Cooper Hospital (via Rick Grenda)

The original Cooper Cooper Hospital 1887, opened 10 years after it was built

This post is copied from, or based on, the writings of Rick Grenda in his Facebook Group, About South Jersey.

On August 9th, 1887 Camden’s Cooper Hospital opened, four patients arrived seeking to be admitted, but they were turned way.

The Cooper family first discussed building a much needed hospital in Camden in the early 1870’s. Before that the only medical facility there was the Camden City Medical Dispensary at 725 Federal St. It consisted of two rooms in an old fire house that purchased and staffed by a group of doctors, including Dr Richard M Cooper. It treated the poor at no charge. It saw 304 patients in its first year.

Cooper felt that the city needed full fledged hospital, but t was clear that the city was not going to fund it. A hospital would provide doctors with the convenience of seeing many patients under one roof an not having to make house calls. Plus they would have better equipment(including surgical) and be able to consult and discuss the best modes of treatment.

Unfortunately Richard and his twin brother, William, an attorney, died before they could get their project off the ground. It was their nephew, John Wright, also an attorney, who then took the lead and founded a Board of Managers for the “Camden Hospital” in April of 1875. Two Cooper sisters, Sarah & Elizabeth, donated $200,000 dollars and the land at 6th & Benson St. Half of the money was used to construct the building and the other half went into an endowment for operating expenses. By November of 1877 the state-of-the-art hospital was completed.

Everything was in place, but the hospital did not open.

The investment income from the endowment was not sufficient to cover operating expenses and the conservative board members would not consider operating it in debt. For years the building sat idle. Local newspapers kept reporting that it would open shortly, but the date kept getting pushed back. The Hospital stood like an albatross and as time passed it was laughing stock and an embarrassment. For 10 years the only person to spend the night was the caretaker, Charles Williams, who was paid $30 a month. During that time Camden suffered epidemics of typhus, diphtheria, smallpox and scarlet fever and still the hospital remained closed.

Finally in June of 1887 the managers set in motion a plan to open and the surviving sister Elizabeth gave an additional $50,000 for necessary upgrades and operating expense.

On August 8, 1887 the doors opened for public inspection and a dedication ceremony. On August 9th it opened as a treating facility. On that day it is likely that a few patients were see as outpatients but there is no record of their identities or aliments. Four did arrive asking to be admitted, but they were determined to have chronic diseases and the rules at that time forbid the admission of incurables.

The hospital would also get a number of freeloaders, also know as “hospital beats” who many times would fake illnesses to get free room & board. They were all told to go to the county Almshouse House at Lakeland. The following day August 10th, 7 persons were treated. The first person was to stay overnight was Martin Kenney, a 23 yr old Irish immigrant, who had a high fever. The first surgery was also performed to remove a tumor.

In 1890 a nursing school was opened there and the first class graduated four. Soon the hospital was seeing over 5,000 per year and it began to expand adding buildings and additions on all sides. Cooper was originally founded as a free facility but by 1919 they were operating at a considerable deficit. It was decided to begin charging fees – $6.00 for an operation of less than a half-hour, $10.00 for one over that. $3 per day for a semi-private room, $6 per day for a private room. Ward patients would be charged $1.50 per day, but would be provided without cost to those unable to pay.

“The Story of Cooper Hospital” by Margaret O Kirk provided some of the info for this post.



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