This Is Your Hospital: Brief History of Community Hospital

— 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. 


Evanston: An Early North Shore African American Community

— Short Series —

Gathering in Evanston, Illinois, c1920s. Photo courtesy Martha Walker.
Gathering in Evanston, Illinois, c1920s. Photo courtesy Martha Walker.

The growth of the African American communities in Chicago’s suburban North Shore was unique. Instead of first settling in Chicago, most early settlers came directly to these North Shore communities. Evanston was and still is the longest stable community dating back to 1855.

 Its growth would increase by over 4,000 residents by 1930

As early as the 1840s, there was evidence of early African Americans settlers in Evanston. In the 1850 handwritten census, eight African Americans were reported living in Evanston, the Melock family, Gill Reece and Lumus Carney. In 1855, 15-year-old Maria Murray was brought into Evanston. She was bought out of slavery by the Allen Vane family and worked as a domestic in their lakefront home. During the 1860s, more families and individuals of African American decent settled into Evanston. These included the Garnett, Branch and Scott families as well as George Robinson, who married Maria Murray in 1868. Though Evanston has no physical or documented Underground Railroad sites, it is not a far stretch to speculate that African Americans escaping north to Canada, had passed through Evanston. Early census point to former slaves living in Canada who later came to Evanston.

Ebenezer A.M.E. Church was founded on October 30, 1882

The three earliest African American churches in Evanston were established in the latter part of the 1800s. Ebenezer A.M.E. Church was founded on October 30, 1882, followed immediately by Second Baptist Church (November 15, 1882), and later Mount Zion Baptist Church (August 15, 1894). African American businesses were also established in the downtown area. Clubs, secret orders and various other organizations were also founded during the same period. In 1894, Mr. Sandy Trent was the first African American police officer on patrol and Emma Georganna Garnett became the first African American graduate of Boltwood School.

By 1900, the African American population reached 737 residents out of a total population of 19,259. Its growth would increase by over 4,000 residents by 1930. By the 1920s, this community established organizations and facilities that catered to the growing African American community. These included one of the first African American Boy Scout Troop in the Nation (1912), the Evanston Sanitarium (1914), the Emerson Street YMCA (1914), Chapter N.A.A.C.P. (1918) and The Iroquois League (1917). Despite the enforcement of illegal housing restrictions, discriminatory practice ordinances and covenants in housing deeds, the growth of a permanent African American community became evident and eventually bounded by the north shore canal, Emerson Street and Green Bay Road. 2000 census data has the African American population at 16,704.

Source: From Shorefront’s “North of Chicago” traveling exhibit.