Editor’s Note: This is the second in a multi-part blog series recognizing and honoring the women and men whose vision and hard work built the foundation upon which Fletcher Allen – soon to be The University of Vermont Medical Center – sits. The first blog post was about Mary Fletcher.
Frances Margaret Allen belonged to one of the most iconic families in Vermont history. Her father, General Ethan Allen of Green Mountain Boys fame, was the “hero of Ticonderoga.” Her early years were spent at the farm now referred to as the Ethan Allen Homestead in Burlington’s Intervale. After her father’s death in 1789, her mother married Dr. Jabez Penniman, who gave the young Fanny access to his library and his willingness to converse on many topics.
Fanny traveled to Montreal to learn French at an academy, and while there, despite pronounced religious skepticism, had a conversion experience. This led to her eventual decision to enter the novitiate at Hotel-Dieu convent, ignoring the opposition of friends and family. For 11 years, she was with the Religious Hospitallers of St. Joseph, but in 1819 she – like Mary Fletcher – succumbed to tuberculosis.
In 1894, the Catholic Bishop of Vermont, Bishop John S. Michaud, was gifted a large parcel of land on the Colchester-Essex border overlooking the Winooski River, upon which stood Dunbar’s Hotel. Coincidentally, the donor of the land, Michael Kelly, had been Mary Fletcher’s personal servant, to whom she had bequeathed $10,000. The bishop wanted to establish a Catholic hospital for the care of the elderly and the indigent on that site. He asked the Religious Hospitallers to send a team down from Montreal to manage it. The order’s superior, Mother Bonneau, was aware that this land had once been part of the Onion River Land Company’s holdings, of which Fanny Allen’s father had been a proprietor. Adjoining that parcel was a farm owned by Fanny Allen’s stepfather, and later by Michael Kelly. These remarkable coincidences and connections persuaded the sisters to take on the challenge of running the hospital and led to its naming in memory of their beloved Vermont-born sister.
The nuns arrived in May of 1894, renovations were made to the hotel, and the hospital opened in October of that same year. Over the years, various additions were made to the building, including a convent and nurses’ residence. A new Fanny Allen Hospital was opened on December 31, 1968. The 1970s brought more additions, including a surgical building and ambulatory services, and in 1995, Fanny Allen Hospital became part of the academic medical center in Burlington, expanding the reach of its patient care and services and building on the vision of the original nuns.
Fanny Allen and her fellow sisters exemplify the mission of service that continues inspiring the leadership and staff at the UVM Medical Center. And the Fanny Allen complex still plays – and will continue to play – an important role in the larger mission of the medical center and health network, making quality health care accessible to those who need it.
Sarah L. Dopp has been an employee at the UVM Medical Center Laboratory for 45 years. She is the past president of the Vermont Historical Society and is the current president of the Chittenden County Historical Society. Her next blog post will recognize the work of Bishop DeGoesbriand.
“Walking in the Spirit: Fanny Allen Hospital, 1894-1994,” Michael J. Healy, Fanny Allen Hospital, Colchester, VT, 1993
“A Biography of Fanny Allen,” booklet published by Fanny Allen Hospital, 1982