Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses
This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Michelle Guash as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2014.
The Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses historical marker was dedicated on November 14, 2003. View the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses historical marker listing.
1. Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses marker text, 2014. Courtesy of Michelle Guash.
2. Photograph of Dr. Alice Woodby McKane. From the Dr. Alice Woodby McKane vertical file.
3. Photograph of the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses. From the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses vertical file.
4. Photograph of the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses building. From the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses vertical file.
5. Photograph of nurses at the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses. From the Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses vertical file.
6. Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses, 2014. Courtesy of Michelle Guash.
The following essay is by SCAD student Michelle Guash, 2014.
Originally named for doctors Cornelius and Alice McKane, Charity Hospital was the first hospital in Savannah to train African-American doctors and nurses (fig. 1). The hospital was first established in 1896, when a small group of African Americans received a charter to operate the McKane Hospital for Women, Children and Training School for Nurses. The original hospital was a five-room, wooden building on Montgomery and Liberty Streets in downtown Savannah. Though the building is best known as Charity Hospital, it has had many names. The original McKane Hospital for Women and Children and Training School for Nurses was renamed Charity Hospital and Training School for Nurses in 1901. Charity Hospital completed the brick structure in 1931 and operated in that location until 1964. The building then served as the William A. Harris Memorial Hospital and Nursing Home until 1976. It was rehabilitated for housing in 2002. The Georgia Historical Society erected a marker dedicated to Dr. Alice Woodby McKane on this site.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect about Charity Hospital was the people who established it. Dr. Alice Woodby McKane and Dr. Cornelius McKane were not only integral figures to Charity Hospital, but also the first African American couple to make major contributions to the health of Savannah’s black citizens. Dr. Alice Woodby McKane was born in 1865 in Bridgewater, Pennsylvania (fig. 2). Her parents, Charles and Elizabeth Frasier Woodby, died before she was seven years old. Later, Alice lost her eyesight for three years; upon regaining it, she decided she wanted to become a doctor. Rising above these hardships, she was able to attend the Institute for Colored Youth. She graduated in June 1889 with honors and then pursued a medical degree from the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Alice graduated with honors for a second time and earned her license in 1892.[i]
Alice then moved to Augusta, Georgia in order to teach at the Haines Institute and open her own medical office, becoming the first African American woman in Georgia to practice medicine. In 1892, she met Cornelius McKane. McKane was originally from British Guyana; his grandmother had been a slave in Dutch Guyana and his great grandfather was an African king. At the age of ten, he was sent by Deacon Moses F. Webster to the United States to pursue an education in New York. After obtaining his high school degree, he went immediately to Liberia. He mastered native languages and Arabic during his time there.[ii] In 1888, Cornelius left Liberia and entered the Medical College of the University of Vermont, where he received his M.D. in 1891.[iii]
Shortly after meeting, the McKane doctors married on February 2, 1893 at Beth Eden Baptist Church. That same year, they worked together quickly to establish the first Training School for Nurses. According to the Savannah Morning News, the institution was known as a “preliminary organization” for the betterment of health conditions for African-Americans in Savannah.[iv]
On May 17, 1895, Alice and Cornelius traveled to Liberia in order to establish a hospital and to once again serve as educators. In Monrovia, they were able to establish and organize a health bureau, private hospital, and a nurse training school. In addition to this success, the McKane doctors welcomed their first child, Alice Frances McKane. The following year, Alice contracted African fever and the McKanes consequently returned to Savannah.[v] Unfortunately, Alice passed away on August 14, 1896.
Though their Training School for Nurses was a great achievement, the doctors McKane were still unsatisfied with the health treatment available to African Americans. City health statistics showed a much higher death rate among African Americans than whites. This difference was attributed to the insufficient hospital facilities to care for the African American sick and injured. Due to these statistics, the doctors petitioned the Superior Court of Chatham County for a charter for the McKane Hospital for Women and Children and Training School for Nurses (fig. 3). The charter was granted on June 1, 1896.
In 1901, the name McKane Hospital for Women and Children and Training School became Charity Hospital. The subsequent renovation in 1931 replaced the original wooden structure with a brick building (fig. 4). The hospital operated there for the next few decades (fig. 5). In 1983, the Cuyler Community Improvement Association bought the property to save it from demolition. The hospital was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1985. The building continues to serve as a safe haven for the community, presently as a residence for the homeless (fig. 6). The McKane doctors improved conditions for the African American community and all of Savannah by offering superior medical treatment and education.
[i] Evelyn Parker, “The Doctors McKane.” The Savannah Biographies 24, (1993).
[ii] The City of Savannah Georgia vertical file.
[iv] Robert M. Hitch, “The Story of Charity Hospital,” Savannah Evening Press.
[v] Parker, “The Doctors McKane.”
Evelyn Parker, “The Doctors McKane.” The Savannah Biographies 24, (1993).
The City of Savannah Georgia vertical file.