top of page

A History of Tulsa Hospitals - 1900-1968

Published in the August, 1968 issue of Tulsa Medicine, official publication of Tulsa County Medical Society


The ultra-modern Tulsa hospital of 1968 is a far cry from the city’s first hospital-a rude cottage in an apple orchard-but both had the same objective of quality medical and nursing care to preserve human life.


In 1900, when Tulsa had a population of 1,390, a raging epidemic of smallpox led to the establishment of the first hospital in the rough frontier town. Few private homes were large enough to isolate a smallpox patient from his family. In desperation, Dr. Fred S. Clinton, a pioneer Oklahoma surgeon, and four prominent Tulsans set up a contagion hospital in a six-room cottage near Archer and Greenwood streets. This first Tulsa hospital, which does not seem to have had a formal name, was packed for weeks with smallpox victims-at one time more than 50 persons were isolated there. After the epidemic had passed, it was converted to a general hospital for other types of patients, and one room was used as a surgery. For some unexplained reason, this hospital was discontinued a year later. In addition to Dr. Clinton, the original trustees included J.H. McBirney, Sam P. McBirney, Vic Pranter and Jack Dietz, all leading businessmen. Each invested $50 to rent the cottage and buy beds, bedding, and a small supply of food and drugs.


Oklahoma hospitals were few and far between at the turn of the century. The first in the state dates back to April 21, 1824, when a military hospital was set up at Fort Gibson, established by Colonel Matthew Arbuckle, in command of five companies of the Seventh Infantry. However, the first permanent hospital-and the first training school for nurses did not come into existence until 1895. At that time the Protestant Episcopal Church utilized an anonymous gift of $10,000 to build a two-story structure at McAlester, Oklahoma. Later to be known as the Albert Pike Hospital, it employed 20 persons. The need for the hospital was dramatically pointed up when a mine explosion in nearby Krebs took 95 lives and injured several hundred others. In 1925, the Episcopalians gave the Albert Pike Hospital to the Scottish Rite Masons.


After the closing of its first hospital in 1901 after only a year of existence, Tulsa was without hospital facilities for five years. Dr. Fred S. Clinton was tireless in his demands for a hospital, and on several occasions called town meetings to discuss the need. A native of Okmulgee, Dr. Clinton came to Tulsa in 1897 after graduating from the University of Kansas School of Medicine. His first office was in what he later described as a “soot-stained tent on the banks of the Arkansas River,” where he did surgery by light of a Wellsbach gasoline lamp. He soon moved to a two-room suite in a building at First and Main streets, which also suffered from poor lighting. Most of his early patients were cowboys and oilfield roustabouts who were shot, knifed, and beaten in frequent saloon fights and hold-ups. Dr. Clinton quickly became a leading civic booster for Tulsa, and with his wife Celia led a continuing campaign for better schools and cultural resources. In 1905, he helped develop the famous Glenn Pool in Red Fork, a fabulous oil discovery that made Oklahoma the center of the petroleum industry. In 1906, Dr. Clinton’s efforts bore fruit and the Tulsa Hospital Association was incorporated. Dr. C.L. Reeder was named Secretary, and Dr. C.Z. Wiley was elected Treasurer, with Dr. Clinton as President. A two and one-half story residence built by R.S. Waddell, just completed at North Cheyenne and Golden streets, was leased. The Tulsa Hospital opened there in the early summer.


For reasons now obscured by time, the Tulsa hospital moved in December, 1906, to an unfinished ten-room residence at the corner of West 5th and Lawton streets. The move was apparently made in haste, and the first patients suffered to the sounds of hammers and saws as workmen installed electricity, a cesspool, a hand-pump water system and sidewalks. The formal opening ceremonies were not held until late January, 1907, with the Mayor of Tulsa officiating.


The Tulsa Hospital was considered as a leading institution of its time. Soon after its opening the first school of nursing in Tulsa was established there under the direction of Mrs. Henrietta Ziegler, a remarkable woman who was to become a fixture of Tulsa nursing circles. The first class of four students was graduated in 1908. An advertisement for the Tulsa Hospital appearing in The Journal of the Oklahoma State Medical Association in 1910 notes that it had “sunlight and air in every room, silent signal system, modernly planned and equipped.” Also that the Hospital had a private ambulance (a clapboard wagon with bell, drawn by two horses), long distance telephone, and location on the horse-drawn car line. The capacity at the time was 40 beds. Dr. Clinton remained as President until 1915, when other interests assumed control. Soon after World War I, the hospital was closed.


