By Norma Higgs
Niagara Gazette — Another organization that deserves some special attention and some “holiday” and “everyday” cheers is the Auxiliary of Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center. As a member for a few years, I regularly receive an envelope in the mail bursting with news and items about coming events that are fun things to do which also help the medical center. More on that as we learn the history of an organization that has been with us for a long time and shows no signs of leaving. Diane Glynn, an active member, compiled a short history of the group in 2005 and she kindly shared her research of the auxiliary with me for this article.
Memorial itself began in 1895 as a small emergency hospital following the merging of several villages and the incorporation of the City of Niagara Falls on March 17, 1892. Shortly after the city was born, several incidents of delay in medical attention following serious injury to its citizens, it became urgent to organize an emergency hospital.
A permanent hospital building was promised by Elizabeth Townsend and her sisters Mrs. Wheeler and Mrs. Pettibone as a memorial to their mother, Mrs. Jane Townsend. Land on what was then known as 11th Street near Pine Avenue (now Memorial Parkway) was donated by the heirs of Albert H. Porter and the Niagara Falls Memorial Hospital was incorporated. It began accepting patients by 1897, in the Townsend Building which included four wards, with four beds each and a surgery.
The early years were a continuous struggle and the hospital fell into hard times trying to meet its obligations and provide some care for the needy as well as the paying patient. The auxiliary was founded in 1905 to help support this fledging hospital, and was known at the time as the Women’s Auxiliary. Today everybody is welcome to join. In the early days members served as volunteers to keep costs down, formed sewing circles and made curtains and mended sheets and towels. They supervised the kitchen and laundry, acted as purchasing agents buying medical and surgical supplies and helped the hospital in other material ways.
The Board of Trustees officially recognized the volunteers in 1910 and Ann Walbridge Bowen was the first president. When Memorial reached a more stable position in 1913, they were able to hire a business manager and the auxiliary continued in a different role. Their mission became one that would provide hospital care for needy patients. Mrs. Clinton Daggett led this project and the auxiliary raised the money through charity balls, card parties, rummage sales and magazine subscriptions. It was named the Free Bed Service and continued serving the community until 1948 providing free hospital care to 419 patients.
The charity balls were held at the State Armory on Main Street in the early days charging $5 per couple and offering private “boxes” for $20. There was even a $1 viewing area for people watching for those unable to purchase a ticket. Later they moved to the Cataract House, the Prospect House, Hotel Niagara, the Parkway Inn and the Niagara Falls Country Club. The last ball was held in 1996 following a period of discontinuance during the war years.
During the war years the membership dropped to just 11 members holding only two meetings between 1941 and 1949. They regrouped under the leadership of Marian Butler who was appointed president by the Hospital’s Board of Trustees. The goal was to raise $1 million for a new maternity center, keep the Corner Shop operational and other projects. The Charity Ball resumed again in 1950, the auxiliary members began serving in the coffee shop, other popular projects such as the baby photo project were added and a scholarship fund was established. The volunteer photographers started wearing a cherry smock which was formally adopted by the auxiliary in 1955.
By 1956 membership was at a peak of 240 and once again they were asked to volunteer in the hospital business offices and other operational divisions within the hospital. Volunteer hours were recorded starting in 1958 and 1,744 hours were counted that first year. Other projects taken on by this ambitious group was the establishment of a Memorial Social Services Department. The auxiliary funded education expenses and partially paid the salary of a medical social worker. They later funded the salary of the first Director of Volunteers in 1961.
Next time we will visit the gift shop (just in time for holiday shopping) and learn about its modest beginnings and more on the auxiliary of NFMMC and its recent programs and projects.
Note: The early history of the NFMMC was gathered from various sources including Hamilton Mizer’s “A City is Born Niagara Falls, A City Matures,” Wikipedia and Diane Glynn.
Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.Norma Higgs serves with the Niagara Beautification Commission and Niagara Falls Block Club Council.