by Paul R. Spitzzeri
In early January 1856, a quintet of Roman Catholic nuns from the order of the Daughters of Charity arrived in Los Angeles, a town of several thousand people not yet a decade removed from the American seizure of Alta California during the Mexican-American War, just transitioning from the ferment of the Gold Rush, and still struggling with extraordinary tensions between Spanish-speaking Californios and Mexicans on one hand and Americans, many from the South, and Europeans on the other and a shocking level of violence.
These women, led by Sister Scholastica Logsdon and Sister Ann Gillen and included Spanish natives Angelita Mombrado, Clara de Cisneros, and Francesca Fernandez, established three important and badly-needed institutions in the Angel City, an orphanage, a school for girls, and an infirmary. The former was later built in Boyle Heights, established by William H. Workman, nephew of Homestead founders William and Nicolasa Workman, while Lucinda and Margarita, the two surviving daughters of the latter’s daughter Antonia Margarita and her husband F.P.F. Temple, and their future sister-in-law, Laura Gonzalez, attended the girls’ school.
As to the infirmary, it was situated in a four-room adobe house, part of which contained eight rudimentary beds for the care of patients. In 1858, a property was purchased at Alameda and Macy streets where Union Station is situated, though there were struggles as the county’s payments for the care of the indigent were paltry. Still, the women, commonly known as the Sisters of Charity, made do with limited means, including raising a few hundred fruit trees and several thousand grape vines.
Another move was made further north at what is now Los Angeles State Historic Park and, in 1869, the Los Angeles Infirmary was incorporated. Fifteen years later, a site was purchased in an area of growth and expansion just before the great Boom of the 1880s, as the hospital was relocated at Sunset Boulevard and Beaudry Avenue and this wooden structure remained in his home for over four decades.
With enormous growth taking place in the Angel City in the first decades of the 20th century, the need for a much larger facility became increasingly urgent. A site was purchased at Alvarado and Third streets and the cornerstone was blessed in March 1926. While construction was nearing completion the following January, a fire broke out in the upper level of the hospital forcing the rushed evacuation of patients and staff. It was another ten months before the new facility, eight stories high and built of brick in the Renaissance Revival style with 250 beds, opened.
In 1899, reflecting an increasing professionalization of nursing, a training school was launched through St. Vincent’s and its first trio of graduates completed the two-year course the following year, though the school soon was turned into a four-year program. There was no tuition for about the first forty years or so and room and board, health care, and instruction and training were provided in return for students’ labors at the hospital.
The program’s growth was slow, but steady over the years and one illustration of its maturity, including adjustment to changes in standards in the field and under the regulation of the state, was that, after a quarter century, a yearbook was developed, called La Marillac. The 1928 edition of the annual is tonight’s highlighted artifact from the Homestead’s collection.
The graduating class for that year comprised seventeen women, including Irene M Montana, who was raised in Arizona by parents from México, and said by a historian of St. Vincent’s to be the first Latina in its history to complete the program (in the first class, however, was a Lolita Cordova, while in 1903, there was a Marie Rios, and, in 1905, an Anna Victoria). Each graduate had a descriptive four-line poem under the photo and hers was “Her face is her fortune, / Her name is Irene. / Interesting and Musical / She’s a maid for the screen.” This appears to have been a reference to the popularity of Latino film starts, including Lupe Vélez and Dolores del Río.
The class president was Pauline A. Lesch and her poem was: “P is for President, / Pal is the wole, / Able and likable / With a heart that is gold.” Of course all the graduates were described by their endearing qualities, so Mary M. Richfield was “mischievous and rollicking” and “radiates mirth.” Bernice Fitzpatrick, known as “Fitz,” was “big-hearted and carefree” who thought “the world is made all fur fun.” Elsie B. Davis, nicknamed “Peter,” was “bathed in good cheer” while she was known for “doing for others, with never a fear.” As for Martha M. Costello, she was considered “our model” from whom “more we could not ask” because she was “courteous and ethical in every task.”
In its “Class Will,” the seventeen grads “do will and bequeath to our Alma Mater our enduring lotalty and our most cherished dreams.” It left to the class of 1929 “our burning desire to be original with all consequences which such possession may entail.” Individual students left items to those coming after them, so that Lucia Beiger left “her fluency of the Mother tongue [German perhaps?] to Adelaide Dominguez; Bernardine Garney bequeathed “her dainty appetite” to “Miss Hamilton;” Renee Cotte bestowed her “saucy speech” to “Miss Orr;” and Margaret M. Warner decided to leave nothing as she “takes everything with her, including her two or three inches of ever evident underskirt.”
As for the incoming seniors, their “Voice of 1929” essay talked about the arrival of twenty-two students in early 1926 to begin their preparation for “a career of easing and alleviating pain, which involved a few months of “bed washing and linen sorting,” before they “were given the duties of regular nurses” on duty in the hospital. In early August, another “eighteen maidens were welcomed to the hearts and home of the heretofore mentioned twenty-two young misses and again the Spirit of Florence Nightingale was given a big thrill for the addition to the Training School was beautiful to behold (no kidding.) Bringing these two groups together, it was averred, meant that the class was “the most perfect Class” to grace the halls of the hospital. Finally, the writer of the essay concluded that, upon graduation, the class would show that “their ability will turn the gray of some invalid’s horizon to a Golden hue” and give St. Peter more reason to be charitable when they some day reached the Pearly Gates.
