Spokane History Timeline

Deaconess Hospital and Nursing School - 1896

Deaconess Hospital was started by a group of religious women called deaconesses. You might be wondering what a deaconess is. A deaconess is like a nun. Deaconesses were not nurses, and they didn’t really want to do medical work. In the mid 1890’s, Spokane became desperate for more medical facilities. So, a group of people called the Deaconess Board of Directors decided that they would try to help with the needs of the city. They were going to try to build a hospital for the sick and needy. But, there was one problem; they needed somewhere to put it, and money to build it.

A woman named Minnie Beard O’Neill, and her husband Franklin Peirce O’Neill, heard of this, and decided they would help the deaconesses with their “hospital”. She donated $10,000 to the deaconesses to build a hospital on her property. They named it, “The Maria Beard Deaconess Home and Hospital of Spokane” after Mrs. O’Neill’s mother. By the time it was completed in 1896, and while the deaconesses were moving in, their first patient knocked on the door. Their home/hospital wasn’t very big, it was a 21/2-story building with 20 rooms, and they hadn’t gotten much furniture in. The patient was a drifter from Canada, and he was in need of serious medical help. They had to drop everything and call in the first doctor, Dr. George W. Libby. Since they didn’t have much furniture or any beds, he had to do the operation on the dining table in the kitchen. The patient recovered fully but, sadly, he never paid his bill.

Deaconess Hospital, 1923
1.24091-23 - Deaconess Hospital, 1923.

It wasn’t really what you would call a hospital; the deaconesses were trained in “saving souls, not lives”. Mrs. O’Neill was still very interested in the deaconesses work, and she wanted to see their hospital expand, so she swore that if her husband found a valuable mine, she donate 10% of the money they made off of it to the deaconesses. Later, he found a mine and sold it for $50,000, she donated $5,000 to the hospital.

By 1898, they hired their first trained nurse, whose name was Miss Richards. She was paid about $7.00 a month. In 1899, they established a nursing school, taught by the doctors. Their first class of four student nurses graduated in 1901. As the years went by the amount of nurses in a graduating class went up. By 1907, they established a new hospital, it had 31/2 –stories and 50 beds, by now Deaconess was becoming a major hospital in Spokane. In 1912, they installed the first ever x-ray machine in Spokane, and in the early 1920’s, they acquired the first oxygen tent in Spokane. By 1923, a new 150-bed hospital was completed, that hospital is still there today. Then the Great Depression hit. They now were just trying to keep the doors open and keep their services inexpensive. Of course, this was tough because even before the great depression Deaconess had trouble keeping it up and running. They managed, but then came World War II. WWII had a big impact on Deaconess because many of their trained doctors and nurses left to fight in the war. Out of the 120 doctors on the roll call list, only 30 remained at the hospital in 1942.

First heart operation, Deaconess Hospital, 1959
L93-18.201 - Deaconess Hospital - first open-heart operation in Spokane, January 1959.

In 1952 Deaconess had it’s first “closed” heart surgery. The surgery was done on a 26-year old woman, and was successful. In 1953, the deaconess school of nursing had it’s 1,000 graduate. In that same year, they had their first male graduate, Lester Kenline. In 1955, a new 5-story wing opened, bringing the hospital bed count to about 255. In 1960 they did their first “open” heart surgery. By 1961 they had completed another new wing, increasing the hospital bed count to 319 beds. In 1966, Deaconess launched the first cardio-pulmonary school in the nation; they also got new electric adjustable beds. By 1973 they installed a heliport for their new “Lifebird” helicopter ambulance on top of the newest south wing. In 1974, they had a Medical Office built across from the hospital; it had about 50,000 square feet of office room. In 1981 they built a new patient tower located on Lincoln Street, It had 170 beds. In 1980 the school of nursing closed, and in 1983 they changed their name from Deaconess Hospital to Deaconess Medical Center.

Deaconess has grown considerably from its beginnings as a hospital for the sick and needy. It made it through the Great Depression, and the World War II, and is constant. Today, Deaconess has 388 licensed beds, and 1,640 hospital employees. It offers many different services, and is one of the major hospitals in Spokane.


NW room-Deaconess Hospital Vertical file-Spokesman Review February, 1997

The Deaconess Story, 1896-1996
by: Priscilla Gilkey; Margaret Crabtree; Tean Rollof, editor



Photos used with permission from Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture/ Eastern Washington State Historical Society. L87-1.24091-23 - Deaconess Hospital, 1923.
L93-18.201 - Deaconess Hospital - first open-heart operation in Spokane, January 1959.

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Report created May, 2011.
Last Modified on January 3, 2012