Our Founder, Anna Herr Clise
Anna Herr Clise
Wisconsin-born Anna Herr Clise, her husband James W. Clise and their newborn daughter Ruth arrive in Seattle on June 7, 1889, after James’s sister urges the family to leave their home and prosperous real-estate business in Colorado and join her in Seattle.
The family establishes a new home at the foot of Queen Anne Hill, just 38 years after the 24-member Denny Party – Seattle’s original settlers – landed on the beach at Alki Point in 1851.
James quickly becomes one of Seattle’s leading real-estate developers and financiers. By 1893, Anna and James have added two more children – both boys – to Seattle’s swelling population of 43,000.
Just as hordes of gold prospectors flood Seattle for provisions on their way to the Yukon Territory, tragedy strikes the Clise family when their youngest son, 6-year-old Willis, becomes seriously ill. For all their money and connections, Anna and James are powerless to help Willis, and he succumbs to untreatable inflammatory rheumatism (acute swelling of the body’s joints) on March 19, 1898.
An Idea Born From Tragedy
Patients at Children’s Orthopedic Hospital circa 1908
At the time of Willis’s death, the closest children’s hospital is in San Francisco. However, the most advanced treatments for children are at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, some 2,800 miles away.
Eight years later, Anna and James escort their 17-year-old daughter, Ruth, to Miss Baldwin’s Finishing School in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, outside Philadelphia. It is late summer 1906.
In Philadelphia, Anna’s cousin, Dr. John Musser, who had established a ward for crippled children at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, gives her a tour of the hospital – the first institution in the United States dedicated to pediatric medicine.
In Syracuse, New York, Anna gets a tour of the Hospital for Women and Children, an organization founded by a group of the city’s leading women to treat female and childhood ailments and to train nurses.
During the week-long railroad journey back to Seattle, Anna reflects on Willis’s painful illness and dreams of starting an organization – like those she toured on the East Coast – to treat sick and crippled children in Seattle.
Letter from James Clise recounting the hospital’s beginnings to Dr. Park Weed Willis, one of Seattle Children’s first three physicians
On January 4, 1907, six months after her trip to Philadelphia, Anna gathers 16 of her friends – a Who’s Who of the city’s leading women – to discuss the lack of treatment options for children in local hospitals.
The women – almost all mothers – agree to form an association to provide surgical care for children with orthopedic disorders regardless of patients’ race, religion or gender. Each of the original members agrees to pay an annual membership fee of $10; each also antes up an additional $10 to launch the treasury.
Since Seattle’s poor have no money, the women decide that all children will receive care, regardless of the family’s ability to pay. They agree that support for the hospital will have to come from the community.
A Dream Realized
Article on Anna Clise
On January 11, 1907, Anna Clise files the articles of incorporation for the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital Association. This institution becomes the first pediatric facility in the Northwest and the third on the West Coast. (Pacific Dispensary for Women and Children is founded in San Francisco in 1875 and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles is founded in 1901.)
At its first meeting on that same day, the trustees empower an executive committee of officers to transact the association’s business between board meetings.
Members attending board meetings are expected to wear hats, gloves and attire suitable for business. Knitting and tardiness are prohibited and absenteeism is permitted only for travel.
The bylaws do not limit board membership to women, but for the next 97 years, this is to be the de facto rule.
Several months after incorporation, a number of the initial trustees resign after they realize the difficult and time-consuming nature of providing children with free orthopedic care.
The First Arrangement
Children’s Orthopedic patients receive care at Seattle General Hospital, 1907.
After incorporating Children’s Orthopedic Hospital, the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital Association has no children, no orthopedists and no hospital.
While trying to raise $50,000 to build a new hospital, the trustees contract with Seattle General Hospital at Fifth Avenue and Marion Street to rent seven beds for $7 each per week. The fee covers bed, meals, nursing care and operating room charges ($50,000 in 1907 is worth about $1.3 million in 2016 dollars).
The trustees initially enlist internist and surgeon Dr. Casper W. Sharples to treat any patients the association might locate. Within two weeks, 11 other doctors agree to donate their services to the “hospital.”
The physicians and trustees agree that the beds they are renting at Seattle General Hospital are for children in need and that families with the means must pay for treatment. For example, unemployment when the father is able-bodied disqualifies a child for charity care.
Open for Business
Lady Bountifuls search for patients who can be helped at Children’s Orthopedic Hospital.
A Patient Selection Committee made up of Children’s Orthopedic Hospital Association trustees and a physician assesses patients’ resources and circumstances through interviews.
The selection committee – whose members are called Lady Bountifuls – actively searches the community for children who are sick or on crutches.
In its first year of operation in 1907, the Children’s Orthopedic Hospital Association treats 13 children on its ward at Seattle General Hospital at a cost of $1,000. Patient cases include curvature of the spine, congenital dislocation of the hip, bowed legs, club feet, flat feet, rickets, malnutrition and paralysis resulting from tuberculosis of the spine, hip and knee.
The Patient Selection Committee declines to take on 17 other cases that year due to concerns about infectious diseases, “weak-mindedness” and hospital stays estimated to be over two years.
Birth of the Guilds
Junior Guild members circa 1922
The Children’s Orthopedic Hospital Association’s Membership Committee solicits charitable contributions to pay for the beds at Seattle General Hospital. By March 1907, 105 citizens buy $10 memberships in the association.
At a luncheon in the summer of 1907, trustees Olive Roberts and Betsey Wilson pitch the idea of starting neighborhood fundraising guilds to Anna Clise.
The Guild Committee meets regularly with representatives of all the guilds and reports on the financial condition of the Hospital Association, the work of the board and what items and services are needed.