Health care is a major industry in twenty-first century Raleigh, so it is odd to recall that there were no hospitals and few doctors here in the early nineteenth century. White physicians generally saw white patients in their offices or made house calls. Black Raleighites, meanwhile, had very limited access to professional health care.
The need for hospitals surged during the Civil War. Public buildings—and often private ones—were commandeered for the care of wounded soldiers. Dr. Thomas Hill, a Confederate Army surgeon, selected the Peace College Main Building to be a hospital in May 1862. The building had a roof but lacked floors and windows. A frantic month later, it was ready for use.
After the war, the hospital closed but segregated health care persisted. An Episcopal organization opened St. John’s Guild in 1877 to provide care to whites. In 1881, Shaw University opened Leonard Medical School to train African American men. In 1885, Shaw opened Leonard Medical Hospital in a frame building near the school to provide clinical training for its students and care for Raleigh’s black population.
Leonard Hospital, however, was open only during the academic term—which was just five months of the year. In 1892, St. John’s Guild opened a separate ward for blacks. Rex Hospital opened in 1894, also providing care for whites and blacks in different buildings. Wake County, meanwhile, offered welfare services and health care to the poor and homeless; in 1914, a new, Classical Revival-style building was erected on Whitaker Mill Road for the Wake County Home.
The early nineteenth century saw the professionalization of the industry, resulting in upgraded facilities. Shaw built a modern brick building for Leonard Medical Hospital in 1912, and in 1920, another private facility was built for whites, the Mary Elizabeth Hospital. Physicians established offices in downtown buildings like the 1907 Old Masonic Temple Building and the 1924 Odd Fellows Building. Offices in the Professional Building were leased mainly to doctors and dentists when it opened in 1924.
Black physicians and dentists rented office space mainly on E. Hargett Street. Dr. Manassa T. Pope, one of the first graduates of Leonard Medical School, had an office first on Fayetteville Street and later on E. Hargett Street. In 1900, he built his family home and equipped it with a small office for his practice. The small medical office remains intact at the Dr. M.T. Pope House. Dr. Lemuel Delany, another Leonard graduate, was the first black surgeon at St. Agnes Hospital, established in 1909 at St. Augustine’s College. He also built the Delany Building on E. Hargett Street in 1926, leasing space to groups working to benefit the African American community.
Many more medical facilities have been built across Raleigh since the first quarter of the twentieth century. The survival of these historic and notably small-scale buildings, however, is striking in comparison to the large complexes we visit for medical services today.