Saving Lives: Photos from Provident Hospital in the 1940’s

Provident Hospital opened in 1891 as the first black owned and operated hospital in the United States. It got its prominent start with Emma Reynolds, who wanted to be a nurse but found that no Chicago nursing school would admit her because of her race. Aided by other leaders of the black community, Emma’s brother raised funds to start a nursing school and hospital on Chicago’s south side. Starting with just 12 beds, the hospital served citizens of all races, and had both black and white staff members.

When these photos were taken in the early 1940’s, Provident had moved a couple of times. By then it filled a seven story building along with two apartment buildings to house the student nurses. The photos below show a busy place, filled with dedicated staff and students, and occasionally worried-looking patients, like any hospital in any era.

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Miss Lydia Monroe of Ringold, Louisiana, a student nurse. Her father is a machinist at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Miss Lydia Monroe of Ringold, Louisiana, a student nurse. Her father is a machinist at the Youngstown Sheet and Tube Company by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Operation at Provident Hospital on South Side of Chicago, Illinois

Operation at Provident Hospital on South Side of Chicago, Illinois by Russell Lee

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Baby being x-rayed

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Baby being x-rayed by Jack Delano

It’s unknown why photographers Russell Lee and Jack Delano visited Provident in 1941 and 1942 respectively, except that they were tasked, like many other Office of War Information photographers, to document life in the United States at this time.

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. A preliminary student nurses' class in bacteriology

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. A preliminary student nurses’ class in bacteriology by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Doctor and interns attending a patient in the men's ward

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Doctor and interns attending a patient in the men’s ward by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Hernia operation, Provident Hospital, one of the few hospitals for Negroes with a Negro staff, Chicago, Illinois

Hernia operation, Provident Hospital, one of the few hospitals for Negroes with a Negro staff, Chicago, Illinois by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Mrs. H.J. Thompson, lecturing in a bacteriology class

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Mrs. H.J. Thompson, lecturing in a bacteriology class by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. S.J. Jackson, intern, ready to go into the operating room to assist in an operation

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. S.J. Jackson, intern, ready to go into the operating room to assist in an operation by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. In the laundry

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. In the laundry by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Interns and a nurse preparing to assist in an operation

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Interns and a nurse preparing to assist in an operation by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Student nurses in the cafeteria

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Student nurses in the cafeteria by Jack Delano

You may have noticed the words “Eastman Safety Kodak” followed by a number printed (often upside down and backwards) on the photographs. This refers to the fact that the film is made of cellulose acetate instead of the highly combustible nitrocellulose. As for the number written afterwards (which seems to be different on each of the photographs), we aren’t sure of its meaning or even if it was part of the film itself or something added during processing. If you have any insights, please leave us a comment below.

Update – Thanks to Walt Mateja for providing the following explanation:
“The numbers that you refer to are added as identifying file numbers by the photographer or assistant, after the film is processed. They appear as white, but were actually written in black ink on a clear part of the negative and when the print was made, the color was reversed. Just as all black or dark parts of the negative become white and all white or light parts of the negative become black.

“Judging from the notches in some of the images, these appear to be sheet film, whereas the ones with sprocket holes look like 35mm that has been slightly enlarged.”

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois, Provident Hospital. Miss Catherine Brown, born in Monroe, Louisiana, now studying nursing

Chicago, Illinois, Provident Hospital. Miss Catherine Brown, born in Monroe, Louisiana, now studying nursing by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Lunch time in the cafeteria

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Lunch time in the cafeteria by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Young patient in the children's ward

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Young patient in the children’s ward by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. B.W. Anthony discussing an x-ray negative with two interns

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. B.W. Anthony discussing an x-ray negative with two interns by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. B.W. Anthony, head of the radiology department, dictating a report on x-rays

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. B.W. Anthony, head of the radiology department, dictating a report on x-rays by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. B.W. Anthony adjusting machine to administer x-ray treatment to a patient

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. B.W. Anthony adjusting machine to administer x-ray treatment to a patient by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Patients waiting outside laboratory for reports on tests

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Patients waiting outside laboratory for reports on tests by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. Harold Thatcher administering fever therapy to a patient

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. Harold Thatcher administering fever therapy to a patient by Jack Delano

‘Fever therapy’ was invented in the 1930’s as a treatment for arthritis and some infections. Just like a regular fever when you’re sick, this contraption was created to increase a person’s temperature to fight off the infection. Doctors found it also helped somewhat with arthritis, perhaps because the increased temperature led to increased blood flow. But the therapy was only somewhat effective, and it mostly faded as other options, like penicillin, became available.

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Laboratory technician

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Laboratory technician by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Making an x-ray of a child

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Making an x-ray of a child by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. J.H. Mitchell with a portable x-ray used when patients cannot be moved

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Dr. J.H. Mitchell with a portable x-ray used when patients cannot be moved by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Miss Helen A. Butler, supervisor of the operating room. An average of twelve operations take place daily

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Miss Helen A. Butler, supervisor of the operating room. An average of twelve operations take place daily by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Young boy having his teeth x-rayed in the dental clinic

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Young boy having his teeth x-rayed in the dental clinic by Jack Delano

Library of Congress Operation at Provident Hospital, Chicago, Illinois

Operation at Provident Hospital, Chicago, Illinois by Russell Lee

Library of Congress Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Lunch time in the children's ward

Chicago, Illinois. Provident Hospital. Lunch time in the children’s ward by Jack Delano

If you’d like to learn more about the history of Provident Hospital, please visit here and here. Library of Congress photos can be found at their website and Flickr photostream.




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3 Comments on "Saving Lives: Photos from Provident Hospital in the 1940’s"

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Jay Long
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Very awe-inspiring material. Having worked in a health-care environment, intriguing to see and realize the beautiful evolution. Nice piece.

Walt Mateja
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The Numbers that you refer to are added as identifying file numbers by the photographer or assistant, after the film is processed. They appear as white, but were actually written in black ink on a Clear part of the negative and when the print was made, the color was reversed. Just as all black or dark parts of the negative become white and all white or light parts of the negative become black. Judging from the notches in some of the images, these appear to be sheet film, whereas the ones with sprocket holes look like 35mm that has been… Read more »
Elizabeth VanderMeer
Guest

Thank you very much for that insight, Walt!

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