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History of The Ladies Board

A History of The Ladies Board of Loudoun Hospital Center

It is impossible to tell the history of The Ladies Board without also telling the story of Loudoun Hospital. The two are forever linked. The Loudoun community's campaign for quality healthcare is truly inspiring!

[The following excepts first appeared in the Summer, 1992 edition of Loudoun Healthlink, a publication of Loudoun Healthcare Inc., and are reprinted here with permission.]

Suffragettes parade in New York seeking votes for women. The Titanic sinks in the Atlantic with the loss of 1,500 lives. Al Jolson's popularity sweeps the country…and the Loudoun Light and Power Company brings the first electricity to Purcellville.It was to a beautiful, rolling countryside here in Loudoun County-rural in every regard-that P. Howell Lightfoot returned in 1911 after many years in the West working in hospital management. Soon his stories about small hospitals being built around the country fell on interested ears.For several years, two prominent local physicians, Dr. William C. Orr and Dr. John A. Gibson, had felt Leesburg desperately needed a hospital. Babies were delivered at home, and minor surgical procedures were performed either in patients' homes or in doctors' offices under unsatisfactory conditions. Patients in need of major surgery were transported to a Washington hospital on a cot in the baggage car of the local railroad, suffering great discomfort and danger. It was in Horace Littlejohn's drug store that the plan took shape. And while Dr. Orr, Dr. Gibson and pharmacist Littlejohn worked out the details, Mr. Lightfoot toured the county, explaining the need for a hospital. A group of 11 dedicated citizens banded together, and on June 5, 1912, Leesburg Hospital opened in a rented house and quickly admitted its first patient…fittingly for this rural community, a jockey who was thrown from his horse in a race.

The Founding Years
In 1911 not everyone in Loudoun was convinced there was a real need for a hospital…some even predicting that if one were established it could not be maintained. So for a year Mr. Lightfoot earnestly canvassed the county arousing interest, and finally on January 20, 1912, the Leesburg Hospital was incorporated with Dr. Orr as president, Dr. Gibson as vice president, Dr. Truman Parker as secretary and Mr. Littlejohn as treasurer. With a 15-member Board of Directors, $100 in the bank and pledges for $2,000, they leased the large brick Garrett House on Market Street and established a hospital with six rooms, one bath, one commode and an outmoded gasoline sterilizer. Appointing Mr. Lightfoot superintendent and manager, and Miss Catherine Oxley as superintendent of nurses with one "pupil" nurse, the hospital opened on June 5, 1912. Within three weeks, according to the Loudoun Mirror, two operations had been performed "in the well-lighted, well-equipped, modern operating room" by Dr. Charles S. White of Washington, a visiting surgeon who was to serve this community for over 40 years. The operating room off the side porch was reached by carrying the anesthetized patient up the winding stairs.

The Ladies Board to the Rescue
The organizers realized that with little equipment and less money, the hospital would need quality volunteer supervision of housekeeping and a dependable source of ongoing fund-raising. So they turned to the women of the community. Thus, on June 25, 1912, the Ladies Board of Managers met for the first time. They invited 40 members representing all the churches of Leesburg and each of the surrounding towns and villages to ensure widespread support. Electing Mrs. William Corcoran Eustis as president and Miss Alice Davis as vice president, the ladies immediately held a Donation Day. They invited community residents to come inspect their new hospital and to "bring with them some donation-no matter how small or how large" including "money, furniture, pictures, sheets, towels, pillow cases, a pound of tea, other groceries, eggs, vegetables, china, etc., anything which might contribute to the well-being and comfort of the patients." For many years the volunteers of The Ladies Board assumed responsibility for overseeing the housekeeping, supplying china, glassware and silver for the dining room, and maintaining equipment and supplies for the kitchen, rooms and wards.

