In 1896 Alonzo G. McClennan called a meeting of the black physicians of Charleston to discuss the establishment of a “Nurse training school for Negro women.” Laws concerning segregation prevented African Americans from utilizing the training ward at City Hospital. McClennan and his associates began efforts to create a hospital that was “owned and conducted by the colored people of Charleston.” Prominent members of the African American community spear- headed the efforts of churches, benevolent associations, and individuals to raise money to purchase a building and fund the operation. On November 11, 1896, the building at 135 Cannon Street opened as the Hospital and Training School for Nurses, the first medical institution for African Americans in South Carolina.
The founders of the school believed that the professionalization of nurses was key to the successful operation of modern scientific medicine. Students learned lessons about anatomy and physiology, midwifery, hygiene and bandaging, exercise and care of the sick, and the preparation of nutritious food. Besides comforting the patients, nurses were trained to better assist physicians in the detection, treatment, and monitoring of diseases. McClennan was particularly concerned with high infant mortality rates, and he railed against the influence of amateur midwives who seemed to “kill as many babies as they please.”
Administrators understood the need to address the mortality rates of African Americans. In 1898 black Charlestonians died at twice the rate of whites. The school attempted to reach out and provide care to all without regard to the patient’s ability to pay. By October 1899 a clinic providing free treatment and medicine for children was organized in connection with the hospital. For at least the first eight years the hospital turned no patients away.
Never lavishly financed, the school nevertheless kept its doors open with donations of money and supplies. But by the 1950s the building at 135 Cannon Street could no longer pass health inspections. The Hospital and Training School for Nurses closed its doors on June 1, 1959, and its services were replaced by the new McClennan-Banks Memorial Hospital.
Downing, L. C. “Early Negro Hospitals.” Journal of the National Medical Association 33 (1941): 13–18.