Oneida Maternity Hospital

Oneida Hospital for Mothers and Babies of the Mountains

Oneida Maternity Hospital. Image from the Linda Neville Papers, University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center.

It was a groundbreaking venture when in 1942 the Commonwealth of Kentucky dedicated the Oneida Hospital for Mothers and Babies of the Mountains. The Oneida Maternity Hospital was the first of its kind in the country to be owned and operated by a state. In 1936 Dr. C. Adeline McConville, founder of the Oneida Mountain Hospital, offered the building and its grounds to Kentucky’s State Board of Health. Unfortunately, the Board had no extra funds available to operate a hospital and they recommended he contact Governor A. B. “Happy” Chandler. The governor, though receptive to the idea, let Dr. McConville know that there were no available funds and there was no state law for operating the hospital for any purpose. The offer was not rescinded, however, and was placed on the back burner for several years. Late in 1940, Dr. Edwin F. Daily of the U.S. Children’s Bureau made a visit to the city of Louisville where he expressed an interest in opening a maternity hospital to any state willing to provide a building and equipment. A few short months later, Dr. Daily was taken to Oneida in Clay County where he, along with the state, worked out a plan. The state would make repairs to the building’s structure and assume ongoing maintenance and the U.S. Children’s Bureau would provide funding for professional, technical, and housekeeping personnel.

According to Dr. Daily, Dr. P. E. Blackerby of Kentucky’s State Department of Health walked into his office in Washington, D.C., and placed a pin in the area of Eastern Kentucky on a map hanging on Dr. Daily’s office wall. Dr. Blackerby remarked that the “pin marked the spot where there is a hospital building in the beautiful mountains of Eastern Kentucky and there is a need for better care for the mothers and babies in those mountains.” There was a list of stipulations that would need to be met before any funds could be officially allocated by the U.S. Government. Those stipulations included:

  1. That the hospital would be owned by the State and administered by the State Health Department
  2. That a full-time qualified obstetrician would be employed for the hospital who would be given full authority for all services rendered in the hospital
  3. That a staff of graduate nurses with special training in obstetrics would be employed and suitable living quarters would be built for the doctors and the nurses
  4. That two certified nurse-midwives would be employed, one to assist the obstetrician in the care of hospital patients and a second to conduct home deliveries within a five-mile radius of the hospital
  5. That any mother or newborn baby, irrespective of race, residence, or financial condition of the family, would be eligible for admission to the hospital
  6. That the hospital would be free from fire hazard and have suitable arrangements for the isolation of any infected mother or child, facilities for the proper care of prematurely born infants, and suitable laboratory facilities

Bird’s-Eye View of Oneida. Image from the Bulletin.

Acquisition of the Oneida Mountain Hospital was approved by Governor Keen Johnson and the Chairman of the State Property Board. Dated July 19, 1941, the deed to the Oneida Mountain Hospital was handed over to the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Kentucky’s Engineer of the State Department of Welfare Ralph Wyatt approved plans for improvements at the hospital and residences. Governor Johnson allocated funding in the amount of $2,000 to the State Board of Health to make the necessary repairs as well as installing water and sewage disposal systems. Work during this time was presided over by Mr. Perkins of the State Department of Health and the Clay County Health Officer, Dr. Wagers. Labor was assigned by WPA projects in the county. In 1942, two residences were built adjacent to the hospital: one for the resident obstetrician and one for nursing personnel. The residences were built with state funds. The hospital and the residences were equipped with a modern heating plant on about one acre of ground. The Oneida Maternity Hospital was assigned to Kentucky’s State Department of Health for operations and was available for delivery/birthing services to expectant mothers of Clay County and surrounding areas.

The first obstetrician and medical director of Oneida Maternity Hospital was Dr. Henry H. Caffee. Dr. Caffee served four years of hospital internship and residency and was sponsored by leading Louisville obstetrician, Dr. Alice Pickett. In addition to Dr. Caffey, there were five nurses, a supervisor of nurses, along with a requisite number of housekeeping aides. In the six months following December 1941, there was an average of 12 patients which peaked at 21. The hospital was operated as a unit of the Clay County Health Department along with Kentucky’s State Department of Health and the service program was carried out under a plan of procedures developed by the U.S. Children’s Bureau and the State Department of Health. Patients unable to pay for services were admitted for free. All patients were charged on a sliding scale; this meant that the final cost of services was dependent upon that patient’s income. Minimum charges came in at 0.50 cents per day and a maximum of $2.50 per day for hospital accommodations. Additionally, physicians in private practice were afforded the ability to bring their patients to the hospital for delivery and could also consult with the resident obstetrician at any time.

