St. John’s Hospital

st. johns picThe history of St. John’s Hospital begins in 1875, when a half-dozen nuns, members of the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis, were assigned to Springfield by Roman Catholic Bishop Peter Baltes of Alton. The nuns, who originally hailed from Muenster, Germany, knew no English, so they boarded with Springfield’s community of Ursuline nuns while they learned their new language.

The Franciscans provided much of their early medical care in patients’ homes — Sister Frances Dreivogt, for instance, cared for Mary Lincoln prior to her death at the home of Mrs. Lincoln’s sister on South Second Street in 1882.

However, the nuns also set up a hospital in 1876 in the former home of Jacob Loose at Seventh Street and Lawrence Avenue.  That building was quickly outgrown, so the nuns moved in 1879 to Eighth and Mason streets. The first building there contained 16 private rooms, four wards and a chapel, dining room, laundry, kitchen and convent, all constructed for $$20,000. The site remains the heart of the St. John’s complex.

“The meagre records of those early years tell that John O’Neal was the first man admitted, and a Mrs. Braun, the first woman,” according to an uncredited, undated newspaper article apparently published in the mid-20th century. Patients were not billed by the nuns. Instead, the nuns, who still were not fluent in English, would hand out preprinted cards: “We cannot take payment for our work,” the cards said, “but if you want to give something for the hospital, we will thank you.”

“When the supplies ran low, the sisters set out with their baskets and a wagon or cart. … Then from one house to another they went begging for the needs of their patients,” the article reported.

Hospital rates in 1892 were $4 weekly for a bed in a ward or $6 for a private room.

St. John’s expanded steadily. The school of nursing began to accept lay students in 1912 (previously it had taught only nuns).  A maternity hospital opened in 1915, St. John’s Tuberculosis Sanitarium was established near Riverton in 1919, and a Crippled Children’s Hospital and School was created in 1928. A major expansion of the main hospital in 1938 brought its capacity to 750 beds.

The next big modernization took place in 1974, when the hospital’s main entrance was moved from the south side of the complex to the north. The Pavilion was constructed in 1988, the Carol Jo Vecchie Women and Children’s Center in 1997, and the Prairie Heart Institute in 1998.

Another major construction project — a $41 million patient tower and a $121 million surgery center — was under way as of 2013. The work was scheduled for completion in 2014.

Meanwhile, however, the Franciscan nuns have gradually bowed out of patient care and hospital governance. As of 2000, only three nuns still worked at St. John’s, down from as many as 200 in the past. St. John’s is owned by the Hospital Sisters Health System, which in 2013 had 17 affiliate institutions and organizations, including 13 hospitals, counting St. John’s, in Illinois and Wisconsin.

More information: Sangamon Valley Collection, Lincoln Library; Franciscan Motherhouseschs logo (2)

Original content copyright Sangamon County Historical Society. You are free to republish this content as long as credit is given to the Society.

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17 Responses to St. John’s Hospital

  1. Barb Obertino says:

    My friend, Emily Fullenwider, from Riverton says she was the first baby girl born at St. John’s. Her birthdate is February 12, 1914. Is this correct?

  2. Jon W Lander says:

    My mother Elizabeth Pankhurst was treated for TB. I have a picture she
    wrote on the back as Springfield Sanitorium. She was from Oregon, IL.
    Do you have a record of her treatment there?

  3. Kimberly Dunn says:

    I’m trying to find info on my husband’s grandfather. Just came across a letter saying he died of TB in the Springfield, IL TB Sanitarium. All of my husband’s family is gone so I have no one to ask. How would I locate a record(s) to see if his grandfather’s name is listed for the month/ year he died?
    Walter Blaine McLarty; death May, 30, 1937

    Thanks for any answers- even if the answer is “There isn’t any way to find this out”, would be helpful so I could stop looking.

    • editor says:

      Ms. Dunn: I couldn’t find any newspaper records on Mr. McLarty — some deaths at the TB sanitarium made the papers, but others apparently did not. I have only two other suggestions:

      (1) Request the death certificate from the Sangamon County Clerk’s office. I’m not sure it will be available, because the clerk’s web site says death records are available only to “immediate family,” and the definition does not include grandchildren or inlaws. But it’s worth a try. You have to mail in the application, along with $29 for the first copy. Go here — — for instructions and to download the application.

