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  • Writer's pictureHistoric Columbus

Colored Department of the City Hospital

These history excerpts and images are taken from the collection of local historian Alfonso Biggs.

This week's blog includes the history of the annex to the City Hospital, several historic images, and the doctors and nurses who served Columbus' African American community. The historic marker honoring the hospital, doctors, and nurses is located on 17th Street where the annex was located.

The ward for African Americans was initially placed in the basement of the new City Hospital building, along with special rooms for criminals, washrooms, the kitchen, the furnace, and the x-ray room. Two years later in 1917, a new three-story building (pictured above) would be built behind the new hospital. It would temporarily be used for troops during WWI and then given for the exclusive use of African American patients in 1922. The building was fitted for 30 beds, accommodating both pay and charity patients. Previously, African American patients could be treated at the hospital, but not by African American physicians. This all changed when the annex was formally turned over on April 14, 1922. All five African American physicians in Columbus were present for the ceremonies and were granted full privileges at the annex.

The officers of The Columbus Colored Medical Association in 1917 were:

Dr. W.T. Ayers, President Dr. Edwin J. Turner, Vice President Dr. D.W. Gallimore, Secretary Dr. M. L. Taylor, Treasurer (Pictured) Dr. Thomas H. Brewer The Association helped to organize a fund drive to equip the operating room and the six bedrooms in the unit, as well as being responsible for the maintenance of the building. The city also employed a Colored City Physician - Dr. M. L. Taylor. School children were given periodical examinations, and free clinics and medical attention were also provided for the poor by the City Physician.

African American doctors were barred from membership in Columbus' white medical society until 1952. The most prominent member of of the city's African American medical community was Dr. Edwin Turner, who completed a postgraduate course at Harvard University. Dr. Thomas Brewer worked for improvements in public health, family welfare, and juvenile justice. He became the city's leading voice for civil rights. The Public Health Nurse Association began in 1917. It was organized by a band of men and women with a community spirit and interest with Mrs. John T. Fletcher, president. Bedside nursing was started by the organization with the employment of one nurse to visit the poor who could not afford a nurse and give them skilled nursing care. The first nurse hired was Sarah V. Allen, RN.

The calls for a nurse became so numerous one nurse could not care for them all. Three other nurses were soon hired to fulfill the growing need. They were Dagmar Ferell, Mabel Priester and Erlynne Oglen. The four nurses assisted in bedside care and home instruction. Their work was divided as follows: Two nurses were assigned to bedside care and instruction in the home. Each nurse given a special territory, the city was divided into two parts. The nurse carries out the instruction of the physician and teaches someone in the home how to care for the patient in her absence. One was employed for tuberculosis work and the fourth was to do infancy and maternity work. In 1922, the Public Health Nurse Association held a tuberculosis clinic at the county courthouse specifically for the city's black residents. Erlynne Oglen canvassed the community in search of tuberculosis cases. She also gave beside care to chronic cases, as well as education to families to prevent a spread in the home and community. Prenatal clinics were given weekly and midwives classes were held each month. Education was a top priority not only for the nurses and midwives, but also for them to share with future mothers. Soon, the four nurses hired by the Public Health Nurse Association would be overwhelmed as the need for their services grew.

Nurses from City Hospital often gathered on Friday nights to socialize and play bridge. Dr. Thomas Brewer is seen standing at the back of the room. Dr. Brewer saw to it they attended nursing classes in the same room as the white nurses. He also talked to their parents and even helped them out with financing to attend nursing school. (photo and caption from Black America Series: Columbus, Georgia by Judith Grant)

By 1949, Dr. James Thrash hired African American nurses to work at the main City Hospital. The 1960s and 1970s brought a lot of change to City Hospital, by then called The Medical Center. Costs were rising, needs were increasing, and separate facilities for blacks and whites became integrated. A Medical Center Hospital Authority was also created in 1975 with Frank D. Chester serving as one of the nine members of the first Hospital Authority board. On December 10, 1979, ground was broken for a new hospital. By August 1981, the new Medical Center tower would dominate the skyline. It would have been during this time frame that the annex building was also demolished along with the 1915 City Hospital building to construct the new Medical Center complex.


Historic Columbus is celebrating Black History Month by sharing some of our community's history through the stories of individuals, places, and events in our town. There is so much history that needs to be shared, and what you will see this coming month is just the beginning. More stories will continue to be shared each week throughout the year. Our community and our people have incredible stories, and Historic Columbus certainly doesn't know everything. We hope you will help us learn the rest of the story...your story, your family's story. Please consider sharing these stories with HCF to help create an oral history collection. You can email And don't worry, we will keep asking for your stories each month!

You can access ALL of Historic Columbus' History and Preservation Spotlights here:

If you think Historic Columbus is just putting a pretty face on an old building, think again. Thanks to the support of HCF members in 2020, over $450,000 was invested in preservation projects, preservation grants, façade loans, education programming, and museum projects. This year, you will see revitalization in action in High Uptown, City Village, and The Mill District. There will also be a third round of the Public Participation Grant (up to $100,000) this year thanks to the donors of HCF's 50th Anniversary Capital Campaign. If you are not a member, we hope you will consider joining! Your support makes preservation possible!

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