The Physicians & Surgeons Hospital, a two-story frame building located at Carson and 13th streets, was organized in 1910 by Dr. G.H. Butler, Dr. S.D. Hawley, Dr. W.Q. Conway and Dr. R.S. Wagner. It was only moderately successful during the twenty years of its existence, and closed in the early thirties. An attempt to establish a nurses training school there was eventually abandoned.


In 1915, Dr. Clinton headed a new group of professional and civic leaders to build Oklahoma Hospital at West 9th and Jackson streets in the Riverview Addition. Due to a shortage of critical materials occasioned by the European war abroad, construction was delayed, and the Hospital did not open until June, 1916. It was an attractive brick building, initially caring for a maximum of 50 patients and containing a three-room surgery. Mrs. Henrietta Ziegler followed Dr. Clinton from Tulsa Hospital and immediately established a school of nursing at the new institution. The Tulsa County Medical Society met regularly at Oklahoma Hospital in 1916-17, and interestingly, Miss Ziegler’s accomplished nursing students frequently provided musical entertainment!


Oklahoma Hospital declined after the opening of St. John’s Hospital in the midtwenties, and was eventually purchased by a Tulsa psychiatrist, Dr. Ned R. Smith, and used as a hospital for treatment of nervous and mental diseases. Later, the building was purchased by a group of osteopathic physicians and developed into the present 200-bed Oklahoma Osteopathic Hospital. Morningside Hospital, the precursor of the modern-day Hillcrest Medical Center, came into existence in 1918 at the height of a nationwide influenza epidemic that claimed thousands of lives. A brick structure at 512 North Boulder was purchased by a private corporation and hastily converted into a hospital to care for influenza victims. After the epidemic had subsided, additional money was raised and used to remodel and better equip the hospital. It soon became one of the city’s leading institutions, attracting many younger physicians to its medical staff.


In 1923, a 21-room addition to Morningside was begun. Construction was delayed, however, and the new unit did not open until June, 1924. The total bed capacity was then 80. A photograph of the medical staff, including many physicians still in active practice, made at the time the new addition was opened, hangs in the Library of the Tulsa County Medical Society.


Despite this expansion of Morningside Hospital, it was inadequate to handle the volume of admissions, and in 1925 the decision was made to build an entirely new structure at 16th and Utica streets. The ownership had by then passed into the hands of Mr. and Mrs. William J. McNulty, a team of Tulsa hospital administrators and realtors. Construction began the following year, and Morningside Hospital opened in its new location in February, 1928.


Beset by financial troubles in the depression-ridden thirties, Morningside was reorganized as a community hospital in 1939 and renamed Hillcrest Hospital (later changed to Hillcrest Medical Center). Bryce J. Twitty, an energetic hospital official of Dallas, Texas, was named Administrator. Under the leadership of Mr. Twitty and his successor, James D. Harvey, Hillcrest has developed into one of Oklahoma’s largest hospitals, with a present bed capacity of 510.


A program of long-range planning, announced in 1967, envisions an orderly expansion of Hillcrest Medical Center to meet changing community needs during the next thirty years. Construction of general and specialized bed facilities, replacement of obsolete buildings, development of extended care units, a research unit, additional parking facilities, and expanded outpatient services have been blueprinted for the institution. The year of 1919 saw the beginnings of St. John’s Hospital, when the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, a Catholic order, obtained title to a tract of land at 21st and Utica streets. In the same year, two public drives for funds to construct a suitable building were conducted. Blueprints for the structure were shown to members of the Tulsa County Medical Society on October 13, 1919, and representatives of the Order estimated the hospital would open in 18 to 24 months. In February, 1920, the first spade of dirt was turned in impressive ceremonies by General John J. Pershing, the hero of World War I.


However, progress on St. John’s proved painfully slow. The project bogged down for a lack of money and in February, 1921, the Tulsa County Medical Society financed a publicity campaign in various area newspapers, appealing for contributions from the general public. Construction would start and stop, and in 1922 was finally resumed after being halted for several months. St. John’s received its’ first patients in 1924 in a partially completed building. Several buildings were unfinished until 1926, when $600,000 was raised by local civic organizations to complete the work.


