|photo by Alice Lum|
Within 36 hours the preacher whom The American Quarterly Church Review deemed “of more than ordinary ability,” was dead.
Louisa and her daughter moved to New York City within the year, eventually purchasing a four-story brick and brownstone house at No. 208 East 16th Street in the stylish Stuyvesant Park neighborhood. The women earned extra money by renting the bedrooms they did not use.
The house was conveniently near St. George’s Episcopal Church where the Lundy women dutifully worshiped. Then, on October 5, 1899, the 90-year old Louisa Lundy died in the house from an apparent massive stroke.
All the while the Lundy women were living in No. 208 a group of women connected with St. George’s Church, the deaconesses, were administering to the sick and poor. The women were both “trained and consecrated,” as Henry Anstice’s “History of St. George’s Church in the City of New York” pointed out. There were not only essentially nurses, but “junior clergy.”
The eminent pastor of St. George’s, Dr. William S. Rainsford called their work in the tenement houses “the very stay and backbone of all that we do.” But Rainsford was dissatisfied that the deaconesses were forced to live in the rented building on East 16th Street where they had been since 1892. Using, in part, a $3,000 from an anonymous donor, the determined pastor obtained the Lundy house and the matching home next door at No. 210 in 1901 to be converted into the new Deaconess Home.
The church commissioned architect George Wood to redesign and combine the two structures. Completed a year later, the transformation was remarkable. Wood created a near-whimsical and definitely romantic concoction of styles with joyful abandon of strict historical discipline.
The first floor, clad in brownstone, leaped from the pages of a romantic Tudor legend. Deep many-paned bay windows flanked the arched entrance, forming balconies at the second floor. The building rose in brick with brownstone trim until it reached the roof line where it decided it was tired of being Tudor and would rather be Flemish. Three picturesque Dutch gables hide the pitched roof, flanked by heavy carved brownstone ornaments. Lancet windows, useful for archers in earlier centuries, pierced the end gables—perhaps in case of attack.
In February 1902 the senior warden
presented the deed to the two lots to the vestry. Rainsford called the structure “the most
beautiful deaconess house in the United States, adequate in every way, charming
and comfortable.” The residents of the
neighborhood staged a show and fair that netted $600 towards the new house and
the ladies of the church donated $5,000 “for the proper furnishing.”
|The brownstone-clad ground floor was Tudor in style -- photo by Alice Lum|
|Lancet openings that pierce the Flemish gables add a picturesque, romantic touch -- photo by Alice Lum|
Girls and women, worked to the point of exhaustion and near sickness, were welcome to stay until they were feeling stable again.
The greatest health threat to the poor of New York City at the time was tuberculosis. When the Deaconess Home opened, 100,000 people were dying of the disease every year. On January 8, 1903 Virginia Young, one of the deaconesses, expressed to a New York Tribune writer “Tuberculosis is the Juggernaut of the tenements. Fully seven-eighths of the deaths on our list are from tuberculosis.”
|photo by Alice Lum|
The “light and sunny quarters” at St. George’s to which the Medical Record referred was the ingenious idea of a “roof camp.” In February 1909 the top floor and the roof were converted to include a “bedroom” (used as a dressing room, since no patients were permitted to sleep indoors), a bathroom, private hall, dining room, and diet kitchen. The roof was partly covered in glass and open on the south end. Dr. Seymour stressed that “The bright colored awnings and window boxes gay with flowers make a cheerful picture on sunny springs days; but, summer or winter, rain or shine our patients are required to be out.”
The patients were required to take certain responsibilities for their own improvement. They took and recorded their own temperatures and weights. Hot meals were provided from the house kitchen, after which all utensils and dishes were sterilized by boiling.
It was an ambitious and commendable venture; but the size of the roof limited the project. “As the roof space is limited,” wrote Seymour, “not more than twelve patients by day and five at night can be accommodated, and only women and children are thus provided for at present.”
The cost of running the roof camp was about $18 a week in 1910—or about 28 cents per patient per day.
One of the staff, Deaconess Young, decided that year to donate a tree to the church that would be planted along the street in memory of her father. It seemed like a nice idea. And the rest of the parish thought so too.
Deaconess Young’s idea of a single memorial tree spread throughout the congregants. Before long the Sunday School, choir, the Mothers’ Club, the boys of the Trades School, the Girls’ Friendly Society and other groups decided to gather up $20 to purchase a tree as well.
On April 23, 1910, St. George Day, a massive festival and ceremony took place as 20 Norway maple trees were planted along East 16th Street. St. George was there along with a scary dragon whose slaying was reenacted to the terror of some of the little children.
“The dragon had the real great success of the day,” reported The New York Times, “for he was so realistic that the little children were terribly frightened at first and there were unexpected April showers before they could be reassured and know that the dragon had really been killed.”
The work of the deaconesses in improving the health and lifestyles of the tenement residents was increased when nutrition classes were instituted in February 1919. Two of the large sunlit rooms of the first floor were used—one as an “assembly room” for children and the other for examinations and treatment. The assembly room had desks, scales, filing cabinets and a height gauge. The other room was outfitted as a clinic with a screened bed for examinations, a desk, and emergency medical and surgical supplies.
|Ivy, as romantic-looking as the architecture, clings to colorful brickwork and deep stone carving -- photo by Alice Lum|
To make the atmosphere more appealing, the deaconesses attempted to avoid a doctor’s office environment. Hospital Social Service noted “The plain human interest of the volunteers, combined with the fact that the rooms are sunny and usually full of flowers, has made the class really a ‘health class’ rather than a necessary and frankly disagreeable place associated with sickness.”
The problem for the deaconesses was how to lure the children to nutrition and health classes. Their solution was ingenious. They approached the mothers and quietly let them know that only a select few, favored children were being invited to be examined and attend classes.
Human nature did the rest.
Not only did the invited children show up, but some uninvited came as well. Over 200 children enrolled in the classes which met three times a week from 3:00 until 6:00. “The unsuspecting little tots don’t realize that their pet pastimes are being used against them,” said the Hospital Social Service, “and they listen with the greatest interest to stories depicting the dark deeds of the Coffee Witch or the adventure of Prince Lolly Pop never knowing that they are being painlessly taught all sorts of disagreeable data about Nutrition.”
In 1938 the church decided on another use for the Deaconess House. It was renovated and dedicated on October 31 by Reverend Elmore McNeill McKee as “Rainsford House,” named in honor of the former rector. The building would be used as a residence for young single business men who were required to devote part of their time in community service in the neighborhood.
The Times reported that “Fourteen recent college graduates representing various professions will live there with the Rev. Brank Fulton as senior president.” The men agreed to work at least one night every week at the Henry Street Settlement, the Flanagan Youth Center, Greenwich House or another similar institution helping the poor.
|photo by Alice Lum|
In the 1960s Rainsford House enjoyed social gatherings twice a month with the Henry Hill Pierce House, St. George’s women’s residence across the street at No. 209 East 16th Street. The church openly admitted that “romance is officially encouraged” and the gatherings resulted in an average of two weddings a year.
|photo by Alice Lum|