Give Me Your Sick

How one woman laid the foundation for the city's largest hospital

She was called the "godmother of Charlotte hospitals." Jane Smedburg Wilkes, daughter of a wealthy New York family and wife of prominent Charlotte businessman John Wilkes, helped organize a military hospital on Morehead Street during the Civil War.

Following the war, Mrs. Wilkes spearheaded an effort by the women of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church to establish St. Peter's Home and Hospital, the first civilian hospital in North Carolina. She turned to friends and relatives in New York to raise money for the hospital equipment. St. Peter’s Hospital opened in two rented rooms on East Seventh Street in 1878 and operated in several locations before a three-and-a-half story hospital was constructed on the southwest corner of West Sixth and Poplar streets in Fourth Ward in 1907. That building, which is still in use, later became a hotel before being converted to condominiums.

In 1891, Mrs. Wilkes again mobilized the ladies of St. Peter's church, and their fundraising efforts led to the establishment of Good Samaritan Hospital, the nation’s first hospital for African-Americans. The facility, located on Mint Street in Third Ward, became a rest home in the 1980s and was razed in 1990 to make way for Bank of America Stadium. In 1938, doctors wanted to remodel the outdated St. Peter’s Hospital, using a Depression-era Public Works Administration grant of $500,000. When it was learned that the hospital did not qualify because it was church-owned, the Episcopal Diocese turned it over to the city.

However, instead of remodeling, city officials decided to build the new Charlotte
Memorial Hospital, which opened in 1940. Today that hospital is Carolinas
Medical Center.