LANSING, Mich. — Sparrow Health System has been around for 125 years. Its history started with a group of women, playing cards, and an idea.
One afternoon in 1896 eight women in Lansing were playing cards at the Downey Hotel when they started to talk about health care in the community.
“The conversation turned to the lack of a hospital. Many of them had money and could be treated in their homes,” said Deborah Ginsburg, president of Sparrow's Women’s Board of Managers.
During that conversation, they realized that most people in the city didn't have access to healthcare.
“The only hospital in town the Sisters of Charity had been closed three years earlier. And so, it left the Lansing community very very uncovered when it came to providing healthcare," Ginsburg said.
From that conversation grew a plan for the women to step up for their community. Ginsburg said they signed the charter and formed the Women's Hospital Association on March 18th, 1896, with 114 other women from the community.
Eleven women were then elected to the Women's Board of Control and oversaw operations: Augusta Appleyard, Amanda Barnes, Lillie Hudson, Julia Hertzler, Lou Ostrander, Clara Hopkins, Franc Gardner, Gertrude Barry, Eunice Porter, Harriet Downey and a woman listed only as Mrs. Stanley W. Turner.
In May of that year, the city hospital opened.
Lisa Pascoe is Sparrow's vice president of governance and system effectiveness. She says the women rented out a house at 310 W. Ottawa St. and converted it into the hospital.
“We have to remember that these women didn’t have the right to vote at this time. They did not have equal rights. They were excluded,” Pascoe said.
They were women of all ages and their backgrounds varied. One woman was a milliner and owned her own retail shop.
Amanda Barnes was the wife of former Mayor Orlando M. Barnes. She was active in a lot of causes including building a women's library. Pascoe says at that time the only library available was the state library and it was only for men.
Augusta Appleyard was a former school teacher and the wife of James Appleyard, who served as the superintendent of Construction for the Capitol's 1872-1878.
“She watched the Capitol being built and learned from him about how to build an organization,” Pascoe said.
Two more moves would happen before they reached out to Edward W. Sparrow and others to contribute.
In 1910, he donated land and money for the hospital on East Michigan Avenue. In 1912 E.W Sparrow Hospital opened.
Ginsburg says, unfortunately, the women were excluded from the funding and the building of the hospital and were relegated to a second role. But they did do things like hire physicians, cook and hire nurses.
The Women's Board of Control was the forerunner to Sparrow's Women's Board of Managers. They are involved with a lot of different things still including stewarding its 2,000-plus volunteers.
Pascoe says, later this year, Sparrow is hoping to unveil a special place where people can come and celebrate its history.
“Whether you give a donation to Sparrow, whether you donate your time to Sparrow, whether you work at Sparrow, whether you just come get care at Sparrow you’re part of the story of our organization,” Pascoe said
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