Our Abiding Commitment

A History of Inclusion

The Story of the Founding of Lawrence Memorial Hospital Before 1919, Lawrence was served by only small private hospitals owned by physicians who operated them in connection with their practices.

Robert C. Rankin, the first chairman of Lawrence Memorial Hospital’s Board of Trustees who eventually served Lawrence as mayor, documented a story of an elderly African American man who had fallen in a “fit” on the sidewalk near the Eldridge Hotel. There was no one around who knew the man, and a doctor, known to history only as “Dr. Barnes,” was called to attend to him.

Dr. Barnes tried to take the man to a hospital. One of the private hospitals was said to have a charity bed, but when the doctor called it was occupied. The others said they had nothing available. Dr. Barnes tried to find someone who might know the man and called on several homes, but no one was willing to take the man into their house, even for a night.

While the doctor drove around trying to find a bed, the man died. Dr. Barnes told Mr. Rankin he would make it his business to create a place where needy poor could receive treatment and care.

"No person shall be excluded on account of race, or physical, social or financial condition."

–Elizabeth Watkins

Eventually, the help of the Social Service League was enlisted, and a bed was set up to care for patients in a big room that was formerly the cell house of the old county jail. Demand increased rapidly until they had five beds, all in one room. Mr. Rankin wrote: “A ward . . . occupied by both male, female, and colored as well as white. Mothers had babies and some few patients died, all together there.”

Elizabeth Watkins, Lawrence, KSBut it was not enough. After the end of World War I, the Social Service League purchased a frame house at Third and Maine streets and through a trust agreement gave it to the city for a hospital. A public appeal was made for funds to repair and equip the building. About $10,000 was raised. After a year of hard work, Lawrence Memorial Hospital officially opened Jan. 17, 1921.

In giving the funds for the hospital, Mrs. Watkins echoed Dr. Barnes’ vision as she stipulated that “no person shall be excluded on account of race, or physical, social or financial condition.” That commitment prevails to this day.

Later, Lawrence philanthropist Elizabeth Miller Watkins donated $200,000 to build a modern, brick hospital that held 50 beds. In 1929 it became the new home to LMH and the pride of the community.