Louisville City Hospital

(From the Courier-Journal, Louisville, Kentucky, 25 March 1913)

An Act to Establish a Hospital in the town of Louisville

5 February 1817


On the Fifth of February in 1817, the first session of the twenty-sixth general assembly for the Commonwealth of Kentucky voted to approve an act to establish a hospital in the town of Louisville. The act began by saying:

“Whereas it is represented, that of those engaged in navigating the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, many persons owing to the fatigue and exposure incident to long voyages, become sick, and languish at the town of Louisville, where the commerce in which they are engaged, sustains a pause occasioned by the falls of Ohio River; that the charity of the citizens of that town, and county is no longer able to administer to those poor unfortunate person, the support and attention which the necessities of the latter, and the humanity of the former would seem to demand and prescribe; that the growing character of Louisville, as a place as well of import as export, and the growing commerce of this state, and of the western country, connected with that place, threatens to throw an increased mass of unfortunate sick upon the citizens of that town and county, to the comfort and support of whom the resources subject to the exaction of charity would be unequal, and applied as individual sympathy might dictate unavailing, and that it would be wise and humane to incorporate, an institution at that place for the relief, sustenance, comfort and restoration of the poor and the afflicted of the description aforesaid.”

It was not until the 30th of November in 1821 that the Commonwealth of Kentucky would appropriate $10,000 for the purpose of erecting the hospital building. The following year, an additional $6,000 was appropriated for the building fund. By 1823, the hospital was completed and began accepting its first patients. The Louisville City Hospital was a municipal institution rather than being administered under poor and pauper laws. Up until 1836, the hospital was designed to first meet the needs of mariners along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. After this period, the management of the hospital was transferred to managers of the “Louisville Hospital Company” under the auspices of an elected president and board members/officers. The widespread of communicable diseases, starting with yellow fever, resulted in the formation of a health board in order to regulate the health of citizens in Louisville. The hospital became known as the Louisville Marine Hospital. In 1851 a dispensary was authorized and throughout the 1850s, the hospital expanded with the medical school and the growing population of Louisville.

In 1868 it was decided that the hospital needed a regular hospital staff with physicians and surgeons. Provisions were made for medicine, medical and surgical aid to be available at no cost for persons in poverty. 1869 brought the establishment of dispensaries for indigent persons to apply for medicine and medical care and for those unable to pay for vaccinations. More than $39,000 were appropriated during the late 1860s and early 1870s for the remodeling of the building to double its capacity. It was common practice to admit the homeless but by 1877 this was abolished. By 1890, the building’s facilities were so inadequate that a new building was erected on Madison Street. After the turn of the century in 1911, the hospital’s superintendent was notified to move patients into temporary housing as a new million-dollar building was to be established. The temporary housing for the hospital lasted three (long) years and in early 1914, the new hospital was dedicated. By 1915, however, the surgical wards became overcrowded and that it was necessary to build an outpatient department with the top floor of the hospital for “incurables” and tuberculosis emergencies.

Just before the Spanish Influenza Pandemic, Waverly Hills Tuberculosis Sanatorium became affiliated with City Hospital in 1917. The medical school improved its relationship with the hospital and the dean of the medical school became superintendent of the hospital. The aforementioned “outpatient department” was not built at the hospital until the mid-1930s.

The Louisville City Hospital was a “general hospital” that cared for Louisville’s chronic and acute curable diseases with the exception of tubercular patients. It was rated for 423 patient beds, 44 bassinets, and the daily census was, on average, about 395. The hospital had a total of fifteen wards.

  • Four surgical wards (male and female and white and colored)
  • Four medical wards (male and female and white and colored)
  • Two obstectrical wards (white and colored)
  • Two children’s wards (white and colored)
  • Two psychopathic wards (male and female)
  • One isolation ward (in a separate building)

A resident physician was in charge of the ward with an assistant resident and three senior interns. Junior interns rotated every twenty-eight days while receiving training. Patient admits were from doctor referrals, clinic or emergency room, or after an investigation by the hospital admitting office.

By 1936 the following clinics included:

  1. Medicine
  2. Surgery
  3. Gynecology
  4. Cystoscopic
  5. Pediatrics
  6. Dermatology
  7. Proctology
  8. Neurology
  9. Male Genito-Urinary
  10. Ear, Nose and Throat
  11. Eye
  12. Dental
  13. Fracture
  14. Varicose Vein
  15. Post-Operative
  16. Orthopedics
  17. Prenatal
  18. Post-Partum
  19. Wassermann
  20. Salvarsan
  21. Mercury

Louisville City Hospital eventually evolved into Louisville General Hospital and then to University Hospital. Though it has quite a storied history, it has served the people of Louisville and Kentucky for centuries. Its impact was also significant on the creation of a public health cabinet in Kentucky. This would require monitoring by physicians of the city’s health and, eventually, for the state at large.

City Hospital Image Gallery

(All photographs in the preceding gallery are from the Herald Post Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky)

Contributed by Shawn Logan | contact@kyhi.org

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952
  1. Meyers, Louise Hess, “A history of the Louisville City Hospital.” (1936). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. Paper 1829.
  2. Acts Passed at the First Session of the Twenty-Sixth General Assembly for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Frankfort, KY: Kendall and Russells. 1818.
  3. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 25 March 1913, p. 40.
  4. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 3 September 1905, p. 17.
  5. [ULPA 1994.18.0719, 1994.18.0721, 1994.18.0722, 1994.18.0723, 1994.18.0724, 1994.18.0725, 1994.18.0732, 1994.18.0727, 1994.18.0731], Herald Post Collection, 1994.18, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.

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