Autumn 2002
The Young Doctor, His Aunt Susan, and the World's Greatest Showman: Bridgeport Hospital's Beginnings

Bridgeport Hospital's first pediatrics wardIn the 1800s, healthcare was as likely to kill you as to cure you. The favored treatment for patients with fevers was to "leech" them—apply bloodsucking leeches or cut open veins to encourage the flow of blood. Surgical patients were given alcohol, so they were intoxicated—but wide awake and in pain. Operations were performed at high speed, usually at home on the kitchen table because there were few hospitals available. Antiseptics were generally ignored. Diagnoses were based on doctor's touch, sight, smell, hearing, taste—and hunch. When medication was needed, the doctor usually stirred up his own, relying liberally on laudanum (a combination of alcohol and opium!). And one popular Bridgeport physician had a habit of draining boils by cutting them open with a pocketknife sharpened on the sole of his shoe.

The playroom at PT Barnum Pediatric Center at Bridegport Hospital In Bridgeport, there was a hospital—in the basement of what would later become Police Headquarters on Fairfield Avenue. Crowded, makeshift quarters contributed to rampant cross-infection between patients (you might go in with a broken arm and end up dying of typhus), and a high death rate. No wonder most people preferred to get their healthcare at home!

Then young physician George Lewis came back from Civil War service in an Ohio military hospital. He knew things needed to change. His aunt, Susan Hubbell, owned property in Bridgeport, and he persuaded her to bequeath $13,500 and an acre at the top of Mill Hill for the construction of a real hospital.

In 1878—125 years ago—Bridgeport Hospital was formally incorporated—the very first real hospital in Fairfield County and the third in Connecticut. The city's mayor, world-famous showman P.T. Barnum, was named the first president of the hospital, and fund-raising began in earnest. Area churches celebrated "Hospital Sundays," when the offerings went toward construction of the hospital. The state put up a $50,000 matching grant. Community-minded citizens also made major donations—notably Catherine A. Pettengill and Frances Elizabeth Pomeroy. Together with Susan Hubbell, they were named as the founders of Bridgeport Hospital. The final cost of construction: $120,508.By 1884, when the facility officially opened, Bridgeport Hospital was one of the most modern in America. And it was the home of one of the nation's first schools of nursing. During its first year, the hospital's 15 physicians treated a total of 144 patients.

In 1885 the first child was admitted to the hospital—four-year-old Katie Carpenter— and three babies were born here. One-hundred-twenty-five years later, Bridgeport Hospital has the first and most experienced Pediatric Unit and Newborn Intensive Care Unit in Fairfield County.

In 2003, in honor of our 125th year of expertise and compassion, Bridgeport Hospital is throwing a yearlong celebration. We're proud of our one-and-a-quarter centuries of healthcare, and we feel privileged to have treated generations of Fairfield County families. Today, we take pride in being the most comprehensive hospital in Fairfield County.

To learn more about Bridgeport Hospital's first 125 years, watch for upcoming issues of Healthy & Wise!