To passersby, 1436 South Shelby Street may look like just another building in the Fort Hill/Meriwether Neighborhood. What they may not realize is the building’s important Louisville history.
A history that will be honored and remembered on Tuesday April 10th, when Kentucky’s newest historical maker will be dedicated in front of the structure that was once known as the Red Cross Hospital (RCH).
“There was a time when the Red Cross Hospital was the only facility where African Americans in Louisville could seek health care and treatment,” says Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton (D-5). “It was the only hospital in Kentucky offering training programs for black nurses and the only institution where black physicians could treat and operate on their patients.”
The Councilwoman and Dr. Wayne Tuckson, of the Greater Louisville Medical Society, Linda Hart Lewis and Brunhilda Williams Curington whose father and mother, respectively, were on staff at the hospital before it closed in 1975 will officially dedicate and unveil the historical marker at a special ceremony beginning at 11:00am.
Mayor Greg Fischer, Jennifer Hancock of the Volunteers of America, and members of the RHC Committee will participate in the dedication. Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith (D-4) will also speak at the ceremony.
The RCH was founded in 1899 when African-American doctors, W.T. Merchant, Ellis Whedbee, R.B. Scott were part of a small group of doctors who opened the hospital in a four-room private residence at Sixth and Walnut Streets (now Muhammad Ali Blvd.).
Six years later, it moved to 1436 South Shelby Street and the facility expanded. 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.
The Red Cross Hospital opened its own School for Nurses. Mary E. Merritt was the hospital superintendent and head of the on-site nursing program until she retired in 1945.
It offered three major services; medicine, surgery and obstetrics. It was the only hospital in the state where black nurses could be trained at their Nurse Training Department.
It was the largest black hospital in the state and treated blacks from throughout Kentucky, not just Louisville.
The hospital remained segregated up until 1953 when integration first occurred within the Jefferson County Medical Society. It allowed black physicians staffing privileges at local hospitals, the first being Jewish Hospital.
However, increased costs and continued desegregation in Louisville throughout the 1960’s saw the hospital force to close its doors in 1975 after 76 years of service to the community.
Today, the building still stands. It houses the Shelby Men’s Recovery Center of Louisville operated by Volunteers of America. Representatives of VOA will be on hand for the dedication.
“This is why it is important to remember the impact the Red Cross Hospital for generations of Black health care professionals in our city. The dedication of a small dedicated group of men with vision to provide health care at a time when the patients they sought to help had no other hospital to turn to,” said Hamilton.
There will be a reception following the unveiling and an opportunity for former patients and employees to reminisce and tour the old hospital building and current VOA facility.
For more information about the Red Cross Hospital Historical Maker Dedication, contact Councilwoman Hamilton’s office at 574-1105.