Museum Exhibit Musings -- What Women Built

I was speaking with one of the Galt volunteers yesterday and she said what she loves about doing history is being a detective – searching for the facts, pictures and stories you need. I agree. There is great fun in hunting down something, especially something you’ve been looking for a very long time.

But as much as we sometimes hunt down information, I think sometimes information is also waiting out there to pounce on us because often you find exactly what you’re not looking for but need.

Such was the case last night when I was researching on health laws in Alberta and came across a great write-up on the Van Haarlem Hospital. So far I had overlooked the growth of private hospitals in 1906-1913.

The Van Haarlem Hospital started in 1910. Like other hospitals both in Lethbridge and across Alberta, the Van Haarlem was started by an individual nurse. In this case, it was Marie Elizabeth Van Haarlem. The hospital became so successful that it was eventually taken over by the Sisters of St. Martha as St. Michaels Hospital in 1929. The Van Haarlem Hospital building is still standing on 7th Avenue South. Elizabeth Van Haarlem became a school nurse when she sold the hospital. Over 2000 babies were born in the Van Haarlem Hospital.

The Van Haarlem wasn’t the only private hospital opened in Lethbridge during this time. Grace Dainty opened a private maternity hospital in north Lethbridge in 1909. This hospital was transformed into a general hospital during the epidemic of 1918 and then closed in 1923. Grace Dainty went on to become the first public health nurse in Lethbridge.

Additionally, Mrs. E.M. Blue and other midwives worked in Lethbridge starting around 1909. These midwives would open up a room in their houses for expectant mothers.

It is also in this time period that the Isolation Hospital started. In 1911 Mildred Dobbs took over its operations. She worked 39 years at the hospital nursing up to 4 different contagious diseases at once without ever having a case of a patient acquiring another disease while in the hospital.

Certainly that these places all started around the same time is linked to the astonishing population growth at that time. But does it also say something about the role of nurses in these communities? Does the fact that the maternity hospitals were separate from the general hospitals tell us something about how our “treatment” of pregnancy has changed? Or does it just remind us of what pioneer women were capable of and what was built by women?