Northwestern’s Beginning

Northwestern Memorial’s predecessor hospitals had their roots in Chicago’s Lutheran and Methodist Episcopal deaconess movement, spiritual communities of women organized during the 19th century to provide for the sick and needy. The formative years were marked by the struggles of these unpaid secular groups in caring for patients, raising funds, managing real estate, and meeting the growing professional expectations of physicians. The original hospital of what would become Northwestern Medicine was the Deaconess Hospital, founded by Rev. William A. Passavant Sr. As time passed, these early efforts evolved from small charitable institutions to larger, better staffed hospitals that kept pace with modern medicine and the needs of the rapidly-growing city.

Reverend Passavant

At the urging of Mayor Ogden, in 1865 Reverend William A. Passavant, Sr. came to Chicago from Pittsburg. Passavant, who had toured a hospital and training school for deaconesses in Germany and later established a similar facility in Pittsburgh, was well known for addressing important social issues and for founding benevolent institutions that addressed those issues. Soon after his arrival, seeing a dire need to care for the immigrant population in the city, Passavant collected $20 in donations to make a down-payment on a small frame house on the corner of Dearborn and Ontario Street in which he opened a 15-bed hospital. Called the Deaconess Hospital of Chicago, it provided care for the sick, suffering and poor in Chicago and was the earliest beginning of today’s Northwestern Medicine.
As was the fate of virtually every other building in Chicago, the Deaconess Hospital was ruined by the the Chicago Fire of 1871. Passavant sold the remains of the Deaconess Hospital for $8.50 and in 1875 built a new facility on Superior near LaSalle called the Emergency Hospital which treated accidents cases from nearby rail yards and factories and businesses. By the turn of the century, early hospitals like Passavant’s were being transformed from refitted homes to increasingly modern facilities where health could not only be restored, but disease and injury scientifically diagnosed, studied and treated. In 1895, the Emergency Hospital was renamed Passavant Memorial Hospital in memory of its founder and reorganized as a general hospital.