Celebrating South Street Hospital

1874-1885: A Centre for Care, Education and Training

A Permanent Location for London General Hospital

London was first settled at the forks of the Thames in 1826. The location of London’s general hospital changed many times, though a series of rented houses, vacated military buildings, and spaces hastily constructed by the City in emergency situations.

It was not until 1855 that serious consideration was given to the need for building a permanent public general hospital. The London Savings Bank, a non-profit organization established in the 1850s, had closed its doors and invested its remaining assets of $15,646 in a hospital endowment fund

In the London Daily Advertiser on November 20, 1874, London City Council promoted the structure of the new hospital: “the foundations are of stone, and the super-structure of brick, two stories in height, with a handsome Mansard roof, the appearance of which is considerably enhanced by a well shaped tower rising above the front entrance.”

On Saturday, August 5, 1875, the 16,000 citizens of the City of London now had a permanent hospital to call their own. Called the London General Hospital, this 56-bed facility was open to receive patients. The formal opening was performed on November 3, 1875 by the Hon. D. A. Macdonald, Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.

Establishing a Medical School

During the spring of 1881, the creation of a medical school had been discussed and approved in principle by a number of local physicians. The Western University of London incorporated on March 7, 1878.

Many of London General Hospital’s medical staff were chosen as professors of the Medical Faculty, a testament to the status of the hospital in London. City Council agreed the hospital would be a site for “clinical instruction in medicine and surgery to students.”

In order to provide suitable teaching facilities for medical students and given the community’s need for more private bed space for paying patients, City Council decided to enlarge the hospital.

A new wing was soon completed, doubling the number of beds from 56 to 104. Included in this addition were lecture and consultation rooms and new surgery and operating rooms.

London General Hospital’s Training School of Nurses

By 1880, complaints were being made about the cleanliness and tidiness of the interior of the main hospital building. The Provincial Inspector believed the problem was due to the poor quality of the nursing staff and absence of qualified women to “manage the domestic affairs of the institution.”

At the time, the transatlantic movements of the nursing ideals embodied in Florence Nightingale was inspiring local hospitals. Nurses were to be caring professionals, combining domestic and medical duties with a strict code of discipline and personal behaviour.

With the support of Dr. Frederick Wilkinson, the first resident physician at London General Hospital, London opened the third nursing school in Canada.

The first class of the London General Training School for Nurses commenced in September 1883 with only three students enrolled in the two-year program. The number of students, though small at first, gradually increased as nursing became an acceptable career for young women.

Excerpts from "Growing to serve... : a history of Victoria Hospital, London, Ontario." Authors: Norman. John Robert Sullivan, Norman R. Ball, and Victoria Hospital Corporation. Published: 1985 by Victoria Hospital Corporation, London, Ontario.

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