WMMH

History of Caring

The Early Years: 1913-1939

Imagine placing your life in the hands of a doctor who has had just nine months or less of training. In the early 1900s, that was often all it took to earn a medical degree.

Seventh-day Adventist church leader and healthcare reformer Ellen G. White called for a higher standard of medical training. As a result, when the Adventist healthcare facility in Loma Linda, California, opened its College of Medical Evangelists in 1909, medical students were required to complete four years of study.

In rural Loma Linda, however, there weren’t enough patients to give medical students the training they needed. Consequently, the medical school faced closure. To save their school, leaders looked to the west, toward the growing urban center of Los Angeles, to keep their program alive.

Turning Dreams Into Reality

On September 29, 1913, the College of Medical Evangelists opened a small storefront clinic at 941 East First Street, in the heart of Los Angeles. People flocked to the new clinic, and the medical school finally had the patients it needed. It was from these humble beginnings that White Memorial Medical Center was born. Three years later, the influx of patients was so great that there was a need to expand the clinic. The drive began for a hospital to be built at a nearby site on Boyle Avenue and named in honor of Ellen G. White.

However, financial pressures were threatening to close both the medical school and the clinic, and there were no funds to build the new hospital. In Loma Linda, Adventist leaders anguished over what seemed to be an inevitable future. As they prepared for a final vote, there was a knock at the door. Four women of the church entered the room and made an extraordinary proposal: They were willing to champion a campaign to raise the $61,000 needed to construct White Memorial Hospital.

Thanks to the Herculean fund-raising efforts of 50 women of the Adventist church, the church purchased property on Boyle Avenue in 1916. In 1917, a new dispensary opened on the site. Meanwhile, construction began on cottage-style buildings that were to become a permanent hospital.

So it was on April 21, 1918, that a crowd of 2,500 people gathered to dedicate White Memorial Hospital. Not even an earthquake that struck during the ceremony could dampen the enthusiasm of those gathered to celebrate the culmination of years of grand dreams, fervent prayers and hard work.

A Commitment to Succeed

In 1920, medical students exchanged physical labor for tuition as they helped to build a new dormitory for nurses. They also took on janitorial duties in the dispensary and classrooms; they even started their own cafeteria, gathering in the evenings after their studies were over to prepare food for the next day. Their cafeteria made impressive profits, which they donated to purchase sterilizers for the surgical department.

The hospital deepened its commitment to medical training with the opening of the White Memorial School of Nursing in 1923, an institution that held a prominent place in the hospital and community until it was moved to Loma Linda in 1948.

Caring for a Community in Need

The Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929 sent ripples all the way across the country to Los Angeles, where White Memorial Hospital experienced its lowest occupancy rates ever; by October 1932, only 50 patients remained. During those financially dark days, physicians often accepted flour, chickens and other goods as payment. Responding with compassion to the poverty around them, a group of White Memorial nurses formed the “Ellen White Nurses” to provide medical attention and food to thousands of poor people in the community. The nurses donated their time, the hospital donated food and the County of Los Angeles provided transportation.

By the mid-1930s, the initial jolt of the Depression had passed, and White Memorial began looking again to the future. Responding to an ever-growing demand on its original facilities, the hospital built a 180-bed, five-story concrete and steel structure at a cost of $330,000. Dedicated in 1937, the building was the first earthquake-resistant hospital in California.

Over the previous quarter-century, White Memorial Hospital had gone through a difficult but triumphant beginning period, weathered the Great Depression and built a facility that would accommodate the needs of a rapidly increasing population. A new decade was just around the corner, and the 180-bed hospital was ready to face it wholeheartedly.
 

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