What a Hospital Looked Like 100 Years Ago

Hospitals of today are places of hope and innovation. They are a far cry from the institutions of the early 20th century, where conditions were unsanitary and the patients were mostly poor. One-hundred years ago, the public associated hospitals with places where people went to die. 

In order to find out what hospitals looked like 100 years ago, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed sources such as drug information resource Monthly Prescribing Reference and the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health, as well as media sources such as U.S. News & World Report and PBS.com to compile our list.

The American hospital system grew out of the creation of the almshouse, a charity home that tended to the needs of the mentally ill, the blind, the deaf, those with ailments such as  tuberculous, as well as petty thieves, prostitutes, and abandoned children. These places did not provide medical services. The nation’s first institution founded to treat medical conditions was the Pennsylvania Hospital in 1751.  

For much of the 19th century, hospitals tended mostly to the poor; the more well to do were treated in their homes by physicians. As the nation became more industrialized and mobile — making it more difficult for families to care for each other — and as health care became more sophisticated and professional, Americans in all economic strata began to use hospitals. 

Most of the hospitals of the 19th century were created by Protestant stewards, who took it upon themselves to look after the poor. Those hospitals advanced the concept of the American hospital. Newly arrived immigrants, however, found them lacking, and they founded their own medical institutions to respond to cultural considerations.

In addition to the impact of immigration, hospitals were changing rapidly 100 years ago because of technological innovation and policy changes driven by progressive reformers that made health care an important public policy issue.

One hundred years ago, America was reeling from the impact of the influenza epidemic. It was one of the worst pandemics in history. These are the worst outbreaks of all time. But out of that bleak episode would emerge a surge in the construction and funding of public hospitals, more widespread use of technology such as X-rays, as well as the discovery of vaccines for tuberculosis, tetanus, and yellow fever. 

Even though hospitals have become an integral part of American communities, there are still areas in the country that lack them. Here are the counties with the fewest hospitals.