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.
The Red Cross Hospital: 1889 to 1975
two African-American doctors in Louisville succeeded in launching an
African-American hospital, the first of its kind in the city. 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. 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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.