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Mercy Hospital

Founding of Mercy

Text contributions from Ian Saxine, MHS Historian.
Items courtesy of Mercy Hospital.

In the autumn of 1918, the greatest health crisis in the city’s history struck Portland. Known at the time as the Spanish Influenza, the pandemic of 1918-1919 claimed millions of lives worldwide. The ensuing health emergency quickly overwhelmed the city’s limited hospital capacity. Right Reverend Bishop Louis Sebastian Walsh asked the Sisters of Mercy for volunteers to visit the homes of the sick. The entire order of 60 women volunteered.

Queen's Hospital entrance, Portland, ca. 1930
Queen's Hospital entrance, Portland, ca. 1930Queen's Hospital EntranceItem Contributed by
Mercy Hospital

The demand for a hospital was so great that Bishop Walsh decided to establish a new one. Following in the footsteps of Mother McAuley, Miss Marion Weeks, the daughter of a distinguished surgeon in town, donated a portion of her property on the intersection of Congress and State Street (681 Congress) for the venture.

On December 12, 1918, the anniversary of the founding of the Sisters of Mercy, the new Queen’s Hospital (named in honor of Mary, Mother of God) opened its doors, initially equipped to care for 25 patients.

The first patient, Delia McDonough, was admitted on December 17 and underwent an operation two days later. She spent almost three weeks in recovery (today McDonough would have received outpatient care and been directed to spend 48 hours recovering at home for the same procedure) at a charge of $3.00 per day, and an operating room fee of $5.00.

During its first year, Queen’s Hospital admitted 360 patients. Demand for trained nurses led to the opening of the Training School for Nurses of the Queen’s Hospital in 1920.

In March 1920, Queen’s Hospital was officially incorporated. Rising numbers of patients led Bishop Walsh to arrange the purchase of a large building on the corner of State and Deering streets from Richard Payson. It soon opened as a maternity department of the hospital, supervised by Josephine McLaughlin, R.N., of Portland. The Catholic Diocese soon acquired all the buildings behind the Weeks house between Congress and Deering Streets.

Administration transferred from the old Weeks House to the larger Payson house on Deering and State Streets in 1927, with Weeks transforming into a home for nurses, with Josephine McLaughlin as matron. The neighboring buildings were connected by runways and underwent repairs, and hospital administrators designated them as pavilions named after the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

In 1933, Queen’s Hospital, under the leadership of Sister M. Annunciata Quigley, received a Class A rating by the American College of Physicians and Surgeons. This was accompanied by the establishment of a permanent lay medical staff first headed by Dr. Louis Derry. That same year the Record Room opened.

The close relationship between the hospital and wider community has been a feature of Portland life since the early days of the institution, and 1933 also saw the founding of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Queen’s Hospital. The Auxiliary engaged in fundraising and, in its early days, did all the “necessary sewing and mending for the hospital.” An Annual Donation Week furnished the hospital with supplies such as jellies, preserves, linens, and kitchen utensils. The Ladies Auxiliary also had a special committee for transportation, providing means for patients to travel to and from their homes to the hospital. Today, the Auxiliary to Mercy Hospital still operates and staffs the gift shop, as well as organizing special events and fundraisers to support numerous programs and hospital expansions.