University of Virginia Historical Collections at the Claude Moore Health Sciences Library

The University of Virginia Hospital: History of Its Beginnings

The Story of Origins

Anatomical Hall, 1826, Thomas Jefferson, architect.

Anatomical Hall, 1826, Thomas Jefferson, architect. Designed for anatomical and medical demonstrations, the windows were high so people could not see in. Medical School Professor Robley Dunglison opened a dispensary here. Razed in 1938.
Photo: Historical Collections, Claude Moore Health Sciences Library (CMHSL), University of Virginia (UVa).

When Thomas Jefferson completed his designs for the University of Virginia, the only provision made for a medical building was the Anatomical Hall. Completed in 1826, this building contained a theater for anatomical and medical demonstrations given for university students. The community of Charlottesville was at that time too small and isolated to support a hospital, so the medical courses at the University proceeded on theory and anatomical study, not practical experiences offered by hospital treatment. However, the University of Virginia’s first School of Medicine professor, Dr. Robley Dunglison, opened a dispensary in the Anatomical Hall and saw patients from the community for several hours each week. He and his assistants provided medicines to these local patients who also served as models for the medical classes.
The Infirmary, 1857.

The Infirmary, 1857. Established to provide inpatient medical care for students at the University, under the direction of the medical faculty. This building still stands on the University grounds, near McKim Hall. Photo: Historical Collections, CMHSL, UVa.

Dispensary services for local residents continued at the University over the following decades, but during this period it became increasingly clear that the lack of facilities for medical care of students was a detriment to the health of the on-Grounds population. In 1857, the University’s Board of Visitors authorized construction of an infirmary for students. The Infirmary offered beds and meals to sick students, and provided physicians’ services and nursing care. Establishing similar medical facilities for the general public and offering improved clinical experiences to medical students would have to wait for a new generation of University leaders.

 

 

 

Paul Brandon Barringer (1857-1941)

Paul Brandon Barringer (1857-1941). Professor of Physiology and Surgery, and Chairman of the Faculty. Photo: Historical Collections, CMHSL, UVa.

In 1889, Dr. Paul Brandon Barringer joined the University faculty as a professor of physiology and surgery. Barringer was one of this new generation, more attuned to the advances in medical science then being made. Instrumental in establishing modern clinical facilities, he saw the idea of a university hospital through to completion. Among the many improvements in medical education he instituted at the University were increased attention to laboratory investigations, including the use of the microscope, and a steady expansion in the years of study required for a medical degree —from one year in 1891 to four years in 1899. Barringer particularly valued clinical work, and as Chairman of the Faculty —then the University’s highest administrative position —he tirelessly promoted the establishment of modern clinical facilities at the University.
The Dispensary, 1892.

The Dispensary, 1892. This building stood on University Avenue near the present George Rogers Clark Memorial. Razed in 1916, the steps at the sidewalk survive. Photo: Historical Collections, CMHSL, UVa.

In 1891-1892, the University of Virginia Board of Visitors approved funds for a new Dispensary building, the first fruit of Barringer’s efforts. Construction began immediately on the University Avenue site, and the structure soon opened with several examining rooms for outpatients, a large lecture hall for medical classes, and facilities for sterilization and pharmaceutical storage. Accommodations for student assistants were located upstairs. Clearly, the new Dispensary was a great improvement over previous facilities, yet it could not substitute for a full-service hospital. In 1893, the medical faculty consequently recommended to the Visitors that a modern hospital be constructed on the University grounds.

University of Virginia Hospital

The University of Virginia Hospital, 1901, Paul J. Pelz, architect.

The University of Virginia Hospital, 1901, Paul J. Pelz, architect. Photo: Special Collections, University of Virginia (UVa) Library.

Barringer fostered the idea of establishing a University hospital for the next six years. A faculty committee discussed plans and specifications for the project, and fund-raising efforts began. Architect Paul J. Pelz developed the designs for a 150-bed facility consisting of a central building linked by a single corridor to a pair of flanking pavilions. After intensive planning and negotiation, a construction appropriation became available on October 10, 1899, and on April 13, 1901, Thomas Jefferson’s birthday, the first building of the University of Virginia Hospital opened.

Elevation Drawing, West Facade, University of Virginia Hospital, ca. 1904, Paul J. Pelz, architect

Elevation Drawing, West Facade, University of Virginia Hospital, ca. 1904, Paul J. Pelz, architect. Photo: Special Collections, UVa Library.

In the above drawing, Pelz presented an enlargement of the original scheme for the hospital, expanding the composition to include nine pavilions linked by an enclosed corridor. His intention was to restate in a modern yet complementary architectural language Jefferson’s original conception for the University buildings —the Rotunda, pavilions, and dormitory rooms linked by covered passageways.

