Hebrew Maternity Centennial

The year 2016 marks the centennial of the Hebrew Maternity Hospital, one of the predecessors of the Jewish General Hospital. With archival contribution from the Alex Dworkin Canadian Jewish Archives (CJA), we put together an exhibition to celebrate this anniversary. 

The history of the Hebrew Maternity Hospital is intrinsically linked to Mrs. Taube Kaplan, nicknamed “Greene Rebitzin”  (Taube Kaplan). From humble roots, she married a rabbi and contributed to the domestic revenue by teaching Hebrew and religion to boys. After being the principal fundraiser of the campaign to establish the Herzl Dispensary, she was perspicacious enough to realize the plight of Jewish women and the poor state of obstetrics facilities in Montreal. Indeed, prenatal care was minimal if not absent. Doctors were called solely for labors, which often resulted in numerous complications for the poor mother as well as danger of diseases for the newborn. Therefore, Taube Kaplan went door-to-door to gather the sum for establishing a new maternity care facility for the Jewish community. By collecting pennies, nickels and dimes, she alone succeeded in raising 7 000$. It was enough money for a down payment for the house on 890 Cadieux Street (now Bullion) where she used to live as well. This house would accommodate the Hebrew Maternity Hospital that was incorporated on March 5, 1915 and opened on November 19, 1916.          

The Hospital experienced a hard beginning. After the influenza epidemic of 1918, the Montreal Board of Health raised its standards and the Hospital had to close for three months. With only fourteen beds and one private room to start with, the shortage of places was a major concern that forced the hospital corporation to buy the adjoining building as soon as in 1919, adding another 8 beds. Nonetheless, it was still insufficient to supply the needs of the community. In the same year, 57 829.25$ in subscriptions were raised to expand the Hospital again but the gathered sum was not enough and the project was never carried out. In 1920, the Hospital directors bought a lot on Esplanade. However, doctors had already lobbied for the construction of a Jewish hospital instead and the lot was sold to the Montreal Hebrew Old People's Sheltering Home. In December 1920, the Directors created an Auxiliary for women, which reached 850 members within six years. These women were responsible of dietary and sanitary condition, purchase of clothing, donations, supply of linen, treats for patients, etc. A pre and post natal care facility opened as well and the impact of good obstetric services was noticeable: maternal mortality was null and morbidity kept to a normal level for that time. By the mid-1920s, the Hospital treated up to 400 patients a year. With the foundation of the Montreal Clinical Society which united the Jewish physicians in town, the pressure for the construction of a Jewish hospital grew even more. As the focus shifted to the creation of a Jewish general hospital which would provide a more comprehensive care, the condition at the Hebrew Maternity Hospital deteriorated. It closed on November 15th 1928 by the joint meeting of Executive Committee and Medical Board with the resolution that all its belongings will pass to the competent organization. In 1929, the brick fundraising campaign started and the first Jewish General Hospital opened in 1934. Both the Hebrew Maternity Hospital and the Herzl Dispensary were precursors to the Jewish General Hospital.

As for Mrs. Kaplan, she later turned her sights to the founding of the Jewish Hospital and succeeded in becoming one of its leading fundraisers.  Although she contributed greatly to all three institutions, she consistently refused to be honored and she turned down all offers of position, privileges or honors following the Jewish tradition of "matan beseyser" (giving to charity in secret). She died on August 11th, 1940 at the Montreal Hebrew Old People's Sheltering Home. 

For further reading, please find here the Incorporation of the Hebrew Maternity Hospital from 1915, the Annual Report from 1919 and the snippet about the Hebrew Maternity from the Jew in Canada(1926). Click  here for the fonds and series level descriptions from the online database. 

 Incorporation of the Hebrew Maternity Hospital (1915)

 Annual Report (1919)

  Jew in Canada-Hebrew Maternity Hospital (1926)

An online exhibition prepared by Janie Tremblay, a practicum student from the School of Information Studies of the McGill University. 

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