Editor’s Note: This is the first in a multi-part blog series recognizing the history of the UVM Medical Center.
As we move into the era when the UVM Medical Center will become known as The University of Vermont Medical Center, it is important that we remember and honor the women and men whose vision and generosity first created this proud legacy.
Each of the three original hospitals was founded in a spirit of personal philanthropy. Chronologically, we begin with Mary Fletcher.
Part of the original Mary Fletcher Hospital building (1879) stands today in the midst of the hilltop campus, beautifully restored and still functional. Mary Martha Fletcher was the last surviving child of five born to Mary L. Peaslee Fletcher and Thaddeus Fletcher, a well-to-do local merchant whose philanthropic giving was only partially realized in his lifetime. He and his wife supported Burlington-area educational institutions, including the local orphanage (now the Baird Center) and the Fletcher Free Library. After her parents’ deaths, Mary Martha lived reclusively as an invalid at the family home at 173 North Prospect Street in Burlington. She suffered from tuberculosis most of her life and felt an urgency to complete her parents’ dream of a hospital. Working with her family physician and University of Vermont Medical School Professor Dr. Walter Carpenter, she gave more than $200,000 to purchase the site on the hill (formerly the Moses Catlin farm), build the building and furnish it, create an endowment, establish a “free bed” for use of members of her church, and found the Mary Fletcher Hospital Training School for Nurses, only the 23rd such school in the country (now the University of Vermont College of Nursing and Health Sciences). The hospital was named for Mary’s mother, and the building still bears her name today.
Mary wrote: “It was [my parents’] money, not mine, that I gave. I wish to be remembered hereafter simply as one who had an obligation and tried to fulfill it: as one who had work to do and tried to do it as well as a poor sick woman could.” When her own death approached at age 46 in 1885, she insisted upon being taken by sleigh, in a snowstorm, the six blocks to the hospital to die in her own private room.
Mary Fletcher’s benefaction was, at the time, the largest in Vermont history. Her generous endowment still contributes to the care of patients today.
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 Fanny Allen.
Campbell, Muriel, “The Heritage: A History of the Mary Fletcher Hospital School of Nursing, 1882-1971,” 1971.
Carlisle, Lilian Baker, “Humanities’ Needs Deserve our Fortune: Mary Martha Fletcher and the Fletcher Family Benevolence,” Vermont History, Vermont Historical Society, Vol. 50, No. 3, 1982.
Rann, W.S., “History of Chittenden County Vermont,” article on Mary Martha Fletcher by UVM President Matthew Buckham, 1886.