St. John’s Hospital was to prove enormously successful. In the next 42 years it grew to a total bed capacity, of 600-at present the largest hospital in Tulsa. A post-world War II building program, completed in 1957, saw the addition of two major wings, an automobile parkade, a physical services building.and a residence for members of the Order. More recently, the Waite Phillips Annex on the north side has been enlarged to provide new laboratory, x-ray and surgery facilities.


A seven-year building program at St. John’s Hospital, designed to replace all pre-1945 facilities at a cost of $12,000,000 announced last December. A new 10-story tower will be built to service the majority of patient, visitor and personnel traffic. St. John’s has profited by a series of capable administrators in the Order, and by the experienced abilities of Ken Wallace, Associate Administrator, who joined the staff in 1952.

The present Administrator Is Sister Mary Edith.


The year of 1926 saw the beginnings of a project which would eventually result in Children’s Medical Center of Tulsa. At that time the junior League established a convalescent home for crippled children in a downtown building near 5th and Cincinnati streets. Two years later, in 1928, it moved to a sprawling cottage at 1448 South Lewis, site of the present Center, and became known as the Junior League Convalescent Hospital. Emphasis was upon care of crippled children, mostly polio victims, in convalescent stages. After World War II, the Junior League moved to withdraw as active administrators and turned the direction of the expanding facility to a community, board. This was not finally accomplished until 1951. Two years later, a large addition was built, which enabled the facility to truly assume the status of a hospital; at that time the Name was changed to Children’s Medical Center. Further expansions and additions were effected in the crucial fears of the fifties, and in 1962 the Center consolidated the physical and administrative functions of a group of separate agencies-the Tulsa Child Guidance Clinic, Sunnyside School, Child Study Clinic, Vocational Training Center, etc. Today, Children’s Medical Center is an impressive complex offering specialized clinical facilities for the emotionally disturbed and physically handicapped child. It provides evaluation and treatment in such areas as child psychiatry, psychological counseling, physical rehabilitation, occupational therapy, mental retardation, vocational training, and education problems. A 40-bed hospital serves the complex, of which Dr. James T. Proctor is Medical Director. John L. Byrne has been Administrator since 1958.


The need for hospital facilities for Tulsa’s Negro community on the north side was emphasized by a shameful race riot in 1921, and later in the same year the Maurice Willows Hospital opened at 324 North Hartford. It had a capacity of 25 beds. In 1932, it was incorporated into a larger hospital at 603 East Pine, and for several years was known as the Tulsa Municipal Hospital Number Two. In 1941, through remodeling and expansion, the facility was converted into Moton Memorial Hospital. After a long series of financial and other difficulties, the hospital closed on June 30, 1967, after failing to qualify for Medicare benefits.


Several smaller proprietary hospitals have existed in Tulsa from time to time. The late Dr. Wade Sisler opened the Hospital for Bone and joint Diseases at 807 South Elgin in 1929. Originally designed for orthopedic patients only, it was later converted to a general hospital and the name changed to Mercy Hospital. Following Dr. Sisler’s death earlier this year, it was closed. Flower Hospital occupied the old Morningside building at 512 North Boulder from 1925 to 1941, when the structure was remodeled for use by the Tulsa County Health Department. Byrne Memorial Hospital, located at 1332 South Peoria, closed two years ago after twenty years of operation.


Tulsa’s newest hospitals are Saint Francis Hospital and Doctors’ Hospital. The former was built by the William K. Warren Foundation, headed by Tulsa philanthropist and oilman William K. Warren, and opened on September 15 1960. It occupies a beautiful 160-acre tract at 61st and Yale streets, overlooking the city in a breath-taking vista. An extremely modern and well-equipped institution, it was built at an original cost in excess of $7,500,000, and is operated by the Catholic Order of the Adorers of the Most Precious Blood. Saint Francis is just completing a matching wing, which will more than double its present capacity of 275 beds and add much-needed ancillary and administrative facilities. This unit will be fully operating this fall. Saint Francis Hospital is under the direction of Sister Mary Marcellina, Administrator, and E.C. Bene, Assistant Administrator.


The 100-bed Doctors’ Hospital, located at 2323 South Harvard, opened on August 29, 1966. Formed as a community non-profit hospital by a group of eighteen Tulsa general practitioners, it occupies a three-story unit on a 10-acre tract. In June, the Hospital announced a $2,000,000 expansion program to include a 40-bed extended care facility, a 100-bed nursing-convalescent center, and a multi-story professional office building. Also planned is a $1,500,000 chapel and administrative building. The Administrator of Doctors’ Hospital is Bill Humphrey.

bottom of page