by Kristi L. Nelson
Knoxville General Hospital is long gone, but as long as its employees are living, they’ll make sure it’s not forgotten.
Once Knoxville’s only municipal hospital, General opened in 1899, a 325-bed municipal hospital on Cleveland Place, west of Central Street. The city-owned hospital closed when the city and county together opened University Memorial Hospital — now University of Tennessee Medical Center — in 1956. The Knox County Health Department sits on the former hospital site.
But General’s nursing school, established in 1902, is the root of most memories, said alumnus Jean Rhyne of West Knoxville, a 1949 graduate. Rhyne and other former nurses and doctors will gather Saturday, June 4, for their annual reunion. This year, they’ll catch up and share memories at St. James Episcopal Church on Broadway.
“Last year, we had 70 in attendance,” Rhyne said. “At our age, that is good! I’m 78, and some of them are older than me. Some come in from out of state.”
Rhyne herself moved out of state for 31 years her late husband, Lewis, had taken a job with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1951. When she returned to Knoxville for the funeral, she said, “the whole alumni turned out — flowers, everything. And I had been gone 31 years. We stick together.”
That’s a skill they learned during their nursing days, she said.
For many years, General had the only Communicable Disease Unit, in a separate building, the only part of the hospital that wasn’t segregated. Black patients were treated in the basement of General until an 82-bed “Negro Unit,” with its own operating room, was built in 1933. That building, the former Rosenwald Wing, at 970 Wray St., is today Serene Manor Medical Center, a nursing home.
It was 1940 before black physicians could practice at General and 1963 before all four major Knoxville hospitals admitted black patients on an equal basis.
General’s CDU handled most polio cases — black and white — during the 1946-47 polio outbreak, Rhyne said. And every year, General Hospital employees raised the most money of any hospital for the Polio Foundation, she remembered, which earned them the right to select a Polio Queen to accompany the mayor in a Grand March down Gay Street.
Today, the former nurses are still concerned about charity. When one of their own dies, they all donate to the American Nurses Association. When one of General’s former doctors dies, they make a donation to the American Medical Association.
By this time, they’ve made several, Rhyne said. “All of us that graduated, it was over 50 years ago, so we’re talking about some senior citizens,” Rhyne said. “But we have been very active in our alumni association.”
KNOXVILLE GENERAL HOSPITAL NURSES’ REUNION
* What: Reunion for alumni of former Knoxville General Hospital , 1899-1956
* When: 1 p.m. Saturday, June 4
* Where: St. James Episcopal Church, 1101 N. Broadway
Source: Knoxville News-Sentinel – Monday, May 23, 2005 – Page B2