Employees

Hospital employees formed an elaborate hierarchy. The superintendent was expected to act as a paternal figure to the hospital “family.” The steward and matron – who were often husband and wife – were responsible for the day-to-day logistics of running the hospital. Assistant physicians evaluated the medical needs of patients, while nurses and attendants were charged with administering treatments and providing personal care.

Staff members generally lived at the hospital, and many shared close bonds. Esther Blackmer earned $1.50 per week plus room and board as a chambermaid in the 1840s. Her coworkers contributed to her friendship album. Superintendent Woodward imparted a message of fatherly advice, while his son Henry drew a picture of the hospital. Esther left to marry Benjamin F. Slow in 1846.

In 1869, Worcester became the first state hospital to employ a female assistant physician. Dr. Mary H. Stinson was a graduate of the Women’s Medical College in Philadelphia. In a letter to Dorothea Dix, Superintendent C. A. Bemis wrote: “she has been with us but little more than a month but proves thus far to be a real treasure.” Stinson remained at the hospital until 1875.

In the 1890s, the hospital became one of a handful of asylums offering a training school for nurses. The school signaled a movement toward the professionalization of hospital employees and the reinvention of the hospital as a site for education. Over the next few decades, a medical residency program and a lecture series were established. Professionals in training traveled from across the United States and Europe to study at Worcester. 

In 1902, several dozen nurses went on strike to protest working conditions, citing long hours and inadequate staffing. They also claimed that patients were served rotten food and slept on floors covered “only by rags,” and that the hospital was infested with vermin. The trustees refuted these claims and defended the hospital’s reputation in the press.

The staff of the hospital included many pioneering figures. Dr. Adolf Meyer helped inaugurate a new era of scientific research and education at the hospital. He later became the first psychiatrist-in-chief of Johns Hopkins Hospital and president of the American Psychiatric Association.

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