Leesburg Hospital Becomes Loudoun Hospital
During the first year, 200 patients were treated, but only 18 patients could be accommodated at one time, many were turned away due to lack of space. Soon the Board of Directors realized that the cramped quarters and noisy location were seriously limiting the hospital's function. So in 1914 they began to plan for the construction of a new hospital and changed the name from Leesburg Hospital, Inc. to Loudoun Hospital, Inc. Meanwhile, The Ladies Board and the building committee held a series of bazaars, suppers, fairs and other activities to raise funds, and in 1916 thirteen acres was purchased from the Harrison family for $3,600.Construction of a 26-bed hospital began in March of 1917, and in April 1918 the new hospital opened with six private rooms, four wards with five beds each, an operating room, a chemical laboratory and an X-ray machine. A rope elevator transported patients and supplies between the first and second floors. (Everyone was nervous about this: What if the rope broke or someone let go?)

Nurses' Training
A training school for nurses was established at the original hospital in 1912 and by 1913 five students were enrolled. Their training was rigorous-in the early days there were only two shifts, so nurses worked 12-hour days. Thus it was vital that nurses and students who did not live nearby with their families be housed at the hospital. The third floor of the new hospital was designated for this purpose, but the quarters soon proved quite inadequate. So funds were raised for a nurses' home was a prime concern of The Ladies Board, which provided for furnishings, equipment and maintenance. Throughout its existence the school took great pride in the quality of its training: Forty-two nurses were trained and graduated, many earning the prized Blue Seal for 90 percent or better in all subjects on the State examinations. In 1932 the nurses' training school was closed due to its inability to meet the requirement of the State Board of Nursing that lab teaching hospitals have at least 75 beds.

Feeding the Hospital
When the new Loudoun Hospital was completed in 1918, there was much community interest in its success. The Leesburg Garden Club chose to provide a vegetable garden to supply patients and staff with fresh vegetables in summer and potatoes and canned goods in winter. The Ladies Board assisted Garden Club members with the massive canning task until it was taken over by the hospital's housekeeper. These efforts not only provided high quality food, they also saved the hospital thousands of dollars annually. By 1919 the members realized they could no longer support hospital gardening and landscaping projects through their annual dues and began a series of fundraising activities. Although plagued by lack of money and occasional drought, the women presevered. In 1925 the club instituted an annual flower show to benefit the hospital. In 1937 a flower garden for the patients' and nurses' enjoyment was laid out and endowed. And by 1940 the vegetable garden and grounds were so efficiently run that the benefits were increasing yearly. As the decades passed, however, and transportation and refrigeration improved dramatically, the need for the vegetable garden declined until it was finally abandoned in the early 1950's…thus ending one chapter in the hospital's history.

The Ladies Board: The Movers and The Shakers
From the first Donation Day in 1912 to the most recent rummage sale, the same energetic and dedicated spirit has permeated the ever-expanding activities of The Ladies Board. Membership in The Ladies Board (and the accompanying commitment to hard work) has become a way of life for generations of dedicated Loudoun women. The Ladies Board's supports the hospital through the Annual Rummage Sale, the Twice Is Nice thrift shop, the Hospital Gift Shop, the Lights of Love, dues, cash and other donations. They also sponsored the Memorial Bed Fund, begun in 1941 to help pay hospital bills for needy patients. Between 1957 and 1978, the fund made more than $90,000 available toward the cost of direct patient care.
Thanks to their untiring commitment, The Ladies Board has enabled the hospital to purchase washing machines and X-ray machines; a flexible sigmoidoscopy system and instruments for laparoscopic surgery; mountains of linens and acres of land; a cafeteria and a CT scanner…and much more! It has also supplied over $82,000 in nursing scholarships and given $17,000 to the Lifeline program - not to mention the $1,605 donated to the nursery from one member's penny collection.

There is so much more to tell about our hospital, The Ladies Board and the impact both have had on Loudoun County. While it gives us enormous pride to share our history, we are just as excited about The Ladies Board's future. Come volunteer with us, and you, too, will be a part of this fascinating story!