Nurses' Residence, School of Nursing, North Wheeling Hospital
(Photo provided by William Webb.)

     Nursing became an organized profession in West Virginia in 1907 but long before that, nurses were caring for the sick. Although there may have been many pioneer nurses in West Virginia communities, whom we don't know about, we do have the history of Wheeling Hospital, the state's oldest, and its first nurses, as far back as 1845.

First Hospital - First Nurses

From: West Virginians
Published by The West Virginia Biographical Association, 1928

     THE WHEELING HOSPITAL is located in the northern part of the city, on the bank of the Ohio River. The hospital was first established through the untiring efforts of Bisbop Whelan, Drs. John Frissell and S. P. Hullihen. Several years, previous to this, in 1845, Dr. Frissell sent a case of typhoid fever to the house of Mrs. Barnes, located near the present Bertschy Memorial. This lady gave the patient excellent attention that Drs. Frissell and Hullihen continued to send her patients, and her residence became a regular infirmary. For larger accomodations, she removed to a house near the Market Street bridge, and one on Sixteenth Street owned by Lewis Steenrod.
     The prosperity and increasing importance of this unpretending charity became the cherished object of Dr. S. P. Hullihen's daily and devoted attention and at length he concerted measures with Bishop Whelan, a prelate of great energy and practical benevolence, to establish a hospital under the charge of one of the religious orders of the Catholic Church.
     The Wheeling Hospital was incorporated by an Act of the General Assembly of Virginia, passed March 12, 1850. The company was organized under Charter, July 10, 1852, by appointment of the Rt. Bishop Whelan, Rev. John Brasil and Henry Moore as trustees. Drs. John Frissell and S. P. Hullihen were appointed surgeons and Dr. M. H. Houston as physician.
     For three years, the hospital was in charge of paid nurses. In 1853, Sisters of St. Joseph, whose house was in St. Louis, Mo., were placed in charge of the hospital. After the Sisters came, a new location was necessary and for six weeks, the hospital occupied the Zane residence on Chapline Street. It was removed to the Metcalf property on Fifteenth Street beyond Jacob, and remained there until the year 1856, when it was removed to present site.


Wheeling Hospital on Fifteenth Street

     At a subsequent meeting of the directors, a resolution was adopted to petition the Legislature to so amend the charter to permit the corporation to keep an Orphan Asylum in connection with the hospital. This petition was presented to General Assembly of Virginia and amendment to the charter was granted February 1856.
     In order to provide for the accommodation of Orphan children and of the necessary number of patients, the Sweeney property in North Wheeling was purchased, repaired and enlarged. The first board appointed were: M. Reilly, N. Crawley, John Black, B. H. Watson, Thos. Askew, John White, James Quigg, Jacob Kiger and Wm. A. Edwards, with Bishop Whelan, Rev. J. Brasil and Henry Moore as trustees.
     In the commodious building situated in the most quiet part of the city and on the banks of the Ohio River, the Sisters of St. Joseph have since been carrying on their noble work. Mother Agnes Spencer of Philadelphia, was first Superior, followed by Mother Protase. In the year 1860, this community was separated from the jurisdiction of St. Louis.
     On December 8, 1860, Sister Immaculate Feeney became Mother Superior and remained in charge until 1864, when Sister Mary de Chantal became superior. From the hour in which Civil War was declared, Wheeling, chiefly because of its geographical position, felt the shock of each battle. From all sides, in ambulance, cattle trains and transport boats, Wheeling Hospital cheerfully received more than its quota of soldier patients, whose good fortune it was to be placed under the tender care of Sisters of St. Joseph.
     In their primitive hospital, which was established a decade before the war, the Sisters had acquired a recognized standing as exceptionally efficient nurses, and, true to their teachings, they gave themselves whole-heartedly unto the labor of nursing the soldiers of the Blue and the Gray back to health and strength.
     The south wing of the hospital, on July 23, 1864, was rented by Quartermaster Farnsworth to establish a Post Hospital for incapacitated soldiers. On July 26, 1864, the entire hospital was taken over and made ready for the increasing number of invalid soldiers. Through the endless labor, the faithful Sisters served in the capacity of army nurses. Sister M. Ignatius Farley is the only surviving member who formed a part of this Army of the Republic.
     Always solicitious for the soldier's comfort and owing to the crowded conditions of the orphans, who had hitherto been cared for in the hospital, were sent to the Island House, a diocesan property. Here, they remained until the close of the war, when they returned to the hospital.
     The pioneer major surgery of West Virginia was practically all done in Wheeling Hospital. Here the first abdominal operation was performed bu Dr. Gregory Ackerman, a man of far-famed renown, on April, 1882. Dr. Ackerman and Dr. J. A. Campbell, who started practicing medicine in 1878, are the onlt two men, of this early period of aseptic surgery, now living here.
     The other pioneers of this sphere, who have passed to their final home, are: Drs. John and Chas. Frissell, Geo. Baird, J. C. Hupp, E. A. Hildreth I, S. L. Jepson, W. L. Wilson, W. J. Bates, R. C. Cummings and R. C. Hazlett.
     After the Civil War, the hospital was again placed in the charge of the Sisters and reorganized for civilian patients. The Sisters nursed all patients until 1890, when the first Training School for Nurses was organized by Dr. C. M. Frissell.
     The hospital kept gradually growing and, in 1896, it was found necessary to move the orphans to other quarters. In 1907, the north wing was built under the auspices of the late Bishop P. J. Donahue, D. D. The south wing was built in 1915. From a capacity of 50 beds, the hospital has grown to 300 beds, with fully equipped X-Ray department, up-to-date laboratory with full-time pathologist, four operating rooms, a pharmacy in charge of a Sister, one hundred and five rooms, four wards, nine semi-private rooms, children's ward, a diet kitchen on each floor under supervision of a dietician. There were three internes under the supervision of a staff, composed of the best surgeons and physicians in the city.
     The hospital is affiliated with American College of Surgeons and American Medical Association.

(Wheeling Hospital moved to a newly-developed site, Medical Park, adjacent to Interstate 70, in 1975.)