December 2012

St. Agnes Hospital has a new purpose

Saint Augustine’s University is now celebrating founder’s week. This week is dedicated to those who help create the school in 1867 and those who have made it prosper in the years since. There are many historic buildings on campus. One of the most notable will be a focal point of Founder’s Week celebrations: historic Saint Agnes Hospital.

Most students today know St. Agnes, which was scheduled to be rededicated today, as the burned-out stone shell on Oakwood Avenue. In fact, it holds a long and honored place in the history of Saint Augustine’s and the city of Raleigh.

M r. I. L. Collins from Orange, California donated the first sum of $600 toward the starting of the hospital on a condition that the hospital be called Agnes in memory of his wife. This with another special gift of $500 given from the Woman’s Auxiliary through Ms. Julia Emery made about $1,100 in hand, and was the sum that founded Saint Agnes Hospital. This caused the often repeated statement that “Saint Agnes Hospital was founded with faith, love, and $1,100.”

St. Agnes was founded in 1896 by Sarah Hunter. 70 years, during the darkest days of the Jim Crow segregation, it was the only medical facility for blacks between Hampton, Va., and New Orleans, La. For a while, the hospital was best known as the place where the first black heavy weight champion, Jack Johnson, died after a car accident in Franklinton, N.C., in 1946.

St. Agnes opened three decades after slavery ended, becoming a training ground for hundreds of black nurses. In 1898, St. Agnes graduated its first two nurses after a training program after 18 months.  In 1921, the expenses of the hospital were $25,390.55. Out of that, patients paid $17,438.00. The hospital board appealed to the people of Raleigh for assistance. The equipment needed to be repaired and replaced; also its facilities and accommodations had to be increased. Saint Agnes Hospital was largely supported by generous gifts and donations from all parts of the country.

There have been many setbacks during the life of Saint Agnes Hospital, many resulting from fires. In 1900, a fire broke out in the frame house, which was the hospital and the patients were taken to Taylor Hall, the school assembly hall. In December 1926, the hospital suffered another fire which was very serious. This time the patients were carried to Saint Augustine’s College Nurses Home and to the Bishop Tuttle School. There were no fatalities from all these fires, but they cause major financial setbacks. Although Saint Agnes had all these financial problems they were still able to ensure a continuous growth until the 1930s.

Students of Saint Augustine’s University carried and laid the stones down to help build St. Agnes. The rededication ceremony for the building is part of a project that will turn the building into an urgent care center and a health institute.

— Ashley Ross and Lee Richardson