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Kansas City Missouri Women's Heritage Trail
Item 1 of 27

The Children's Mercy Research Hospital in Kansas City, which has expanded to multiple locations around the metro area, began as a dream among two sisters: Dr. Alice Berry Graham and Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson. While Katharine, the younger of the two, heralded her sister as the true founder of the hospital, she would continue to operate and support the hospital after Alice's untimely death in 1913. For years, Dr. Richardson contributed to the expansion of the hospital, and contributed her efforts to gaining donations and better preparing medical professionals within the hospital's walls. Overall, her passion contributed to the success of the dream that her and Dr. Graham shared, and her determination is apparent in accounts of her work. The Berry sisters, though long passed, are still ever-present in the mission of Children's Mercy.

A portrait of Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson, most likely in the 1890s

Forehead, Jaw, Art, Headgear

Dr. Katharine Richardson (left in hat and glasses) with Dr. C.B. Francisco (right) with others at the cornerstone dedicated to Dr. Alice Berry Graham, 1916

Picture frame, Art, Suit, Vintage clothing

Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson was born in the late 1850s, to Stephen and Harriet Berry, who resided in Kentucky at the time. Her parents’ stance on the immorality of slavery, as well as their views on the importance of supporting one’s community, contributed to Dr. Richardson’s life of service. The youngest of three daughters, Katharine attributed much of her success to the support she received from her eldest sister, Dr. Alice Berry Graham. When Harriet Berry passed away in 1863, the family moved to Pennsylvania, where Katharine’s father remarried. Both Stephen and his new wife encouraged all of their children to pursue an education in order to better serve their communities. With this encouragement, Alice and Katharine entered into an agreement: one would work while the other would study until they both received their degrees. 


Katharine was the first of the two to attend college, enrolling at Mount Union College in Ohio in 1876. She would remain at Mount Union for her Bachelor of Philosophy, which she received in 1882. She was an active student at Mount Union College, serving in leadership positions and delivering the valedictory speech at her graduation. In 1884, Katharine enrolled at the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, focusing on pregnancy and childbirth, especially highlighting complications that could occur. After graduation, she began working in a maternal clinic before moving to La Crosse, Wisconsin, to start her medical practice. She would use this opportunity to provide support to her sister, Alice, while she attended dental school. While working in Wisconsin, Dr. Richardson met her husband, James Ira Richardson, whom she married in August of 1893. James was supportive of his wife’s ambitions in the medical field, and would contribute his time and monetary support until his death in 1908. 

The sisters, as well as James Richardson, moved to Kansas City in the latter half of 1893. Dr. Richardson attributed the creation of Children’s Mercy Hospital with her sister, Dr. Alice Berry Graham. While the details of the story are not always clear, Dr. Graham brought an ill child home for both her and Katharine to care for. This act of charity led Dr. Graham to a realization: her and her sister should work to serve the children who were suffering in the Kansas City area. This led the Berry sisters to lifelong commitments to the Kansas City metro and its children, which ended with the creation of Children’s Mercy Hospital. It began as the Free Bed Fund, which was officially incorporated in 1901. The goal was to provide care for children who could not pay for their medical treatment. While the Fund developed in the early 1900s, Dr. Richardson continued to run a medical practice from her home to provide for her and Dr. Graham. In 1901, the sisters opened a Nursing School, with Dr. Richardson finding nurses to be vital to the operation of medical practices, which at the time was not a widely held view by medical professionals.  

The early years of the hospital were dedicated to gaining community support and easing into expansion, but donations and community support would remain a large part of the hospital throughout its existence. The sisters were heavily involved in promoting the Fund as well as the potential for creating a physical children’s hospital, and both served as community contacts to gain donations and support. Dr. Richardson was especially out-spoken amongst the community, quoted as saying:

“We run this hospital for the sick children of this community. And the community ought to help pay.”4

Katharine used her skills to persuade wealthy and prominent men within Kansas City to donate money to the hospital. With both Berry sisters working diligently to gain funds, the hospital moved into its first physical building as “Mercy Hospital” in 1903. This was only the beginning of the growth the hospital would experience, and both Katharine and Alice would be main proponents in its development until the end of their lives. 

Unfortunately, Dr. Alice Berry Graham’s health began to decline early in the 1900s, steadily decreasing until her untimely death in 1913. Dr. Richardson, though devastated by the loss, continued to work for the betterment of the hospital. As was discussed before the death of her sister, Dr. Richardson understood that the hospital would require a larger building to accommodate all of the children who needed help throughout the city. While bringing in funds was highly important, Dr. Richardson maintained her own conditions for accepting donations. This included that no donation would be accepted if they had conditions attached to them, instead, they would be funds given with no expectations or strings attached. This did not hinder her ability to receive funding, as many community members were interested in supporting children so they would become beneficial members of society. After years of work, a new hospital building was opened in 1917 on Independence Avenue, just in time for widespread epidemics within the country following World War I.  

Dr. Richardson emphasized that the hospital would always remain open for children of all races, religions, and backgrounds, which had been a main point of her and Dr. Graham’s vision from the hospital’s inception. In order to accomplish this during times of segregation in the United States, Dr. Richardson worked directly with African American physicians, especially with Dr. John Edward Perry, to care for African American children in need. In attempts to better the medical field, Dr. Richardson worked alongside Dr. Perry and other physicians to usher in the Model Ward at Wheatley-Provident to provide medical education to African American students. This was an innovative model for the medical community which benefitted the community. Overtime, this allowed Children’s Mercy Hospital to become truly open for all children in need. Refusing to retire, Dr. Richardson continued to work towards improvements for the Children’s Mercy Hospital and medical community in Kansas City until her death on June 3, 1933. Her numerous accomplishments could not be contained in mere paragraphs. Her continuation of her and Dr. Graham’s dream throughout her life demonstrated her determination and selflessness for her community. 

  1. Katharine Berry Richardson biographical information, newspaper articles, correspondence, etc., Box 1, Folder 6, Children's Mercy Hospital Collection, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City Libraries.
  2. Hall of Fame: Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson, Starr Women's Hall of Fame. Accessed October 14th 2021.
  3. McCormally, Thomas. For all Children everywhere: Children's Mercy Kansas City, 1897-2017. Edition 1. Traverse City, MI. Chandler Lake Books, 2017.
  4. McCormally, For All Children Everywhere, Page 28.
  5. Our History, Children's Mercy Kansas City. Accessed October 14th 2021.
Image Sources(Click to expand)

LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries, Children's Mercy Hospital Collection

LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC University Libraries, Children's Mercy Hospital Collection