Visits to Museums

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NSG Visit February 2001

Rochester General Hospital's

Baker - Cederberg Museum
and Archives


Donovan A. Shilling

A dozen members of the New Society of the Genesee braved the wintry winds of February to meet at the Baker-Cederberg Museum and Archives, an integral part of Rochester General Hospital. Perhaps least known of area museums, it is located within the hospital at 1425 Portland Avenue. The museum's director/curator, Philip G. Maples; chairman, Betsy Morse; collections manager, Kathleen Britton; administrative assistant/cardiology service, Sally Tornatola; circuit archivist, Catherine Pusateri; secretary, Karen Maples; and intern, Kevin Wilson welcomed us in the Dr. Raymond Hinshaw Education Center. Two members of the museum staff wore period nurses' uniforms. Sally's black dress with a white apron was the uniform worn by probationers in the 1880 era, and Catherine's blue pin-striped dress covered by a full white apron with a handy rear pocket for scissors was the style for nurses from 1883 until 1906. She wore a white, ruffle-brimmed cap circled by a black ribbon. The ribbon, we learned, was a memorial to one of the world's most honored nurses-Florence Nightingale.

Director Phil Maples related in a relaxed and chatty manner, the hospital's early history. In 1847, a group of eleven prominent people in Rochester with the support of the Rochester Female Charitable Society obtained a charter to establish Rochester City Hospital. Seventeen years later the hospital opened on January 27, 1864, and accepted its first patient on February 5. The Board of Lady Managers held their first meeting on February 15. They assumed daily operations of the hospital in 1875 and continued under that name until 1945, then becoming the Women's Auxiliary Board, and changing to the Rochester General Hospital Association in 1978.

The Baker-Cederberg Museum and Archives was established in 1947, the hospital's centennial year, and named to honor both Marion Bradley-Baker who developed the "Rochester Plan" that has become a national pattern for volunteer health-care workers, and for George Cederberg, who saw the importance of preserving a record of the hospital's past. The core of the museum's extensive collection started in a tiny room above the laundry when the hospital was located on West Main Street.

In 1887 the "Twig" (a "branch" of the hospital) was formed, by Lois Whitney, to assist the hospital by producing in its Sewing Circle necessary cloth items and by contributing funds raised through the members' efforts. Today the Twig numbers over 800 members. It was the city's first volunteer organization, and has become a national model for hospital-affiliated volunteer groups.

The next segment of our visit led us to a corridor adjoining the education center. Here the walls were covered with an array of historic plaques. The largest honored those who endowed beds and memorials for the Children's Ward. The list of $5000 donors reads like a Who's Who of city society with names such at Atkinson, Backus, Bartholomay, Everest, Hawks, Kimball, Landsberg, Perkins and Sibley. One donor provided funds for a "Mary Bed," freely available to patients named "Mary."

Two other walls held framed photographs of more than a hundred doctors who had served the hospital over its last 154 years. Dr. Henry Dean was the hospital's first physician and Dr. Montgomery, its first surgeon. Dr. Louis Weigel was the first to use X-rays in the hospital in 1896. Dr. Ralph Fitch organized a French military hospital in the First World War, and Dr. Wentworth organized the 19th General Hospital in France during the Second World War. Dr. John D. States was partly responsible for the introduction of automobile seat belts.

Just around the corner from the photo gallery were three well-presented museum displays. One was of the hospital's first CO2 laser installed in 1981 and the first of its kind used to fuse human tissue. A second display held two wooden cases of a "Galvanometer-Galvano," an electrical apparatus used in early "electrical therapeutics." The third display filled a large wall off the main corridor and was dedicated to the hospital's School of Nursing. The school, formed in 1880, was the 12th nursing school in the nation. Photographs of each graduating class represents a major portion of the exhibit.

The group then visited the archive collection located on a mezzanine-like floor reached by an elevator and stairway. Here, Kathleen Britton has catalogued over 900 hospital-related items. We wondered if the unusual display of bed pans used through the years had been especially set out for our edification. We learned that the impressive and voluminous archive collection included material from other health agencies as well as General Hospital's.

In 1956 the hospital's new "Northside Division" was dedicated at its Portland Avenue address. After a decade of service at both locations, the West Main Street division closed in 1966. Its grounds became a major housing development which was later demolished and is now being replaced by new housing.

Rochester General Hospital became the nation's first hospital to establish its own dental clinic as early as 1892. Today the hospital ranks as the state's fourth largest cardiac center.

A visit to the Baker-Cederberg Museum and Archives is well worthwhile. In the meantime, a visit to the Museum's website is also rewarding: cfm?id=532 .

© 2001, Donovan A. Shilling
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