March is National Women’s History Month, designated as such to honor the extraordinary achievements of American women. The month-long celebration recognizes the important contributions made by women through programs in schools, workplaces and communities.
Flint has no shortage of notable women in its history! The name McLaren may be well-known, but many people may not know that the health care system was named after a nurse. Read on for a bit of this woman’s history.
The first hospital in the nation to be named after a nurse, McLaren Flint is one of the few in the nation to be named after a woman, Margaret Eliza McLaren.
Born in 1888 in Kent, Ontario, Canada, McLaren lived a simple life, leaving school at 16 years old to help her mother work the family farm and raise her seven younger siblings. It wasn’t until the youngest of them entered school, when McLaren was 28, that she had the opportunity to pursue nursing. Leaving Canada for Detroit, she entered the Nurse’s Training School of Grace Hospital. She graduated with the highest honor in 1920 and spent two years of private duty nursing, refusing several hospital positions in Detroit because she felt she needed the experience of working as, what was considered at the time, a general duty nurse.
McLaren came to Flint in 1922, when she was offered the surgical supervisor position at Hurley Hospital. In the 1920s, there were very few women in leadership roles, and yet, McLaren excelled in her career beyond expectations, gaining respect from those she worked with for her standards of patient care.
In 1924, McLaren became the general superintendent of the Women’s Hospital, a 29-bed, community non-profit hospital on Lapeer Street in Flint. Four years later, after working tirelessly for approval, the Women’s Hospital Association gained full approval by the American Medical Association and the American College of Surgeons, largely thanks to McLaren. According to the Genesee Regional Women’s Hall of Fame, McLaren “went on to become the public face of the planning and fundraising campaign for the new hospital facility, helping to raise exceptional funding for the project.” McLaren led the planning and fundraising of $2 million dollars, a terrific accomplishment. The new Women’s Hospital, a 243-bed facility, broke ground in 1949 and opened in 1951.
During her time in Flint, she was a very active in the medical community, serving as a member of the Flint District Nurses Association, The Michigan Hospital Association, The Michigan Nurses Association, and the American Hospital Association. She was also a member and two-term president of the Zonta Club of Flint, an organization chartered in 1923 and dedicated to “empowering women through service and advocacy.”
Margaret McLaren died in 1979, but her name and the legacy of her work for the medical community lives on.
Information from The Bulletin (1951), a publication of the Genesee County Medical Society.
Flint’s Health Care Pioneers
In1916, Lucy M. Elliot, MD, arrived in Flint and set up a practice in the Dryden Building in Downtown Flint. A native of Philadelphia, PA, the young doctor was a graduate of the University of Michigan Medical School. At the same time, a young nurse, Lillian Girard, came to Flint to visit friends and observe the medical practices in Flint. The Massachusetts native had graduated with Elliot and worked with her at Memorial Hospital in Worcester, MA. Both women were struck by the lack of medical care in Flint, especially for women and children.
While Flint was in the midst of an industrial revolution, one area that had not grown with the population was the access to medical care. In 1913, 89 of 1,000 babies died at birth in Flint.
The two women had discussed the need for better obstetrical care with many other members of the Flint medical community, and in 1917, they opened the ten-room Elliot-Girard Maternity Hospital at 808 Harrison Street. Elliot and Gerard had a philosophy on health care “good care at a low cost.” No women or children were turned away, and the hospital would accept any amount of payment a person could make.
In 1919, the hospital was in financial difficulty. A group of concerned businessmen got together and decided that it should become a non-profit organization controlled by a Board of Trustees, and was to be re-named Women’s Hospital. Dr. Elliott would be in charge of all medical personnel and major medical decisions. Nurse Girard decided not to stay on at the hospital.
Later that year, a larger facility was procured at 1900 Lapeer Street, remodeled and opened with 29 beds in June, 1923. The next year, a nurse whose name would later be immortalized in Flint health care would begin her career at Women’s Hospital: Margaret E. McLaren, RN.
Photos Provided by Mclaren Flint