White Plains Hospital: 125 Years of Healing

In 1893, 25 volunteers came together to found a nonprofit community hospital for the rural village of White Plains, turning a four-room house on Chatterton Hill into a makeshift medical facility and treating 31 patients in its first year.

Members of the surrounding community donated everything from vegetables to furnishings to cylinder oil to keep the fledgling institution up and running.

In those early years, Dr. H. Ernest Schmid, an old-fashioned horse-and-buggy doctor with the largest medical practice in Westchester, was the driving force behind the creation and launch of the hospital. Dr. Schmid, who had settled in White Plains during the Civil War, made house calls around the county, day and night, to treat the sick and injured, regardless of their ability to pay. During a pneumonia epidemic, he was said to have made 44 calls in a single day.

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Dr. Schmid, who, according to early financial reports, was for many years the hospital’s only paid employee, went on to serve as the hospital’s chief of staff for 32 years, from 1894 to 1926. Once established, the hospital began to expand and search for larger quarters and broader facilities. In 1897, the Fisher house on Lexington Avenue was purchased and opened with 12 beds for patients. In 1907, the hospital moved to a new 50-bed red-brick building on East Post Road. The previous year, the hospital had established its first ambulance, a horse-drawn wagon. A larger wing was added to the East Post Road Building in 1924, bringing the hospital’s total bed capacity to 100.

Nurses became an important part of the picture, too. The hospital opened a Training School for Nurses in 1901, with six students in the first class. Among them was Margaret Higgins who, like two other members of the class, did not graduate. Higgins left school just weeks before she was to be capped, to marry Dr. Peter Sanger. She went on to achieve fame as a birth-control activist and founder of the Planned Parenthood movement.

By 1937, the hospital’s Board of Governors realized that the original brick building was inadequate and launched a campaign to raise $1.2 million for a new, more modern building that would open two years later.

By 1943, the hospital was performing more than 2,400 physical therapy treatments each year.

The hospital continued to grow and advance over the years. In 1951, it opened Winslow Hall, an eight-story building on Maple Avenue that provided classrooms and living accommodations for nursing faculty and students. In 1960, it established an intensive care unit, and in 1966, the county’s first dedicated coronary care unit arrived. A new 94-bed South Tower was dedicated in 1976, and in 1999, the hospital’s state-of-the-art Dickstein Cancer Center became Westchester’s first freestanding cancer center, enabling residents to receive advanced treatments locally without traveling to New York City.

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Over time, the progressive hospital earned a long list of impressive “firsts,” including opening the county’s first fully self-contained Ambulatory Surgery Center in 1984, making surgical procedures available on an outpatient basis; becoming Westchester’s first hospital to add a certified midwife to the medical staff in 1990; and 16 years later, becoming the first community hospital in the region to use the da Vinci robotic surgical system for minimally invasive surgery.

Throughout its 125-year history, the hospital has relied on the greater White Plains community for support and sustenance. The hospital’s Board of Lady Managers, which changed its name to the Women’s Auxiliary in 1911 and later the White Plains Auxiliary, focused on raising money and supervising the hospital household. During the Depression, members of the Junior League of Central Westchester (known then as the Junior Service League of Scarsdale) drove patients to and from their medical appointments and served as volunteer receptionists, messengers, and waitresses. In 1942, at the height of World War II, the hospital’s White Plains Auxiliary bought materials and enlisted the help of 250 women to make more than 10,000 pieces of linen for the hospital.

Continuing to build on its legacy of volunteerism and philanthropic support, the Auxiliary, renamed the Friends of White Plains Hospital in 2014, drew nearly 600 attendees to its annual gala last year and raised nearly $1 million.

Today, 125 years later, White Plains Hospital, with 292 beds and more than two-dozen locations scattered across Westchester, treats 200,000+ patients each year.

Eons ago, Bill Cary majored in history at Duke University. These days, he writes about local history whenever he can.

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