— By Dino Robinson

The Evanston Sanitarium opened in 1914. Photo by Evanston Photographic Studio.
The Evanston Sanitarium opened in 1914. Photo by Evanston Photographic Studio.

Because neither Evanston Hospital nor St. Francis Hospital regularly admitted black patients except in special circumstances, two black physicians, Dr. Isabella Garnett and Dr. Arthur Butler founded and operated the Evanston Sanitarium. Eventually evolving to Community Hospital of Evanston, the Evanston Sanitarium provided health care for many black persons along Chicago’s North Shore from 1914 to 1980.

Dr. Garnett ran a general practice, delivering babies and administering anesthesia

In 1914 Dr. Garnett (1872-1948) and Dr. Butler (1879-1924) opened the Evanston Sanitarium in a house at 1918 Asbury Ave. Dr. Butler was the staff surgeon, and Dr. Garnett ran a general practice, delivering babies and administering anesthesia. Four years later, in 1918, the Evanston Sanitarium and Training School was incorporated, overseen by a biracial board of directors.

After Dr. Butler died in 1924, Dr. Garnett continued to operate the Evanston Sanitarium under the new name Butler Memorial Hospital.

In 1926, the biracial Booker T. Washington Hospital Association was formed to build a new hospital, which, according to its 1929 bylaws, would make “no distinction. . . on account of race, religion, or nationality, either as to officers, patients, attending physicians, interns, nurses, or other employees of the corporation.”

On Dec. 8, 1930, Community Hospital of Evanston opened an 18-bed hospital in the “Penn House,” the former home of Dr. A. Rudolph Penn, at 2026 Brown Ave.

Dr. Hill founded and headed the Woman’s Auxiliary

Elizabeth Webb Hill (1898-1978) joined the staff of Community Hospital in 1931 and was named chief of staff in 1943, becoming one of the first (if not the first) African American woman hospital chief of staff in Illinois. The same year, Community Hospital of Evanston received provisional accreditation pending construction of a new hospital building. In addition, Dr. Hill founded and headed the Woman’s Auxiliary whose purpose was to fund-raise on behalf of the hospital.

Evanston Community Hospital. Evanston Photographic Studios.
Evanston Community Hospital. Evanston Photographic Studios.

In 1950, Community Hospital of Evanston was awarded a matching grant under the Hill-Burton Act, saving the dream of opening a new larger hospital. Supporters of Community Hospital began to raise funds and lease land along the North Shore Channel next to the Penn House for the new facility. The new 56-bed hospital was dedicated on Oct. 5, 1952. This proved to be an example that cooperation between people of different backgrounds can work. By 1954, Community Hospital of Evanston obtained full accreditation.

During that same year, Dr. Hill warned Community Hospital’s board of directors that many black persons were choosing Evanston’s formerly all-white hospitals, which had begun to admit Black patients. In an attempt to attract black patients and retain black physicians, the hospital upgraded its programs and facilities in the 1960s.

However young black physicians were unwilling to have their primary affiliation with a small hospital like Community Hospital and opted for larger affiliations such as Evanston and St. Francis hospitals. Black patients also preferred to obtain health-care services at the larger hospitals.

In 1973 talks opened among Evanston Hospital, Northwestern University Medical School and Community Hospital of Evanston in an effort to insure the survival of Community Hospital. As a result, all the doctors at Community and Evanston hospitals received full staff exchange privileges. However, because of internal problems, the tripartite agreement fell apart. After 1975, most doctors formerly associated with Community Hospital had left. One last plea to revive the hospital came from the President of the Hospitals Board of Directors:

“. . .But Community Hospital is here, and there are many stories of vision, courage and heroism in its past. It not only has a glorious past, despite its origins, but it has a mission for the future.” —An open letter to all members of the Community Hospital Corporation, Pauline L. Williams

Evanston Hospital eventually bought the closed Community Hospital. In 1986, after local residents rejected various proposed uses for the facility, Over The Rainbow Association acquired the buildings. The one-story hospital building was converted to the Elizabeth W. Hill Arboretum Apartments, which provide integrated housing for the severely physically disabled. The Penn House, vacant for a decade, was demolished for a parking lot in 1992, despite a campaign and protest to try to save the building.

Sources: Shorefront Archives. This article first appeared in A Place We Can Call Our Home, 1995, 2013. 

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10 thoughts on “This Is Your Hospital: Brief History of Community Hospital

  1. Thank you Dino Robinson for sharing a piece of our history. I along with several of my siblings were born at Community hospital. It was there, when I was 2 years old that Dr Hill diagnosed my brother and I with sickle cell disease. I remember having long stays at that hospital when we would have crises from that disease. My brother died when he was 3 almost 4 years old. However, I attribute my survival and our overall wellness treatments to Dr. Hill and Dr. Winfred. You don’t know how this article just made my day. I’m passing it on to my siblings now.

    Carolyn Gibert
    Born 1956
    Community hospital

  2. How can i find records of a family member who supposely died at community hospital in the late 1950s or early 1960s after a car accident?

    1. Sorry for the delay in answering. I checked around and I am afraid those records were destroyed when the original building was demolished. What is left are general correspondences, ad books, brochures and some photographs between Shorefront and the Evanston History Center.

  3. Having been born in the old Communiy Hospital Penn House) in 1938, I wondered if there are any pictures of the facility.

  4. I lived in Evanston from the time I was born in 1962 until the mid 80’s I was an explorer. I rode my bike all over town. I took all of the busses from route 1 to 13, many times just for something to do. I never knew this place even existed. Now I kind of know why.

    I was part of a private adoption. Recently, changes in the law allowed me to open records that were previously sealed. When I found out I was born at Community Hospital, I did a search and found this awesome information.

    I’m thankful. It just revealed one more piece of my puzzle.

    1. Good morning Paul!
      It was certainly good to know that I’m wasn’t the only one interested in something of the old Community Hospital. I am in the process of writing my life’s story, and it was in 1938, that I was born in theat facility. Going back, note that both of my parents were born in Evanston, though not in that hospital. As a scout, I was an usher, showing through the “new” Community Hospital when it opened.
      In doing my family research, I have been shocked at what I am finding about the whole hospital situation, especially leading up to my birth.

  5. Was born in 1947. At this hospital.my bro.in 1946 remember Dr Hill she lived down the.street from out family we.lived at 1801 Lyons and.she down.the after on Darrow when.we would.get sick.we didn’t go to the hospital.we.would.go down the.street to her clinic she took good care.on the people on the.block she was a great person I wish we had more Drs like her she will always be a part of the community hospital as well as the Lyons Darrow block

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