Saturday, February 16, 2013

Entrepreneurial pluck: Dr. Rose Faughnan and Passaic Private Hospital

Long-time readers might remember our article on Dr. Rose Faughnan, the Ellis Island physician who was, herself, a classic example of the American immigrant success story. The daughter of Irish immigrants who came to the United States during the Potato Famine, she wasn't the only child in her family to achieve professional success. Among her siblings were a doctor, a lawyer and a teacher, demonstrating how quickly a family could rise to high achievement here.

A few weeks after we published the story, a Faughnan family member contacted me to share additional information on her remarkable aunt, whom the family calls Dr. Rose. It turns out that after leaving Ellis Island, she took a somewhat entrepreneurial approach to practicing medicine.

Courtesy Rose F. Stuart
It wasn't easy for women doctors to find jobs in the early 20th century, and many found civil service work in institutions like the Public Health Service or city or state governments. Even there they might find bias against them, both institutional and from colleagues. At the time, women were not eligible to take the exam to earn a commission from the PHS, so they were effectively restricted from hospital duty. Instead, they would be relegated to doing the initial exams on immigrants, determining which ones needed further examination before being allowed to enter the country. These ‘six second exams’ were necessary and important but less desirable as a work assignment, given the rigor of seeing as many as a few thousand people a day for a cursory look.

As I found from later research, Dr. Rose had been deemed "feministic" by one of her Ellis Island supervisors, likely because she wanted more challenging work. She resigned from the PHS in 1922 and continued her studies at the New York Lying-In Hospital, now the obstetrics and gynecology department of Weill Cornell Medical Center.

Like many strong-minded people before and since, Dr. Rose apparently decided to create her own career path, rather than relying on another employer. After leaving the Lying-In, she started a private hospital in Harrison but was soon persuaded by several patients to move her practice to Passaic. The community’s needs were acute: while the population was growing, only two general hospitals were available to serve residents there.

Dr. Rose bought a large house on High Street in Passaic and renovated it for use as a 12-bed hospital. Originally taking the overflow from Passaic General and St. Mary’s Hospitals, the facility was open to all physicians, with nurses on duty 24 hours a day. Eventually, as Passaic Beth Israel opened and the other hospitals expanded, Passaic Private focused more on maternity and chronic cases. A 1940 advertisement in the Passaic Medical Society Journal described the facility as “Ideal facilities for the care of invalids, chronic and convalescent cases, medical or surgical. Home cooking. Private, semi-private and ward cases. No contagious or tubercular cases accepted. Under State License.”

I haven’t been able to trace the fate of Passaic Private past that 1940 advertisement, though the Passaic city historian confirmed that the building itself was still there as recently as ten years ago. Dr. Rose died in 1947, with no mention of the hospital in her obituary in the Journal of the American Medical Association. I went to check out the property and found an empty, grassy lot. The only evidence of the building’s past existence is a stub of walkway that might have led to the front door.

It seems that the legacy of Dr. Rose’s work in Passaic is invisible to those who don’t know her story, but it’s no doubt evident in the lives she improved through her care, and the descendants of those she treated.


2 comments:

  1. The hospital was converted into a nursing home in the 60's. It was owned and operated by Mina Kimbrey who also lived next door. She closed the nursing home and years later sold the home to my parents. It was then converted into a residential home in the 80"s. My parents sold it in 2005. It was torn down shortly after that.
    There are plenty of pictures of the home that were donated to the Historical Center in Passaic. Great memories of this historical home. So happy to read this article.
    Rose Marie Aiello

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  2. Thanks for the additional information, Rose Marie! Please send me an e-mail at hiddennj@gmail.com -- I'd love to ask you a few more questions, if you don't mind.

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