Panoramic photograph of the Hospital, ca. 1929.

The First University of Virginia Hospital as realized, panoramic photograph, ca. 1929. Photo: School of Nursing, Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, University of Virginia (UVa).

Architect Paul Pelz’s scheme provided a master plan for growth of the complex, but the rapid success of the hospital and the demand for new spaces outstripped the relatively diminutive pavilions he had envisioned. The 1905 and 1907 flanking wings shown above were built with two stories rather than the one originally designed.

In 1916, the Steele Wing was completed (on the far left in the photo above). The largest building to date, the Steele Wing doubled the capacity of the hospital and accommodated in its basement the Outpatient Department formerly housed in the Dispensary. To the right stands the McIntire Wing, completed in 1924, for obstetrical and pediatric services and interns’ quarters. The Teachers’ Preventorium of 1928 is the wing at the far right. Constructed with a payroll deduction from Virginia’s teachers, this facility provided low-cost healthcare for the state’s poorly paid teachers, a valuable service in the era before health insurance.

Operating Theater, First Hospital Building, 1913.

Operating Theater, First Hospital Building, 1913. A photographer from Charlottesville’s Holsinger Studio captured this image of the surgical team. Note the use of ether anesthesia, dripped onto a cloth draped over the patient’s face. Photo: Special Collections, UVa.

Surgical Observation, Operating Theater, First Hospital Building, ca. 1921.

Surgical Observation, Operating Theater, First Hospital Building, ca. 1921. The operating theater was a large room, flooded with natural light and the illumination of a mirrored electric lamp. Students and interns observed from the ascending rows of semi-circular seats. With the opening of the hospital, practical clinical experience was incorporated into the medical degree program. Observation of clinical procedures remains vital to contemporary medical education. Photo: School of Nursing, Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, UVa.


This first building of the hospital complex contained an operating theater, solarium, laboratories, and accommodations for the superintendent and student nurses. Its total cost was $26,000, about one-quarter over budget. In 1902, beds for 25 patients were installed. Two pavilion wings, added in 1905 and 1907 to each side of the main building, contained large wards for patients, a small number of private rooms, storage and kitchen facilities, and interns’ quarters.

Hospital Admissions Book

Hospital Admissions Book. Photo: Historical Collections, CMHSL, UVa.

Unlike many hospitals of the day, the University of Virginia Hospital required records on each patient starting in 1907. This photograph shows a page from the first admissions book. It is notable because the second patient listed is Ellen Anthony, who was the second reported case of sickle cell anemia in medical literature. This documents Anthony’s admission on November 15, 1910, and indicates she was diagnosed with “crescentic” anemia and discharged unimproved on April 1, 1911, nearly half a year later.

 

Nurses and the Early School of Nursing

Nursing Students at the Hospital entrance, ca. 1906.

Nursing Students at the Hospital entrance, ca. 1906. Photo: School of Nursing, Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, UVa.

To ensure adequate staffing of the hospital, the University of Virginia opened a training school for nurses in 1901. Student nurses learned on the job, working ten to twelve hours a day for two years before obtaining their degree. These nurses lived on the premises.

Josephine Sarah McLeod (1880-1948)

Josephine Sarah McLeod (1880-1948). Photo: School of Nursing, Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, UVa.

Intensely interested in the professionalization of nursing care and the improvement of nursing education, Ms. Josephine McLeod served as Superintendent of Nurses from 1923 to 1937. Under her leadership, the hospital improved working conditions and raised standards for nursing practices. Ms. McLeod instituted graduate nursing degree courses and sought accreditation for the entire nursing school curriculum.
A nurse and boy stand on the bridge leading from the upper floor of the first hospital building to the new medical school.

A nurse and boy stand on the bridge leading from the upper floor of the first hospital building to the new medical school. Photo: School of Nursing, Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, UVa.

Here a nurse and a boy stand on the bridge leading from the upper floor of the first hospital building to the new medical school which opened in 1929.
Hospital Patients and Personnel of the 1920s

Hospital Patients and Personnel of the 1920s. Photo: School of Nursing, Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, UVa.

The round-arched windows tell us that this ward was on the main floor of the 1905 or 1907 wing of the hospital.
Steele Wing Ward, ca. 1921.

Steele Wing Ward, ca. 1921. Photo: School of Nursing, Center for Nursing Historical Inquiry, UVa.

This is a view of a Steele Wing Ward, ca. 1921. Originally, most hospital patients were treated in wards that were segregated by gender and race. Later, different medical services also had their own wards.

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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