Children's Orthopedic Hospital

  • By Mildred Andrews
  • Posted 1/06/1999
  • Essay 2059
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In early 1907, Anna Herr Clise (1866-1936) called together 23 affluent Seattle women friends to address a health care crisis -- namely the lack of a facility to treat crippled and malnourished children. Each of the women contributed $20 to launch Children’s Orthopedic Hospital. The hospital opened on Queen Anne Hill and in 1953 moved to Seattle's Laurelhurst neighborhood. Today known as Children’s Hospital and Medical Center, it is still governed by an all-women board of trustees. Key to the hospital's development has been income raised by volunteers through their work in the hospital guilds. In 1944, the Seattle-King County Association of Realtors honored the Orthopedic as Seattle’s First Citizen for the contribution made by Children's Hospital to the community and to the Northwest. The honor paid tribute to the thousands of women in the guild and junior guild organizations, to the volunteer staff of doctors, and to the many hospital volunteers who cared for the patients over the years.

A Mother's Campaign

Clise had come face-to-face with the crisis in children's health care when her 5-year-old son, Willis, died in 1898 of (according to his death certificate) "heart disease." She traveled back East to inspect Philadelphia Children’s Hospital and to consult with her cousin, a physician who had established a ward for crippled children. On return home, she found that Washington state maintained facilities only for blind, deaf, and mentally ill children. Children with other afflictions were placed in wards with adults.

With Anna Clise as president of the board, the new organization quickly negotiated with Seattle General Hospital for its own seven-bed ward. Hospital trustees handled administrative issues, but left medical decisions to supportive physicians, who volunteered their services. Trustees did what they could to make child patients comfortable.

One of the first was 4-year-old Julia B. who suffered from tuberculosis of the hips. Eight months later, Julia could walk again. There was indeed hope for children suffering from such maladies as osteomyelitis, tuberculosis, and emaciation, if sufficient rest and treatment were provided.

Without Respect to Race, Religion, or Ability to Pay

During the first year, a newly formed organization of black women, the Dorcas Society, sought alliance with the women of COH. Action focused on Madelaine Black, a 14-year-old girl suffering from tuberculosis of the knee. The two groups agreed to share Madelaine’s expenses upon her admission to the children’s ward. In October, trustees established the lasting policy of accepting any child, regardless of race, religion, or parents’ ability to pay.

Initially, many parents in the community questioned the motives of the “ladies bountiful” and felt reluctant to bring their children to the new hospital. Not deterred, board members embarked on a recruitment campaign among the city’s poor. They walked the streets to find crippled or malnourished children, then explained the program to their parents, urging them to accept hospital care at no cost. As the hospital gained public confidence, young patients began arriving from communities throughout the Northwest.

Women's "Great Work"

In 1908, as a result of successful fundraising, Children's Orthopedic Hospital moved into a new 12-bed Fresh Air Cottage on Queen Anne Hill. Three years later, the 40-bed brick hospital opened next door at 100 Crockett Street. The cornerstone laying was a major event that attracted Seattle business, political, and religious leaders. Mayor George Dilling (1869-1951) said, "It is to the women of Seattle that we owe this great work. … And it is safe in their hands" (Schwabacher, 21).

The trustees’ commitment and energy galvanized community involvement. Influential community men formed an advisory committee to offer support. Trustee Olive Roberts presented a plan modeled after a hospital organization in Toronto, Ontario. Local women responded enthusiastically to the concept of Orthopedic Guilds that became a popular outlet for both social life and charity.

Neighborhood guilds organized effective and imaginative fundraising functions. “Kirmess,” a carnival, became a major Seattle social event with extravagant stage shows by board and guild members. Churches donated special collections on the annual “Hospital Sunday.” In Snohomish County, farmers contributed tons of produce, and children collected jars of jam and canned fruit to add to the donation.

Here You Can't Get Out of School

The Seattle School District supplied a teacher for young patients, some of whom had to be hospitalized for months or even years. As one boy put it in a letter to his pal, “If you think you can get out of school by coming here, you’re fooled. The school comes right to you” (Seattle Woman).

