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Saving Black Lives in Gilded Age Pittsburgh (Part 1 of 3): Lincoln Memorial Hospital

Updated: Jun 20, 2023

*Disclaimer: I independently conducted all research utilizing sources listed throughout the post.*

For this post, I was going to focus on the Booker T. Washington Memorial Hospital Association; however, after extensive research, I stumbled across two additional hospitals founded for Black people: the Livingstone Memorial Hospital and the Lincoln Memorial Hospital. Therefore this will be a blog series in three parts.

During Pittsburgh's Gilded Age, people all over the city suffered from diseases such as cholera due to contaminated water sources and pneumonia (especially in the cases of Steelworkers who worked in intolerable furnaces that left their pores open). The smoke-filled air made respiratory diseases all too common. Tenement living in areas of Allegheny City and the Hill District also made it far too likely of viral illnesses to spread due to many people living in close quarters. African Americans often found themselves disadvantaged in seeking care as many hospitals and doctors would not serve or discriminated against them. However, leading figures in Pittsburgh's African American community would work to to provide Black residents with access to care and resources that they needed. The first step was creating a space where Black people could count on being treated fairly and recieve proper medical care.

In 1906, Avery Trade Schools located in then Allegheny City (now the North Side) announced the opening of a hospital and nurse training school in the basement of the school to train African Americans to enter the medical field and serve the community at large:

28 Oct 1906, Sun • Page 37

The hospital was initially named the Andrew Carnegie Training School and Hospital, as it was hoped that Carnegie himself would fund the venture. However, being himself a self-made man, Carnegie gave the fledgling hospital a challenge: if the institution could be run successfully alone for two years, then it would receive support from him.

It is unclear whether Carnegie kept his promise or when the hospital decided to change its name to the Lincoln Memorial Hospital but by 1909, the hospital was up and running. On it's staff was Dr. George G. Turfley, a renowned Black Pittsburgh physician and a staff of majority White surgeons. Though the hospital had small challenges in getting started, the communities of Allegheny City and Pittsburgh supported it by donating money and other items needed.

21 Nov 1909, Sun • Page 52

In 1911, the hospital made significant strides, graduating 22 nurses from its program. It also received an ambulance donation from Dr. S.O. Cherry and medical equipment from the National Baptist Association.

Unfortunately, by 1913, the Lincoln Memorial Hospital began to come under scrutiny for financial mismanagement and was investigated by The Pennsylvania Board of Public Charities. A scathing report issued on June 9, 1913, called into question the character of the hospital superintendent Mr. Joseph Mahoney, stating that he engaged in immoral conduct with women employees and suggested that he spent money appropriated for the hospital on personal items, including a car. The report recommended the removal of Mahoney but stated that the hospital board declined to do so. This was not the first time Mahoney's character had been questioned. In 1900, Dr. Turfley was asked to remove Mahoney as manager of Avery Trade School, to which Dr. Turfley replied in the following letter:

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania July 03, 1900

The refusal of the hospital board to act at the discretion of the Board of Public Charities effectively barred the hospital from receiving any additional appropriations. A thorough search of the newspaper archives shows that by 1915, the hospital was no longer mentioned in Pittsburgh media, though its certificate remains on file with the State of Pennsylvania. Joseph D. Mahoney died December 6, 1915, at his home on Pittsburgh's North Side of a coronary emboliism. At the time, he was still listed as the principal of Avery Trade School.

While Lincoln Memorial Hospital was only around for a short time, it made history as one of the first hospitals created for the growing Black population of Pittsburgh. It would also not be the last attempt made by the Black community to establish a hospital for their community.

Next: Livingstone Memorial Hospital

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