The Early Years: 1913-1939
Imagine placing your life in the hands of a doctor who has had
just nine months or less of training. In the early 1900s, that
was often all it took to earn a medical degree.
Seventh-day Adventist church leader and healthcare reformer
Ellen G. White called for a higher standard of medical
training. As a result, when the Adventist healthcare facility in
Loma Linda, California, opened its College of Medical Evangelists
in 1909, medical students were required to complete four years of
In rural Loma Linda, however, there weren't enough patients to
give medical students the training they needed. Consequently, the
medical school faced closure. To save their school, leaders
looked to the west, toward the growing urban center of Los
Angeles, to keep their program alive.
Turning Dreams Into Reality
On September 29, 1913, the College of Medical Evangelists opened
a small storefront clinic at 941 East First Street, in the heart
of Los Angeles. People flocked to the new clinic, and the medical
school finally had the patients it needed. It was from these
humble beginnings that White Memorial Medical Center was born.
Three years later, the influx of patients was so great that there
was a need to expand the clinic. The drive began for a hospital
to be built at a nearby site on Boyle Avenue and named in honor
of Ellen G. White.
However, financial pressures were threatening to close both the
medical school and the clinic, and there were no funds to build
the new hospital. In Loma Linda, Adventist leaders anguished over
what seemed to be an inevitable future. As they prepared for a
final vote, there was a knock at the door. Four women of the
church entered the room and made an extraordinary proposal: They
were willing to champion a campaign to raise the $61,000 needed
to construct White Memorial Hospital.
Thanks to the Herculean fund-raising efforts of 50 women of the
Adventist church, the church purchased property on Boyle Avenue
in 1916. In 1917, a new dispensary opened on the site. Meanwhile,
construction began on cottage-style buildings that were to become
a permanent hospital.
So it was on April 21, 1918, that a crowd of 2,500 people
gathered to dedicate White Memorial Hospital. Not even an
earthquake that struck during the ceremony could dampen the
enthusiasm of those gathered to celebrate the culmination of
years of grand dreams, fervent prayers and hard work.
A Commitment to Succeed
In 1920, medical students exchanged physical labor for tuition as
they helped to build a new dormitory for nurses. They also took
on janitorial duties in the dispensary and classrooms; they even
started their own cafeteria, gathering in the evenings after
their studies were over to prepare food for the next day. Their
cafeteria made impressive profits, which they donated to purchase
sterilizers for the surgical department.
The hospital deepened its commitment to medical training with the
opening of the White Memorial School of Nursing in 1923, an
institution that held a prominent place in the hospital and
community until it was moved to Loma Linda in 1948.
Caring for a Community in Need
The Great Depression that followed the stock market crash of 1929
sent ripples all the way across the country to Los Angeles, where
White Memorial Hospital experienced its lowest occupancy rates
ever; by October 1932, only 50 patients remained. During those
financially dark days, physicians often accepted flour, chickens
and other goods as payment. Responding with compassion to the
poverty around them, a group of White Memorial nurses formed the
"Ellen White Nurses" to provide medical attention and food to
thousands of poor people in the community. The nurses donated
their time, the hospital donated food and the County of Los
Angeles provided transportation.
By the mid-1930s, the initial jolt of the Depression had passed,
and White Memorial began looking again to the future. Responding
to an ever-growing demand on its original facilities, the
hospital built a 180-bed, five-story concrete and steel structure
at a cost of $330,000. Dedicated in 1937, the building was the
first earthquake-resistant hospital in California.
Over the previous quarter-century, White Memorial Hospital had
gone through a difficult but triumphant beginning period,
weathered the Great Depression and built a facility that would
accommodate the needs of a rapidly increasing population. A new
decade was just around the corner, and the 180-bed hospital was
ready to face it wholeheartedly.