Monday, May 31, 2010

French Hospital

Along with Notre Dame des Victoires, French Hospital was a very important institution to my French relatives. Not only was it a hospital built specifically for the French population in San Francisco, but it is where my cousins did a great deal of their charity work. I have included the cover of the carnet from the French Mutual Benevolent Society that Jean Lasserre had starting in 1890 as well as photos of gifts that both Gracieuse and Marie Lasserre received from French Hospital for their tireless volunteer work.

Jean Lasserre's Carnet for the French Mutual Benevolent Society.

Silver bowl given to Gracieuse Lasserre for 5000 volunteer hours by French Hospital in 1966.

Pin given to Marie Lasserre for 5000 volunteer hours by French Hospital.


Background on French Hospital from French-American Foundation for Medical Research and Education

French Hospital has a rich heritage in the annals of both San Francisco and the state of California, with its roots deeply entrenched in the history of this city. It possesses the proud distinction of being the oldest existing hospital in the state, being founded as "La Societe Francaise de Bienfaisance Mutuelle" on December 28, 1851, the year following the admission of California into the Union.

This was the period, in the romantic history of this empire, when gold was the dominating factor in the economic lives of its settlers. The discovery of this precious metal, which was to focus the attention of the world upon California, had been made but three years before and the following year, 1849, had seen the mad exodus from the four corners of the globe. Nowhere had Marshall's discovery of gold in 1845 at the race-mill at Colma, evoked greater interest than in France and particularly in and about Paris. This was the magnet that attracted some 20,000 French settlers to these shores between 1849 and 1851. They were encouraged to come to this land of gold not only by the possible rewards of fortune but also because conditions in France were greatly upset following the Revolution of 1848 and political exiles and the unemployed were numerous.

Among the newly arrived French settlers were many who had suffered from the hardships of the long journey and were unable to work. Others returned from the placer mines in a state of physical exhaustion without funds or acquaintances, besides being unable to speak English. This distressful situation moved some of the more fortunate French residents of San Francisco under the leadership of Etienne Derbec, a journalist, to consider means of providing assistance to their compatriots. A meeting was held on December 21, 1851 for this purpose. Funds were raised and plans made to organize a Relief Society whose objectives would be as stated in their by-laws: "To provide for the needs of the sick, furnish assistance to Frenchmen as well as to citizens of other nationalities without resources, and to take care of their funeral expenses". A small wooden house was rented on the northeast cornier of Jackson and Mason Streets to provide temporary quarters for the Society's relief work. The sick were to be treated by Dr. d'Rivera who had volunteered his professional services without any compensation. His offer had been followed by similar ones from five other physicians.

On December 28, 1851 the Society's first permanent committee was elected and consisted of 16 members, one of them being the hospital physician. The treasurer announced that the membership reached 300 and the subscriptions amounted to $2,600. Three days later the committee was solemnly installed by M. Patrice Dillon, the first Consul General of France in San Francisco, who announced that the modest 20-bed hospital was ready to receive its first patient.

At first, the Society had a purely benevolent character and provided assistance without distinction to needy and sick members and nonmembers. Its charity extended to unfortunates of all nationalities. The Society realized, however, that its resources were not in keeping with its charitable intentions and that a limit would have to be placed on its liberal disbursements. It, therefore, proceeded to incorporate into its by-laws the principle of mutuality while maintaining, in a restricted sense, its original purpose. As a result of this decision, the Society, on April 23, 1853, adopted the name of "Societe Mutuelle et de Bienfaisance" or the Mutual and Benevolent Society. This new measure did not sufficiently improve its financial situation so that two years later the decision was taken to continue exclusively upon the principle of mutuality. Modifying its by-laws, it adopted the appellation under which it functions to this day and which characterizes the objective which it has never ceased to follow as "La Societe Francaise de Bienfaisance Mutuelle" of the French Mutual Benevolent Society.

In August 1853, the committee decided that its growth warranted more substantial quarters and purchased a lot on the corners of Bush and Taylor Streets for $2,500. M. Huerne, a distinguished architect and engineer who had worked with de Lesseps on the Panama Canal, drew the plans, without charge, for a hospital to accommodate 60 patients. A subscription brought in $9,000 and the building was completed in December, 1853 at a cost of $7,195.

Growing pains began to be felt in 1857. The directors determined that these should be relieved by building a new hospital whose size and installations would be in harmony with the importance acquired by the Society. To finance this new project, 800 bonds of $25 denomination each were sold to the members. With other monies in hand, together with the proceeds from the sale of its Bush Street property, the third French Hospital was erected on Bryant Street, between 5th and Simmons, with a capacity of 60 beds.

For a period of 27 years, the hospital continued to progress and took its place among the leading institutions of its kind on the Pacific Coast. It was finally realized, however, that the Bryant Street hospital was inadequate to meet the demands made upon it. In 1884, the proposition was considered to acquire a site in a more favorable location and of sufficient size upon which to build a more modern hospital containing the latest developments in medical installations.

The decision was made a few years later to purchase the present site of the French Hospital for the amount of $48,000. This was the full block on Geary Boulevard, bounded by the 5th and 6th Avenues and Anza Street in the rear. Early portraits of this site show two or three buildings in each direction, with acres of open space surrounding the hospital. It was surely considered to be on the outskirts of town, if not in the country.

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