The Seattle-King County Association of Realtors named the Orthopedic Children's Hospital as Seattle’s First Citizen of 1944. The Board recognized the contribution made by Children's Hospital to the community and to the Northwest and paid tribute to the thousands of women in the guild organizations, the junior guild organizations, the volunteer staff of doctors, as well as to hospital volunteers who cared for patients at the hospital. The award not only recognized the hospital’s work for crippled youngsters, but also honored the host of volunteer workers of all types who contributed throughout the years to the maintenance of the high standards of the hospital. Volunteers raised money for the hospital through their work in the guilds in the Penny Drive, the Thrift Shop, the Corner Cupboard, the Garden Sale, and Pound Party cash donations.

By the late 1940s, trustees again confronted a critical need for expanded facilities. The hospital was bursting at the seams with a postwar explosion of patients. Breakthroughs in medicine had given rise to several new departments that required space.

Moving to Laurelhurst

The prominent Seattle businesswoman Dorothy Stimson Bullitt (1892-1989) chaired the relocation committee. In Laurelhurst she discovered a new housing project being developed. She negotiated a purchase price of $25,000 for the 25-acre site, whereupon the board launched a campaign to raise $3.5 million for the building fund.

On April 11, 1953, volunteers moved the hospital cost-free to its new campus. Then, recalled board president Frances Penrose Owen (b. 1900), “The Far West Cab Company said they would transport all of the children and their nurses; the Teamsters Union offered to transport all of the equipment free.” Volunteers gave up two weekends, the first for a preliminary trial run. Owen concluded, “The City of Seattle has a heart!”

The Era of the Sixties

By the 1960s, Children's Orthopedic Hospital was developing an increasingly sophisticated affiliation with the University of Washington Medical School. The hospital housed the University’s pediatrics program and provided teaching and research opportunities for its technicians, medical students, nurses, residents, fellows, and physicians. The emphasis on teaching and learning served to strengthen patient care. Volunteers continued to provide numerous services for patients and their families.

In this era of social unrest, the case of Odessa Brown, who died in 1969, drew attention to the healthcare crisis in the Central Area. Odessa Brown had no health insurance; many of her neighbors had never had a medical or dental exam. Children's Orthopedic Hospital responded by opening the Odessa Brown Children's Clinic in 1970. Hospital representatives joined neighborhood residents on the clinic’s board. Dr. Blanche Lavizzo (1925-1984), appointed as founding medical director, served the clinic until her death. She coined the clinic’s motto, “Quality Care with Dignity.” The Odessa Brown Children's Clinic provides a range of services from well baby clinics to chronic disease (such as asthma and sickle cell anemia) management to a teen health clinic at Garfield High School.

In 1997, the hospital became Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center with clinics in Bellevue, Federal Way, and Olympia, and with linkages to Providence Hospital in Everett, Evergree Hospital in Kirkland, Group Health in Bellevue and Overlake Hospital in Bellevue, Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle, and the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. The Children's Hospital Foundation and the Children's Hospital Guild Association raise money to support research and uncompensated care. In 2003, Children's delivered more than $35 million in uncompensated care -- free medical care to children whose families cannot afford it.

Although there is no prohibition against men serving on the Board of Trustees, the members have all been women since 1907. In 2005, the Board of Trustees changed the bylaws to include the Chief Executive Officer and the Medical Director (who happened to be men) as ex-officio (non-voting) members. In 2005, the hospital had a capacity of more than 210 beds and employed more than 3,800 persons.


Mildred Andrews, Seattle Women: A Legacy of Community Development, 1851-1920 (Seattle: YWCA of Seattle/King County, 1984), 20-23; Mildred Tanner Andrews, Woman’s Place: A Guide to Seattle and King County History (Seattle: Gemil Press, 1994), 120-21, 154-55, 255-56; Esther Mumford, Calabash: A Guide to the History, Culture, and Art of African Americans in Seattle and King County, Washington (Seattle: Ananse Press, 1993); Emilie Schwabacher, A Place for the Children: A Personal History of Children’s Orthopedic Hospital and Medical Center (Seattle: Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, 1977); “The Hospital with a Smile,” Seattle Woman Vol. 1, No. 2 (June 1923); Website, Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center (; Website, Odessa Brown Children's Clinic ( Note: The source for Willis Clise's death date is Register of Deaths, King County, State of Washington, Washington State Archives, Bellevue Community College. He died in Seattle on March 19, 1898, of "heart disease." His father is listed as J. W. Clise. This essay was updated on November 17, 2002, and corrected on March 2, 2003, and again on November 7, 2004. It was again updated on April 14, 2005.

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