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Our History

History: How It All Began

Sister Mullany

A vow, a horse race, a deal with the city, and a matching grant all figure in the founding and growth of Mercy Medical Center.

The vow is a part of the life of all Sisters of Mercy - "to care for the poor and the sick." So, when Cedar Rapids needed hospital beds in 1900, that vow motivated the Sisters to establish Mercy Hospital in a small house on 3rd Avenue and 6th Street SE. This 15-bed house was soon too small, and the Sisters looked for money and a site to build a larger hospital.

Two men who owned the racing rights at the county fair gave a day's racing receipts toward the proposed building. The city council offered a piece of land in exchange for perpetual free care for city employees.

Fortunately, a merchant who had volunteered to match the Sisters' funds said that the city's offer was no bargain and threatened to withdraw his own offer if the city had its way. He was right: Today, the 4th Street railroad tracks would have been at the front door of the hospital and I-380 at the side.

Picture of 100 bed Mercy Hospital

So the Sisters looked for a new site and raised money, going from parish to parish and to nearby towns. In 1903, they were able to construct a 100-bed hospital at Mercy's present location. In subsequent years, Mercy hospital was enlarged, the Hall Radiation Center and Hallmar were added, and inpatient and outpatient programs made Mercy Medical Center the leader in healthcare in eastern Iowa.

Mercy's Early Patients

"Swallowing lye in the park" is not your everyday method of suicide today. It was a rarity even in the early decades of Mercy Medical Center, but it did occur.

Mercy's First PatientsWomen still have babies, generally at the hospital rather than at home, but they are no longer subject to "confinement." People die while shoveling snow, but never from cranking their cars. Typhoid, smallpox and polio epidemics are not major causes for worry in Iowa today. A person doesn't come to the Trauma Center because she caught her finger in the wringer, but someone may come, as in 1934, having been struck on the head with a beer stein.

Today, they still get angry, catch colds, get fishhooks in their fingers and bugs in their ears. They have pneumonia and cataracts, lacerations and fractures.

Mercy's first patient in 1900 was a 72-year-old housewife from Arlington, Iowa, who had cataract surgery. The first 48 patients were an international group, born in Austria, Norway, Ireland, England, Syria, and the United States.

Their occupations were varied - merchant, team driver, cook, peddler, laborer, two bartenders, machinist, railroad man, jeweler, clerk, office girl, music teacher, farmer, lawyer, cabinet maker, nurse, a "showman" from St. Louis, and one small patient whose occupation was listed as "child."

Diseases, equipment, and treatments have changed, but the Mercy tradition of caring is still the same.

Learn about Mercy Medical Center's rich history firsthand in these videos about the legacy of the Sisters of Mercy in Cedar Rapids.