      (2) Call Lincoln Library, Springfield’s public library at 753-4900 and ask for Curtis Mann, who directs the Sangamon Valley Collection, the library’s local history collection. If there’s a repository for records from the TB sanitarium, he will know where it’s housed.

      Sorry I couldn’t be more help. Good luck.

  4. Liz says:

    Getting the death certificate from IDPH is $19 for certified copies, $10 for genealogical research. I have used them several times and the death certs come in about 2 weeks.

    • Liz says:

      With the IDPH link, there is no service charge and extended relatives (grandchildren, 2x grandchildren, etc.) are included. I have my great-grandparents death certs as well as one 2x-great grandparent death cert. I got one record with just the name, DOB, DOD and spouses name.

  5. editor says:

    Liz: Thanks a lot for your help. As always.

  6. Vickie Hagaman says:

    Was St John’s Hospital ever located on Governor Street in Springfield, IL?

    • editor says:

      Vickie: I don’t think so. As the entry mentions, St. John’s started at Seventh Street and Lawrence Avenue from 1876 to 1879 and from then on has been at basically its present (though now much expanded) site. What period of time and where on Governor are you thinking of? I might be able to research what was there.

      Thanks for reading.

  7. Rhoda Staley says:

    I am looking for information. I found out several years ago I was in the TB sanitarium in Springfield and believe it was around 1958 or 1959. I am trying to see if that was the facility. If there are old records of admissions. I am interested as to what the treatments were there.

    • editor says:

      Ms. Staley: As the St. John’s Hospital entry says, the hospital and the former St. John’s Sanitarium were different facilities but related to each other in that both were operated by the Hospital Sisters of St. Francis. There’s more on the sanitarium here. I don’t know if there are admissions records, and even if they are, what the rules are on releasing them. Your best bet regarding those, and for information on TB treatments (other than “fresh air and sunshine”), probably is to contact the Hospital Sisters at their motherhouse near Riverton. Good luck.

  8. Dan Chusid says:

    I attended an estate sale last week and picked up an autograph book that was evidently given to one of the nurses who worked at the Sanitarium, around 1931-1938 (that’s when the entries are dated). Each page is filled out and signed by other nurses, with lots of creative prose and even a few painted-in or pasted-on images, photos and a couple news clippings. Too bad I can’t post a few photos here.

    Looks like the book owner was Miss Teresa Andolsch of Springfield, Illinois, who worked there as a nurse.

    There is also a signature on one of the pages that appears to be by Chief Kiutus Tecumseh (great-great-grandson of Chief Tecumseh). Not sure if he was a patient at the sanitarium or ?

    I find it all intriguing.

  9. Jud Pankey says:

    I have many memories of St. Johns’ – I grew up at 723 E. Reynolds – right across from the contagious ward – during the time of polio, family of the patients would camp on our front lawn – so many deaths during this time – our porch was right across where they would pick up the deceased victims. So so sad. Good memories also, became friends with the nuns – they gave me a black hose and white hose during Halloween and I was a jester – jumped on the bring wall and walked across many a time – ran around the corner (1950) to yell at mom (windows open – no a/c), who was in hospital with our new born lil sister. Some of the best years of my life!!!! i.e. only a few of the memories, but oh the memories!!!!

  10. Barbara Schreiber says:

    I am reseaching for the sanitarium in Springfield that dealt with the polio epidemic of the early 50’s. My sister and brother were both patients there. My parents were always talking about a Dr. Brill and how he was so great with my siblings. Is there a connections with these medical facilities?

    • editor says:

      Ms. Schreiber: I think the sanitarium must be St. John’s Crippled Children’s Hospital, which operated, at least for a time, on a campus northeast of Springfield that also housed St. John’s Sanitarium, which treated tuberculosis victims. Both were offshoots of St. John’s Hospital and, like the hospital, were initiatives of the Franciscan order of Catholic nuns. Separately, I’m going to email you a few newspaper stories related to the crippled children’s hospital and Dr. F.N. Brill.

      I’ve wanted to do a SangamonLink entry on the polio epidemic in Sangamon County for a long time. Thanks for the reminder.

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