Oneida Maternity Hospital Ambulance. Image from the Bulletin, v. 18, no. 12 (1946): 1-16.

During the dedication ceremony, Dr. Edwin Daily remarked that Oneida Maternity Hospital was the first in the United States to be owned by a State Department of Health. “It is strange that a government which provides tuberculosis and mental hospitals has not provided hospitals where all mothers who need hospital care can receive such care. Before the war was declared the Children’s Bureau had plans for assisting State Health Departments to build and maintain more than 100 maternity hospitals in areas where most of the mothers are delivered by untrained midwives.” He went on to further say that those plans were not scrapped but on hold. “In Sweden, no family lives more than 30 miles from a maternity hospital owned and operated by the government. If this hospital in Oneida can be operated successfully, there will in ten years be similar hospitals in hundreds of other areas of need. The success of this hospital will depend more upon the competence of the obstetrician and his nursing staff than all other factors put together. If praise is due today, let it be given to Dr. and Mrs. Caffee and this find staff of nurses.”

From the Bulletin, v. 15, no. 10 (1943): 60-62.

From The Public Papers of Governor Keen Johnson, 1939-1943.

The Oneida Mountain Hospital shortly before its reopening in 1955. Image from the Lexington Leader, 25 July 1955.

From the Courier-Journal, 2 December 1956.

And so, the Oneida Maternity Hospital, in all its unique and life-saving glory, took the words of Dr. Daily to heart. The hospital operated until 1953 when funding became a serious issue for the hospital. By mid-1953, the hospital was delivering an average of 60 babies every month. On August 17, 1953, the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s State Department of Health returned the Oneida Maternity Hospital over to the Oneida Mountain Hospital, Inc. corporation effectively ending its operations. The 25-bed facility had been operated by the state since 1941. A cutback in federal funds during the 1953-1954 fiscal year meant that the federal government withdrew funding and thus Kentucky’s State Department of Health had to summarily withdraw its support. Clay County representatives of the Oneida Mountain Hospital sought sponsors to operate the hospital contingent upon finding an organization to take over the hospital’s operations. The Oneida Maternity Hospital’s lifespan was relatively short. The people of Clay County continually fought for establishing a hospital for its residents. After the hospital was handed over to Oneida Mountain Hospital, Inc., it would experience a period of inactivity for about two years. The Kentucky-Tennessee Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventists would take on the role of operating the hospital. And, in the Summer of 1955, the Oneida Mountain Hospital was reopened to provide medical care to the people of Clay County under the auspices of a non-profit, general hospital. By 1967, the Seventh-Day Adventists were looking to expand beyond its [then] current facility.

From the Courier-Journal, 10 December 1944.

The salary of a graduate nurse at Oneida was $150 per month in 1947. With a cumulative rate of inflation of 1,067.7%, that would be approximately equivalent to $1,751.49 per month in 2020. From the Lexington Herald, 15 March 1947.

“Make this hospital an outstanding example of what can be done for rural communities and you will not only have immeasurably contributed to the health of Kentucky mothers and children, but you will also have stimulated other communities throughout the whole United States to provide comparable facilities and service. If you can achieve as enviable a record of service as your neighbors at the Frontier Nursing Service, you will indeed be deserving of the greatest praise.”

Parting words of Dr. Daily at the dedication ceremony of the Oneida Maternity Hospital

Contributed by Shawn Logan |

⁘ Works Cited ⁘

  1. The Lexington Leader, 9 December 1949
  2. The Lexington Leader, 12 December 1952

  1. Bulletin of the Department of Health. Commonwealth of Kentucky, v. 15, no. 6 (1943).
  2. Bulletin of the Department of Health. Commonwealth of Kentucky, v. 15, no. 10 (1943).
  3. Johnson, Keen and Frederic D. Ogden. The Public Papers of Governor Keen Johnson, 1939-1943. United States: University Press of Kentucky, 2014.
  4. Lexington Leader (Lexington, Kentucky), 27 June 1953, p. 7.
  5. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 18 August 1953, p. 4.
  6. The Courier-Journal (Louisville, Kentucky), 1 October 1967, p. B1

Important note:
If you would like to use any information on this website (including text, bios, photos and any other information) we encourage you to contact us. We do not own all of the materials on this website/blog. Many of these materials are courtesy of other sources and the original copyright holders retain all applicable rights under the law. Please remember that information contained on this site, authored/owned by KHI, is provided under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Photographs, text, illustrations and all other media not authored by KHI belong to their respective authors/owners/copyright holders and are used here for educational purposes only under Title 17 U.S. Code § 107.

Creative Commons License
Creative Commons License