Monday, June 16, 2014

St. Peter’s Hospital

Early Roman Catholic institutions in Montana included missions, schools, and hospitals. Many Protestants saw a great need to balance things out. This began in the 1880s in Helena when Helena Episcopalians planned a hospital to complement St. John’s, founded in 1870 by the Sisters of Charity of Leavenworth. Episcopal Bishop Leigh Brewer suggested the idea to his board of trustees in 1883. Men made up the board, but it was the churchwomen who did the real work. Bishop Brewer’s wife Henrietta, Mary Pauline Holter, Dr. Maria Dean, and Georgia Young stand out stand as the cornerstones upon which today’s St. Peter’s Hospital rests. The hospital first located in the Holters’ former home at Jackson and Grand streets in 1884. Of the 225 patients treated that first year, 80 were East Helena smelter workers sick with lead poisoning. Henrietta Brewer and Mary Pauline Holter had no hospital training and hired Georgia Young, a graduate of the New Haven, Connecticut, nurses training school, as supervisor. She was Helena’s first professionally trained graduate nurse. Hospital conditions were horrific; at the end of her first day, Miss Young was covered with lice.

St. Peters Hospital, at Eleventh Avenue between present-day Cruse and Logan,  was built upon tailing piles in 1887.
Montana Historical Society Photograph Archives,  953-531.
Dr. Dean joined the cause to build a better hospital. In 1887, St. Peter’s moved to its longtime location at Logan and Eleventh Avenue. The first photographs show the building starkly resting upon tailing piles left over from the gold rush. Under Georgia Young’s supervision, Henrietta Brewer and Mary Pauline Holter organized their friends as “lady visitors” who cooked for patients, cleaned, and conducted weekly inspections. Nursing supervisor Georgia Young nurtured St. Peter’s for three decades. Dr. Dean, who specialized in women’s and children’s health, did the same. These four founders left a living legacy to the Helena community that continues at St. Peter’s present eastside location. Its women’s health facility is appropriately named for Dr. Maria Dean.

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