The 1930 class diary included mention of the first day at the school when the fourteen freshmen were “all so excited we can hardly breathe” and “everything is wonderful here, and awfully different.” A week later, they had their first shifts on duty and “all the nurses stared at us, and we were always gettng lost and doing something we shouldn’t.” Then came the fire of 21 January 1927 and it was “oh gee gosh, fiure and everything” and while “some one was heard to say something about how brave” they were, “as far as we know we were all scared most to death.” In mid-March it was initiation day and the 1929 class woke all of them up at 4:30 a.m. and made them clean room, polish shoes, wash dishes and “make monkeys out of us.” There was a nice party at the end and “even if they did treat us cruel we have forgiven them.” On 10 May, the students received their caps and bibs, making them feel like real nurses. By late September, the class grew to forty-three and two months later was the move to the new hospital. By March 1928, the group were considered “cap nurses” with longer shifts, a feeling of accomplishment, and the looking forward to graduation.
The 1931 class was much smaller, comprising fourteen women, of which two, E. Costelazo and M. Verdugo, was the only Latinas, but there were addtitions later, as Onesima López, a native of New Mexico, graduated that year. The class had a prophecy of what like would be like ten years after completing the program, including one being married to a well-known doctor and having twin girls; another was “the most spoken of woman in Paris;” Miss Costelazo was a successful nurse in México; Verdugo was a nun; June Altman was with the Metropolitan Grand Opera; and a couple, D. Slaton and M. Evermann, were working at St. Vincent’s. Of course, no one could foresee the attack on Pearl Harbor by Japan and America’s entry into the Second World War.
In the Activities section were portraits of the students council and “Nurses Sodality,” the latter being a pious association within the school; newspaper accounts and photos of the 1927 fire; and a school calendar, but, for some reason, for 1927. Among the notable events for the year was the January conflagration and removal of the destroyed tower; the breaking ground for an apartment for students near the school; the May graduation at St. Vincent’s Church; he September opening of the hospital section of the National Conference of Catholic Charities; and the November move to the new facility with the first day being the 26th, on which a baby boy was the first delivery there.
The Features section included a take on “The Night After Christmas,” but the focus was on a doctor arriving at an apartment on Christmas morning to care for a family’s children so that “he felt all their pulses and looked their tongues / took all their temperatures, shounded their lings. / When he’d dosed all the children, and silenced the kid, / he put back his medicine, down the stairs slid, / jumped into his cab, and said to the driver / (In excellent humor—he’d just made a fiver); / “I’m twelve hours behind my appointments, I fear / But I wish it was Christmas each day in the year!”
There are more poems; plenty of jokes, including the all-too-common ones in black dialect; cartoons; photo collages of student nurses; and many advertisements, most from businesses near the hospital, though there is one from P.J. Dolan’s El Monte diary. One cartoon features Bernice Fitzpatrick jolted out of bed for an early alarm and the caption reading “Why do you call your alarm clock Macbeth? Macbeth doth murder sleep.” A school-related joke had a teacher in a pharmacy clas asking the class to “name something that is absolutely impervious to corrosion” and a student cracking, “the American stomach.”
At the rear is a list of alumnae, from the original trio in 1901 to the class of 1927, though the bottom of the last two pages is cut out. In the autograph section are not the short notes and signatures of students, but something quite different, which takes us to the owner, who inscribed her name with the date of 26 July 1928 in the frontispiece. The name Mignon Garriott is particularly unusual and the only person with that moniker was born in Indiana in 1902 and appears to have lived in the Hoosier State her entire life, excepting her brief stay in Los Angeles, presumably to attend the school, though her name does not appear in any of the class listings.
Her address was on Alvarado Street south of the hospital and a block north of Westlake, now MacArthur Park. It does not appear that Garriott graduated from the school and she returned to Anderson, Indiana, northeast of Indianapolis, where she, as did some siblings, worked, in 1930, at a General Motors automobile lamp factory and where she was employed for almost 40 years. Garriott died in 1985 at the age of 83.
On two of the front pages of the yearbook, she took the time to list “Boys Met and Dates With While in L.A. Calif” and “Boyys Met” with the former roster including some 80 gents, including a few who she dated several times. Why there are the letters “M” after some and “J” following others is not known. The latter contained another 60 names, along with the names and addresses of a woman and a Navy sailor written separately.
On the autograph page, however, is a remarkable record of the fact that Garriott was operated on by Dr. Joseph Vinetz in February 1929 and had six breast tumors, four one one and two on the other, and spent 11 days at St. Vincent’s. Finally, there are some great photos of the cornerstone laying for the hospital, views of interiors (roof garden, lobby, reception room, offices, library, suites, kitchens, laboratory, operating room), and views of the surrounding area from the building’s upper stories.
The yearbook is a great piece of history regarding the hospital (which is still operating despite recent economic challenges), its nursing school and its students and staff, and late 1920s Los Angeles. We also have the 1929 edition in the museum’s collection and will look to share that in a future post. For more information, check out Cecilia Rasmussen’s 2000 article in the Los Angeles Times, this history from the Daughters of Charity website, and the full-length history of the hospital written in 2013 by Kristine Ashton Gunnell.