soon proved inadequate. The demands for more room for patients and services were outgrowing the facilities. Mr. and Mrs. Hunter redoubled their efforts. Consequently, in 1904, the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees approved the new hospital building idea and selected the present site. Mrs. Hunter set about to raise funds for the project and by the end of 1905 had secured pledges and cash to the amount of about half of the estimated cost of $15,000.

The new hospital, built of stone quarried on the St. Augustine’s campus, was ready to receive patients in 1909. It continued to grow, surviving a fire in 1925 and installing an electric elevator in 1926. Haywood went on to describe the role the hospital played at this time in its history.

St. Agnes, during this period, was the only well-equipped hospital for Negroes, with one exception, between Washington, D.C., and New Orleans. It was striving to serve a Negro population of over 75,000 from some three states. The N&O May 17, 1953

With the opening of the Memorial Hospital of Wake County (now WakeMed) in 1961, St. Agnes Hospital closed its doors for good. Only a shell of the building survives, and it is designated a Raleigh Historic Property.

Read more stories from local and state history and send us your own stories on the blog Past Times, newsobserver.com/past-times.

Leonard: 919-829-4866 or tleonard@newsobserver.com

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