Rev. William Walsh, pastor of Saints Peter and Paul Church in Chattanooga, requested that the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth open an Infirmary at East Lake, five miles from Chattanooga. St. Vincent Infirmary formally opened on December 8, 1890 in a remodeled summer hotel. It was a picturesque location. The hospital was at the foot of Missionary Ridge. The grounds were extensive and the view from the hospital was beautiful. A chain of hills dotted the east side of the Infirmary with famous Lookout Mountain and Chickamauga Campground nearby the hospital. It was a healthy atmosphere for patients due to the natural beauty and clean air. Springs and streams of pure water supplied the hospital and fed a near-by lake. Exercise was available for patients in recovery by walking the paths and rowing small boats. Often the hospital was referred to as a place for health seekers.
Dr. James E. Reeves was on staff and had a national reputation. He commented regarding St. Vincent Infirmary that “neither nationality nor creed is a hindrance to admission”. Dr. E.A. Cobleigh, Dean of the Chattanooga Medical College, and many other distinguished physicians of Chattanooga praised the healthy location of St. Vincent Infirmary.
The Sisters owned the hospital and remained there for eleven years. The first group of Sisters at St.Vincent Infirmary were: Sister Anita Gaitens, superior, Sisters Appolonia Dougherty, Mary Josephine O’Connor, Liliosa Buckley, and Mary Cyril Walsh.
From February 15,1898, to December 10, 1898, the United States was engaged in the Spanish-American war. The war was triggered by the sinking of the U.S.S Maine in Havana Harbor. A large group of soldiers were quartered near St. Vincent Infirmary. At first, U.S. officers came to St. Vincent’s Infirmary for treatment of their wounds and illness. Eight SCNs nursed the officers, many of whom had a fever and became delirious at night. The doctors did not know the cause. Pneumonia was rampant and took more lives than enemy bullets.
Regular soldiers eventually came to St. Vincent Infirmary from nearby Camp Chickamauga. One hundred and twenty soldiers received care from the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth during the Spanish-American War. A testimony to the care of the Sisters for military personnel was given after the war by the president of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce: “I was a soldier once, in the late unpleasantness, (Spanish-American War) and was wounded and lay five weeks under the care of the Sisters. I can truly say, I was never better treated in my life. I owe my life to the Sisters.”
In August of 1924, Sister Jovita Mullen, SCN (a former nurse at St. Vincent Infirmary) was asked by Sister Mary Ignatius Fox, SCN, for the names of SCNs who nursed soldiers in the Spanish-American War. The list follows: Sisters Annita Gaitens, Corneila King, Mary Sylvester Mattingly, Jovita Mullen, Vincent Ferrer Murphy, Mary Patrick McCabe, Mary Alban McGahey, and Mary Cyril Walsh.
After the Spanish-American War, attention returned to civilians occupying St. Vincent Infirmary. The beautiful scenery and fresh, clean air was especially healthy for those with pneumonia, tuberculosis, and other lung problems. Also, invalids found St. Vincent Infirmary a place of quiet and beauty.
One could say that St. Vincent Infirmary’s attention to patients, and its high health standards contributed to bringing its competitor into being. Chattanooga needed a larger hospital in the city for the convenience of the doctors who found the five miles from the city to St. Vincent Infirmary difficult. The doctors also needed the better communication system of the city. In addition, patients experienced St. Vincent’s as expensive. All of the above reasons led the county and city to build Erlanger, a larger hospital, able to function well in ‘the big city’. St. Vincent Infirmary staff began to dismantle its beloved hospital.
The Chattanooga Times newspaper wrote in November 1901: “The sisters are now quietly closing St. Vincent’s and moving on to wider fields of usefulness. Their unselfish, tireless, skillful and willing devotion to Chattanooga’s afflicted leaves behind a memory which they will look back to with pride.”