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History Of The Department

St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center was formed by a series of twentieth-century mergers between three great hospitals. Each was originally founded between 1855 and 1871, a time of growth in New York City. Here are some historic highlights, including contributions these hospitals have made to gynecology and obstetrics, milestones leading to our current department.

St. Luke's Hospital was founded by Dr. William Augustus Muhlenberg, pastor of the Episcopalian Church of the Holy Communion. St. Luke's opened its doors to patients in 1858 in its first location, at 54th Street and 5th Avenue.

Anticipating the development of the city, in 1896 St Luke's moved to the outskirts of New York-114th Street and Amsterdam Avenue. The hospital has remained there ever since.

The third hospital, Woman's, was founded in 1855, a first-of-its-kind hospital for gynecological surgery. Woman's Hospital brought to the women of New York the revolutionary procedure and surgical skills of J. Marion Sims, MD.


Roosevelt Hospital

From its earliest history, Roosevelt's tradition has been that of a surgical teaching hospital. As early as 1874, the Uterine Service was founded at Roosevelt, separating gynecologic surgery from general surgery. By 1890, the Uterine Service was responsible for 174 operations annually, and for the specialty a new operating room was built.

Howard Canning Taylor, Sr. was instrumental in developing Roosevelt's Gynecology Service, serving from 1891-1941, and leading from 1912 until his retirement.

In his time, Taylor was widely acknowledged to be the premier gynecological surgeon in New York City. For most of his tenure, Taylor was the driving force behind the McLane Operating Room, which under his leadership became a nationally and internationally recognized teaching center for gynecologic surgery.


Great Surgeons who had Affiliation with St. Luke's and Roosevelt

William Stuart Halstead, one of the most innovative American surgeons, began his career at Roosevelt, where he developed local and regional anesthesia. Through a series of brilliant experiments, he demonstrated that any peripheral nerve could be injected with cocaine so that its peripheral distribution was totally anesthetized.

Charles McBurney's contributions laid the foundation for the treatment of appendicitis. In 1889, he authored a major paper on the importance of early operative intervention in appendicitis.

Also during 1889, McBurney left St. Luke's Hospital and joined the staff of Roosevelt's Surgical Service, where he was placed in charge of the planning, construction and management of a new operating theatre. When it was opened in 1891, it was the most modern and complete in the world.


Woman's Hospital

The doctor involved in founding Woman's Hospital, J. Marion Sims, became prominent after he developed the first reliable method for repair of vesico-vaginal fistula, an injury that women sustained during childbirth. His contribution marked the beginning of modern day gynecology.

Before coming to New York, J. Marion Sims developed the surgical procedure in the antebellum South. His first fistula patients were several African-American women who were slaves. These women--Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy, and others--made the new procedure possible.

The incorporator and first supervisor of the Woman's Hospital (1855-1876) was Sarah Platt Doremus, a leader in New York City society. She organized the group of wealthy and influential women who founded the Woman's Hospital, supporting it for years with their work and their donations.

At its inception, Woman's Hospital's purpose was to repair vesico-vaginal fistulas, in service to the poor. Located on Madison Avenue and 29th Street in a rented, four-story house, the hospital's 30 beds were quickly filled. In those early days, Sims operated without assistance from other doctors, performing one fistula repair each day.

As the hospital's reputation quickly grew, the work became too great for one surgeon. In the fall of 1855, Thomas Addis Emmet was hired. He would become a mainstay at Woman's hospital, serving for almost 50 years. After learning Sims' fistula repair procedure, he branched out to develop reconstructive surgeries for the urethra, bladder, vagina, perineum, and rectum. In 1879, Emmet published the first comprehensive gynecology textbook to be written in English.

In 1867, the hospital opened its doors at a new, larger facility, built on a city block donated by New York City. The hospital's site was at the current location of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. In 1832, the site had been used as a burial ground during a cholera epidemic, and 47,000 coffins would have to be dug up and removed in 1857 before construction of the hospital could begin.

In 1906, Woman's Hospital moved to 110th Street and Amsterdam Avenue, where its maternity service was established in 1910.

St. Luke's Hospital, ca. 1954 In 1954, Woman's merged with St. Luke's Hospital, and in 1964 moved onto its grounds to become the Woman's Division at St. Luke's. In its evolved capacity, Woman's continued to make great contributions to obstetrics and gynecology, and to the lives of women.

Then, in 1979, with the merger of St. Luke's and Roosevelt, all three institutions became one. The strength of the surgical division at Roosevelt led to the development of the Division of Gynecology.

The 1979 merger combined this legacy with the historic contributions to gynecologic surgery made down through the years at Woman's. Both St. Luke's and Roosevelt also had excellent obstetrics divisions at the time of the 1979 merger. Thus, the St. Luke's-Roosevelt merger created a dynamic new Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, rich with the expertise of its multiple heritages.


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