My daughter-in-law recently became a member of St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild. Could you provide some history of the organization and its activities? ~ Carol C., Carmel
St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild is an Indianapolis area volunteer organization that is now into its second century of supporting the city’s oldest hospital. The guild was founded in 1907 by a handful of young women who were members of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. At that time, St. Paul’s was located downtown on the southeast corner of West New York Street and North Illinois Street. Today, St. Paul’s is located just north of Kessler Boulevard, at 6050 North Meridian Street.
As the winter holiday season was unfolding, St. Paul’s rector, the Reverend Doctor Lewis Brown (1855-1939), preached about the rewards of selfless acts of kindness towards those who were less fortunate. He asked the women to accompany him on his visits to local hospitals on Christmas day. The women were so inspired by their experience that they proceeded to reach out to their friends to join them in forming an organization that would provide ongoing care to under-served patients. Although the guild’s meetings were held at St. Paul’s Church or in St. Paul’s members’ homes in the early years, the group soon expanded beyond the parish and became a city-wide, nonsectarian association.
The focus of St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild was to brighten the lives of patients at City Hospital and at Eleanor Hospital for Sick Children. The guild chose the name “St. Margaret’s” in honor of Queen Margaret of Scotland (1045-1093). An English princess from the House of Wessex, Margaret became queen when she married Scotland’s King Malcolm III. She could read, which was unusual for a woman in the Middle Ages. Her wisdom and holiness helped her husband to be a better ruler, as she influenced him to work out disputes rather than go to war. Despite her wealth and position, Margaret performed many charitable acts during her lifetime. For her sense of justice and her efforts to improve the conditions of the poor, she was canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1250. Besides being the patron saint of Scotland, Margaret is also the patron saint of learning, children, widows, and large families.
City Hospital was the first hospital in Indianapolis open to the general public. Completed in 1859, it remained the only hospital until St. Vincent Hospital was built in 1881, Deaconess Hospital in 1895, and Methodist Hospital in 1908. With the establishment of privately owned hospitals, City Hospital became the only facility available to low-income and indigent citizens. Located at what was then 1000 West Coe Street, City Hospital was in the same general vicinity as later building structures of the same institution. Name changes over the years included Indianapolis City Hospital, Marion County General Hospital, Wishard Memorial Hospital, and Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital. An interesting coincidence is that before the street the hospital faced was renamed Coe, it was called Margaret (see map below).
Eleanor Hospital for Children was located at 1806 North Capitol Avenue during its relatively short existence. It was founded in 1895 with funds provided by Colonel Eli Lilly, to honor the memory of his daughter Eleanor, who had died of diphtheria at age 14. The institution was affiliated with City Hospital, but it was housed in the former residence of Walter Q. Gresham (1832-1895). Gresham and his wife sold their home to Colonel Lilly after President Grover Cleveland appointed Gresham to be his Secretary of State. The Greshams then moved to Washington, D.C., and Lilly donated the home to the Flower Mission, another charitable organization serving City Hospital. Eleanor Hospital for Children was the only pediatric hospital in Indianapolis at that time. It closed in 1909, when a children’s unit was opened at City Hospital. Thus were the two areas of underserved patients St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild had pledged to serve combined at one location. More than one-hundred years later, the guild has never wavered from its original mission to serve the institution that is now Eskenazi.
By 1910, St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild members were spreading cheer at City Hospital’s new children’s unit.
Over the years, the guild has mounted many different initiatives to aid in the healing of hospital patients. In 1914, for example, it helped brighten the hospital environment by raising the money to hire local artists to decorate the walls with their paintings and murals. Among them were the now well-known artists William Forsyth, Carl Graf, Otto Stark, Wayman Adams, Clifton Wheeler, J. Otis Adams, and T. C. Steele.
To raise funds, the guild has implemented a wide variety of projects over the years. In the 1930s, one of them was a lending library, which was located at 415 East 34th Street, across the street from Tabernacle Presbyterian Church. Other events have included sponsoring a ballet, a lecture series, a vintage automobile show, musical programs, charity balls, and a movie premiere.
In 1941, St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild was granted 501(c)(3) tax exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service. Obtaining the designation of a nonprofit organization allowed the guild to receive contributions from individual donors who want their contributions to be tax-deductible. It also qualified the guild for grants from foundations, corporations, trusts, and government entities that are only available to not-for-profit groups.
In November of 1955, St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild received a portion of the ticket sales from a Liberace concert. Liberace also gave a private concert in the home of guild member Helen Gerald, at which he autographed the Gerald family’s piano.
In February of 1958, St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild received a portion of the ticket sales from the premiere of the movie, “Raintree County.” The film was based on the novel of the same name by Bloomington, Indiana author Ross Lockridge Jr. (1914-1948).
Although the funds raised by the guild grew steadily, it became increasingly challenging for the guild to conceive of new ways to raise funds for the hospital, year after year after year. In 1960, an idea for raising funds turned out to serve the guild for many years to come. A new guild member, Dessie Partenheimer Koch, who had recently moved to Indianapolis from the San Francisco area, related the details of a fundraising event in which she had participated in California. During the three years prior to her moving to Indianapolis, the museum guild to which she belonged had found empty mansions, fixed them up, and charged admission for the public to view them. The members of St. Margaret’s enthusiastically embraced this concept, and the first Decorators’ Show House and Gardens debuted in 1962. Now in its 55th year, the Decorators’ Show House and Gardens has become the guild’s signature event. It is the longest-running tour of its kind in the country.
The Decorators’ Show House and Gardens provides an opportunity for the public to tour a large, often historic, home that they might not otherwise be able to view. It also allows tour goers to get innovative ideas for decorating their own residences. In addition, the project provides the guild’s 85 active members and 275 life members lifelong friendships and meaningful volunteer work.
From the beginning, the mission of the organization has been to support the city’s oldest hospital. Since its founding 109 years ago, St. Margaret’ Hospital Guild has donated more than $12,000,000 to the hospital that is now known as Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Hospital.
This year’s Decorators’ Show House and Gardens is located at 5260 North Meridian Street. The property is located within the boundaries of two highly respected neighborhood associations, Butler-Tarkington and North Meridian Street Historic District. Construction of the home began in 1929 by architect-builder Henry L. Simons (1872-1954) and was completed in 1930. Simons built hundreds of impressive houses during his career. The French provincial style residence has been home to the families of eight owners over its 86 years of existence. Past homeowners include Robert and Pearl Sebel MacGill, William and Marie Eisenlohr Wemmer, Gilbert and Helen Trusler Gerald, Murray and Loretta Dulberger, John and Lynn Clippinger Neff, Lynn Clippinger Fechtman, J. D. and Shirley Noel, and Anthony and Marla Smith.
The Decorators’ Show House and Gardens begins its 16-day run on Saturday, April 23rd. It ends on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 8th. If you would like to purchase a ticket to this year’s show house, or attend one of the special events associated with the show house, or make a tax-deductible donation to a worthy cause, or join this hardworking organization of awesome women to organize next year’s show house, you can find pages that discuss all of these topics on the St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild website by clicking here.
Readers who are acquainted with the work of St. Margaret’s Hospital Guild or who have attended a Decorators’ Show House in the past are encouraged to leave a comment below.
If you have a question about Indianapolis history, please send it to historicindianapolis(at)yahoo(dot)com, with “HI Mailbag” in the subject line. We will do our best to answer it. Sponsors and Subscribers are given preference for extensive research on specific properties or specific families featured in HI Mailbag articles. ~ Sharon
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