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130 Years Being "Of The City"

Alexandria Hospital Marks Anniversary

Editor's Note: This is part one of a two part series on the 130th anniversary of Alexandria Hospital. Part two will appear in the Dec. 17 issue.

During the turbulent years of the Civil War, Alexandria served as a community-wide hospital with the appropriation of private homes to treat the wounded. Seven years after the conclusion of that most bloody of American wars Alexandria established its first formal hospital.

The year was 1872. The date was December 12. The visionary was Julia Johns. The impetus was fear of a possible typhoid epidemic among the crew of ship anchored in Old Town Alexandria's harbor.

Johns, daughter of Bishop John Johns of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia, called upon a group of female friends at St. Paul's Church to form the Alexandria Infirmary Association. Later, that same group became the Board of Lady Managers which governed what became Alexandria Hospital until the 1940's.

Now an integral element of the Inova Health System, Alexandria's hospital celebrates its 130th anniversary today. As stated by Kenneth Kozloff, the hospital's administrator and vice president, Inova Health System, "A lot of people have come and gone over the past 130 years, but, our caring about people has not changed.

"We are not only in the city but of the city. Our commitment to this community is that we are here when they need us."

On January 23, 1873, the Alexandria Infirmary officially opened its doors to patients. It was housed at the Dr. Francis Murphy House on the southwest corner of Duke and Fairfax streets. A matron was hired to oversee its operation at an annual salary of $200.

In 1874, the infirmary moved to the intersection of Prince Street and Diagonal Road. Then to 1315 Duke St. in 1878. It was at this location the Infirmary's first surgery was performed — an amputation by Dr. George T. Klipstein on Christmas Day, 1882. That medical decision and surgical procedure changed an infirmary into a hospital.

On December 12, 1883, just 11 years to the day after her tenacity and organizational skills had brought forth the first structured medical care facility in this seaport town, Julia Johns died of consumption. She was buried at the Virginia Theological Seminary.

UNDAUNTED, her Board of Lady Managers in 1886 bought the Orphans' Asylum at Pitt and Wolfe streets as the infirmary's fourth location. It was coupled with the adjoining Widow's Home and Female School in 1891 to create a 40-bed infirmary.

Three years later in 1894, the initial school of nursing opened under the guidance of Mrs. Marjorie Adamson, a physician and nurse, who is believed to have been trained by Florence Nightengale, according to hospital history. Composed of nine students, between the ages of 20 and 35, each received a monthly stipend of $7 during their two year course of study.

In 1933, at the height of the Great Depression, the hospital's nursing school closed due to financial problems. It reopened in 1940 in response to the impending World War II and remained viable until 1987 when it again went out of existence.

A graduate of that School of Nursing in 1978 and still on the staff of Inova Alexandria Hospital today is Rebecca A. Jackson, RN. "I started as a volunteer candy striper in 1972 because my mother didn't want me hanging out at the pool all day," Jackson explained.

"I hadn't intended to become a nurse but one day they were really shorthanded on special care nurses, so they asked me to help with the charts. Then other nurses began asking me to do other things. I got hooked because I really admired what I saw nurses accomplishing," Jackson said.

"I was only 14 when a patient died and they had me deliver the body to the morgue. When I told my mother that night she was not amused but it didn't bother me. I was willing to help in any way possible," Jackson said. "I went directly to the Intensive Care Unit right out of nursing school."

AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY, the Alexandria Infirmary outpatient dispensary opened. In 1902 the infirmary officially became Alexandria Hospital. Then, in 1917, spurred by a lack of space and a growing demand for health care, it moved to a much larger building at the corner of Duke and Washington streets situated on land donated by Edward Daingerfield.

There it remained until 1974, even though ground was broken in 1959 for the existing Seminary Road location. The transfer from Duke street to Seminary Road occurred in stages over a 12-year period.

In 1962, then US Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, spoke at the opening ceremony of the state-of-the-art new building. According to the Alexandria Gazette at that time, "The new building will include under its roof nearly every diagnostic tool and treatment service offered. The very latest in food service innovations and attractive decorated rooms ... which feature top quality, functional equipment." It was the first in Northern Virginia to offer in room direct dial telephones.

Another long-time employee of Alexandria Hospital, John Vought, a registered respiratory therapist, has served patients at both locations. He actively participated in the patient transfer process when the Duke Street location faded into history.

"In 1974 we had to close Duke Street and move all patients to Seminary Road," he recalled. "One of my responsibilities was to make sure all patients on ventilators arrived at the new hospital alive.

"When it came to the most critical patients we had to depend on the police to close off all streets along the route so the move could be made as fast as possible. One doctor had told me not to leave without him. But, when the police said they were ready he was nowhere to be found. We could not wait because the city was virtually locked down."

Vought emphasized, the move was made without a hitch and all patients came through okay. "Shortly after we got there this doctor found me and asked why we had left without him. I explained I had tried to find him but the police insisted we go. When I asked what happened to him he sheepishly admitted he had been in the men's room and hadn't heard the alert," Vought acknowledged.

Vought began his career at the hospital as a volunteer in 1963 and became paid staff on June 1, 1965. "When I was a 17-year-old volunteer, they gave me a job to put a bunch of thermometers in an iodine solution to clean and sterilize them.

"What nobody told me was the iodine solution was to be cut substantially. I soaked them at full strength and after seven weeks of these exercises there were no numbers left for anyone to read," he recalled.

IN ADDITION TO being two of the longest serving employees of the hospital Jackson and Vought also personify Kozloff's claim that Inova Alexandria Hospital is "of the city." Jackson's two children and Vought's three were all born at the hospital. They met their respective spouses there —Jackson's husband was an emergency room technician and Vought's wife was a student nurse.

John's one daughter now works as a telephone operator at the hospital's switchboard and Rebecca's daughter has worked part-time in materials management. Both Jackson and Vought grew up on King Street in Alexandria. She now lives in the Mount Vernon District of South Alexandria and he resides in Burke.

When asked what has changed the most during their tenure, Vought summarized it as, "Only the faces and some of the challenges. As a whole, very little. The spirit of this hospital has stayed the same. It is still very community oriented."

But, according to one of the hospital's longest practicing physicians, a great deal has changed over the years, particularly, as far as Alexandria Hospital being on the cutting edge of medical science.

Next week, part two of looking back over the 130 years Alexandria Hospital has played a part in the health care of citizens in the city.