In America's early days, children were lucky if they reached adulthood. Poor nutrition, abusive work, epidemics, home cures and doctors armed with leeches and snake oil all raised the odds against a child's survival. There was no specific focus on children's health for many years, but the study of children's health was legitimized in the 1880's by Dr. Abraham Jacobi, who established pediatrics as a medical specialty. (Harvard Medical School established the first chair in Pediatrics in 1888.) Into this changing climate, came the Children's Country Home (in 1883), now known as The HSC Pediatric Center.
It all started when a gathering of young women were talking about society's ills and began to voice their concerns about Washington's poor and sickly children. During the summer, it was terribly hot, and they thought it would be a really good thing to give such children "a breath of fresh air." The young ladies, most of them members of St. John's Episcopal Church, organized themselves as the Board of Managers of the project. Then they asked the Reverend William A. Leonard, rector of St. John's, to be their president. He agreed to do so.
On June 14, 1883, the women opened the great-great grandmother of The HSC Pediatric Center: the "Children's Country Home." When the home opened it's doors, it admitted boys from age four to ten and girls from age four to twelve. Service was limited that first year, since the house could only accommodate six children at a time for a ten-day or possibly two-week stay. All the kids were referred by Washington churches.
The building of a small addition to the house in 1884 increased the capacity to fifteen children, but even with the extra space, not all referred children could be admitted. In 1885, the Board of Managers decided to initiate a building fund which they hoped would enable them to buy a larger house. Charles Glover of the Riggs Bank agreed to serve as treasurer of the fund, and the public was invited to send contributions. Mr. Glover became so involved in the project that he purchased several acres of land west of Rock Creek Park. He gave the property to the Board in memory of his daughter, who had died at the age of four.
As the years passed, the children who were referred to the home were increasingly those convalescing from disease or surgery. The age range of the kids admitted now stretched from infancy to age fourteen. In the 1920s, the Home increasingly responded to the need for the treatment of asthmatics and rheumatic fever cases. These changes led to more variations in the length of stay and the net result was that the number of children served by the home each summer nearly doubled.
By 1928 the Board of Managers expanded the summer program to year-round service because of the growing number of patients and increased emphasis on convalescent care. But the wooden house had not been constructed for use in wintertime.
In 1929, the Board decided to sell the old Home. They wanted to build a new, more permanent (and fireproof) institution. A beautiful six acre parcel of land at the corner of 18th Street and Bunker Hill Road in northeast was chosen. The area was decidedly country it was ten miles out from the city, at the very edge of the District line! Only a few houses surrounded the site.
Mrs. Arthur O'Brien, donated the land to the Home. Mrs. Thomas Hartley Given, had read about the Board's plans in the newspaper, and donated $35,000. These, and other gifts, along with the proceeds from the sale of the Grant Road property, enabled the Board to build the new facility on Bunker Hill Road.
The building was designed and constructed along the lines of French architecture to have a homelike appearance. The cornerstone was laid by the President's wife, Mrs. Herbert Hoover. The new Home, capable of accommodating fifty children, was completed and first occupied on July 16, 1930. It was awarded a certificate by the District of Columbia Board of Trade as the outstanding building in the city in April, 1931. In 1936, the District of Columbia issued the Home a permit to operate as a "boarding home for children under 15 years of age."
With the opening of the new building, the Home had its own medical and nursing staffs, a social worker, teacher and dietician. It held training classes for nursery aides and was considered one of the outstanding child health facilities in the area, while keeping its relaxed, informal homelike atmosphere.
Soon came the ravages of the polio epidemics. In the forties and fifties, the Home evolved into a chronic medical facility, caring for children suffering the effects of polio, rheumatic fever, cerebral palsy and congenital malformations. Two additional wings were added to the Home in 1950. Convalescent care continued to be the major service, and to reflect more accurately the services provided, the name was changed to The Children's Convalescent Home on October 5, 1951.
The range of services grew even further, and the Home took on the character and services of a hospital. In 1953, the Convalescent Home became a full member of the American Hospital Association. In 1956, a new wing was dedicated by Senator Lester Hill, and the ribbon was cut by Mr. Herbert Hoover, Jr. The facility received its license as a "chronic and convalescent care hospital" and on November 2, 1956, the name was changed once again it would be called "The Children's Convalescent Hospital."
From its beginning as a country home, the institution had maintained a good working relationship with Children's Hospital (National Medical Center) and this, along with later affiliation with Georgetown University School of Medicine gave it excellent supportive medical resources. Having developed its services far beyond convalescent care, in April, 1968, the hospital changed its name for the fourth time. It was renamed The Hospital for Sick Children. In September '68, a modern, fully-equipped, 80-bed addition to the hospital was officially dedicated and opened.
The International Year of the Child was celebrated with great fanfare at the Hospital in 1979. The Hospital for Sick Children enthusiastically supported the goals of the International Year of the Child: "Think Children, Celebrate Their True Potential And Promote All Children's Possibilities." Hospital literature proclaimed "that it will continue to do so in the future in both its inpatient and outpatient programs. In the words of Albert Schweitzer, 'Here, at whatever hour you come, you will find light and help and human kindness."
In the early 1980s, the enormous progress in saving the lives of medically fragile infants and children led to a growing need for subacute or transitional care. Patients included premature and low-birth weight infants, babies suffering from various birth traumas, kids of all ages needing orthopedic rehabilitation, accident victims, children with feeding and/or absorption disorders, and some with chronic or terminal conditions.
In 1983, the Hospital had a yearlong 100th anniversary celebration, and Marion Barry, Jr., Mayor of the District of Columbia, proclaimed May 25th "The Hospital For Sick Children Day." The Hospital opened a respiratory care unit in 1984 to accommodate ventilator-dependent patients no longer requiring acute care services, yet still in need of extended therapy. The Surgeon General of the United States, C. Everett Koop, M.D., presented the keynote address.
The new decade began with a special commendation for the Hospital from the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. Hospital construction and renovation began in 1991. On June 13, President and Mrs. Bush, Secretary of Health and Human Services Louis Sullivan, and Surgeon General Antonia Novello and nearly 500 others attended the groundbreaking celebration at The Hospital for Sick Children. In 1993, patient care staff was added to treat nearly twice as many children; the average length of stay was cut in half. The new Family Apartment opened in January, and Preemie Express opened in August. The Weinberg Rehabilitation Center completed its first full year of operations.
1994 was "A Year of Rededication." Staff moved "off campus" during construction returned to Bunker Hill Road. On November 10, the "new campus" was dedicated in a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the building project. One of the most significant achievements in 1994 was the accreditation of the Hospital's Comprehensive Inpatient Rehabilitation program by CARF (The Rehabilitation Accreditation Commission), the highest acknowledgment possible for a pediatric rehab program.
In 2003, the Hospital celebrated 120 years of providing high-quality health services for children in a nurturing environment of family-centered care.
Effective September 1, 2004, The Hospital for Sick Children became The HSC Pediatric Center. The new name maintains the tradition built over the years by keeping the HSC initials. At the same time, it embraces change – it’s still HSC, but now the initials stand for something new: Health Services for Children. Although the name has changed, the mission remains the same: To provide the highest quality rehabilitative and transitional care for infants, children, adolescents, and young adults with special health care needs and their families in a supportive environment that respects their needs, strengths, values and priorities.