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Louisville's Red Cross Hospital was founded by African Americans for African Americans due to segregation laws. The hospital was founded in 1889 as a small hospital on 6th Street in Louisville, Ky. Six years later the hospital moved to a larger facility on Shelby Street. The hospital grew in size and capability, mostly backed by the local African American community. Although, its doors closed in 1975, the building is still standing at 1436 S Shelby Street.

  • First Hospital, converted from a house.
  • Brick Hospital at Shelby location.
  • Final Hospital
  • Nurses from the hospital

The Red Cross Hospital: 1889 to 1975

           In 1899 two African-American doctors in Louisville succeeded in launching an African-American hospital, the first of its kind in the city.[1] The Doctors, W.T. Merchant and Ellis Whedbee opened the hospital in a four-room private residence at 6th Street and Floyd. It was a small hospital, but it was a promising step forward for both the hospital and the African American Community.[2] Six years later the hospital moved to 1436 South Shelby Street and expanded the facility. In 1912 the first brick facility was constructed, and over the course of the next fifty years, the hospital grew in both size and importance in the community.[3]

            The segregation laws of the time meant the hospital was staffed by African Americans as well as serving African Americans. The Red Cross Hospital opened its own School for Nurses.  Mary Merritt, R.N., was the first black nurse to be licensed in Kentucky. She was the head of the on-site nursing program for thirty-one years, 1914 to 1945.[4]

            At the beginning the hospital was funded by the support of the black community in Louisville. Dinners, raffles, civic and church groups banded together to ascertain that the hospital would not flounder. Their efforts paid off because the hospital steadily grew, and so did the community pride invested in it.[5]

            Soon, others in the local community became involved, including Mrs. J. B. Speed, who enlisted other supporters. As funding became available, the Hospital and its staff expanded providing caring and professional service to the community.[6]

             The Red Cross Nurse training program at the hospital was closed in 1937. In 1948 the hospital reopened the training program, the American Cancer society certified the hospital to operate a cancer clinic.

            By 1940-41 the hospital had not only an in-house doctor on staff, Dr. William Settle, but also had a Medical Director, Dr. J. B. Bell. The Red Cross Hospital was granted money from both state and city sources, and the hospital saw new growth.[7]

            The hospital remained segregated until 1953 till the integration of the Jefferson County Medical Society. This allowed for a more open flow of medical professional between hospitals. Jewish Hospital in Louisville became the first all-white hospital in the area to have black doctors on their staff.[8]

            By 1965 the Red Cross Hospital was entirely modernized. It had the accreditation of the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Hospitals and memberships in the American Hospital Association, the Kentucky Hospital Association, the Ohio Valley Hospital Conference and the Louisville Hospital Council. The Red Cross Hospital succeeded due to the caring and dedication of all those who had believed in its value and community struggled to create it.[9]

            After 76 years of serving the City of Louisville, the Red Cross Hospital Closed its doors in 1975. It served the citizens of Louisville well. It had comforted the sick and saved lives by opening doors. It was an asset to the community and as such, deserves a proud place in the collective memory of the Louisville Community. [10]

 [1] J. Johnson

[2] Waverly Johnson

[3] ibid

[4] Louisville

[5] Waverly Johnson

[6] Louisville

[7] W. Johnson

[8] Louisville

[9] W. Johnson

[10] J. Johnson

 Work Cited


Corsey, Gil. “Louisville Doctor Working to Preserve Red Cross Hospital.” Home - WDRB 41 Louisville

News, 23 Feb. 2016,


Johnson, Ja'Nel. “In Segregated Louisville, Red Cross Hospital Served African-American

Residents.” 89.3 WFPL News Louisville, 18 Feb. 2016,


Johnson, Waverly. “Red Cross Hospital.” UofL Libraries Digital Collections, 30 Aug. 1979,,%20Ky.)/mode/exact.


“Louisville’s Pioneers in African-American Health Care.” KET, 4 Mar. 2016,


“Pass the Word.” Interview with John H. Walls | Pass the Word, 17 July 1977,