Mothers of Mercy

Children’s Mercy Hospital
Children’s Mercy Hospital
Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson
Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson

On June 1, 1897, Dr. Alice Berry Graham discovered a young, ailing girl whose mother could no longer afford to care for her. She and her sister, Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson, rented a bed and supplies at a maternity hospital where they saved the girl's life. This event prompted Graham and Richardson to dedicate their careers to the treatment of children. In 1904, they established Children's Mercy Hospital, which today remains one of the nation's preeminent pediatric hospitals.

Alice and Katharine Berry were born in Kentucky in 1852 and 1860, respectively. The sisters both completed high school, which was a somewhat unusual accomplishment at the time for men or women. More remarkably, Alice Berry used her salary as a school teacher to support Katharine's college studies. She received a Bachelor's and Master's degree in philosophy before earning an M.D. degree at the Pennsylvania Women's College of Philadelphia. Katharine then returned Alice's favor by working as a teacher to pay for Alice's dental education at the Philadelphia Dental College.

The two sisters made their way to Kansas City in 1897, where they attempted to open a medical practice downtown. Unfortunately, almost no one would seek treatment by female doctors in the 1890s, and no hospitals would hire the sisters as a part of the staff. By then each had married and taken new names. Katharine Berry Richardson and Alice Berry Graham rescued the aforementioned girl on June 1, 1897, by renting space in a small maternity hospital so that they could provide her care at no charge. They continued this practice with donated money and eventually purchased the hospital after it went bankrupt in 1899.

They commenced to rename the maternity hospital the "Free Bed Fund Association for Crippled, Deformed, and Ruptured Children." Housed in a dusty old home, the children's hospital specialized in providing free treatment, but it did charge patients whose parents could afford to pay. With their efforts scorned in the local newspapers because they were women, Katharine and Alice nonetheless managed to secure adequate funding from generous donations. In 1904, they renamed the hospital with the less-clunky moniker, "Children's Mercy Hospital."

Over the years, Children's Mercy expanded and moved locations. Dr. Alice Graham died on May 13, 1913, leaving Dr. Katharine Richardson in charge. In 1915 construction began for a new building at Woodland and Independence Avenue. When completed in 1917, it boasted special facilities for children that included playrooms and grounds, classrooms, and a sun porch for fresh air. A small research facility provided for the study of children's disease, but Children's Mercy would not become a major research institution until well after Katharine's death on June 3, 1933. Today, Children's Mercy Hospitals and Clinics still carries on the vision of Drs. Alice Berry Graham and Katharine Berry Richardson at a third location, 2401 Gillham Road, Kansas City, Missouri, which it has occupied since 1970.

 

Read full biographical sketches of people important to the founding of Children's Mercy Hospital; prepared for the Missouri Valley Special Collections, the Kansas City Public Library:

 

View images of Children's Mercy Hospital that are in the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

 

Check out the following books and articles about Children's Mercy Hospital:

 

Continue researching Children's Mercy Hospital using archival material held by the Missouri Valley Special Collections:

 

References:

Daniel Coleman, Biography of Katharine Berry Richardson (1860-1933), Missouri Valley Special Collections.

Mary K. Dains, Show Me Missouri Women: Selected Biographies, volume 1 (Kirksville, MO: Thomas Jefferson University Press, 1989), 206-208.

Jane Fifield Flynn, Kansas City Women of Independent Minds (Kansas City, MO: Fifield Publishing Co, 1992), 128-129.

Susan Jezak Ford, Biography of Avis Elida Smith (1851-1941), Missouri Valley Special Collections.

About the Author

Dr. Jason Roe is a digital history specialist and editor for the Library’s digitization and encyclopedia website project, Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict, 1854-1865. He earned a doctorate in American history from the University of Kansas in May 2012 and is the author of the Library’s popular “This Week in Kansas City History” column. For assistance with general local history questions, please contact the Missouri Valley Special Collections.
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