Our Iowa Heritage: Iowa City – The Hospitals.

Here’s a SUI Hospital Dose Glass from the early 1900’s

The Early Years.  State-supported medical education in Iowa traces back to the winter of 1850-51, when the state legislature recognized the Keokuk College of Physicians and Surgeons as the official Medical Department of the State University of Iowa. The Keokuk College had begun operations a year earlier as the College of Physicians and Surgeons of the Upper Mississippi in Davenport, graduating 15 physicians before its move to Keokuk. It would continue to operate the state-sponsored medical college for another 20 years, and as an independent institution for an additional 40 years.

In the late 1860s, a prominent Davenport surgeon named Washington F. Peck initiated efforts to create a medical college in Iowa City. With support from Judge John F. Dillon (a patient of Peck’s and a graduate of the Davenport, IA medical college) and the Honorable John P. Irish (Iowa City newspaper editor, state legislator, and a member of the university Board of Trustees), the Iowa City medical department gained approval as the official University medical college in 1870.


The faculty, in 1870, consisted of eight professors, including Dr. Peck as dean and professor of surgery, and Judge Dillon as a professor of medical jurisprudence. The first class consisted of thirty-seven students, including eight women, thus becoming the first public institution in the country to admit women to its class. The curriculum for the first class consisted of a two-week course of lectures followed by 16 weeks of clinical training.

South Hall (1870 – 1882).


The College of Medicine opened its doors for the first class on Sept. 20, 1870, meeting in South Hall, for which an appropriation of $3000 was made in the summer of 1869 for alterations to meet the needs of the new department. This building, located directly south of Old Capitol, was constructed in 1861 as the first campus building designed specifically for University use. The remodeled building included an amphitheater seating over 100 and a basement dissecting room, as well as cabinets and storage facilities for medical supplies and equipment, but it did not provide hospital beds. Click here for more details about South Hall.

The 1871 Medical Class meeting in South Hall.
Did you know the first graduating class at the University of Iowa School of Medicine consisted of 37 students, which included eight women—giving Iowa the distinction as the first coeducational medical school in the United States!

Homeopathic Medical Building (1876 – 1919).


(P-0107) (P-0108) From 1876 to 1919, the University actually had two different Schools of Medicine: Allopathic and Homeopathic, with the differences lying in the approach doctors take in dealing with sickness and disease. The Allopathic Department was housed in South Hall (1870-1882), and the Medical Building (1882-1901), located south of Old Capitol, while the Homeopathic Department used another facility nearby (1876-1895), eventually moving into their own new facility on the corner of Jefferson and Dubuque Streets in 1895. Click here for more details about the Homeopathic Medical Building.

The University’s Homeopathic School closed in 1919, but the ideas behind this unique approach to medicine continue to today.

Medical Building (1882 – 1901).


The College of Medicine, in 1882, moved next door from their original home in South Hall into the new Medical Building, an instructional building designed exclusively for medical training purposes. Click here for more details about the Medical Building.

Mechanics Academy – The First University Hospital (1873 – 1897).


In 1873, four Sisters of Mercy traveled from Davenport by train, carrying as many furnishings and medical supplies as they could manage. They came at the invitation of Dr. Peck, who wanted the Sisters to establish a hospital in Iowa City. Such a hospital would provide a facility where medical students could gain clinical experience and the Sisters could pursue their mission of caring for the poor and sick.


When the Sisters arrived at the Iowa City train station, a kindly local farmer offered to take them to their final destination in his wagon. The Sisters were greeted by Dr. Peck and set to work immediately, cleaning and refurbishing the Mechanics Academy. Within three weeks, on September 27, 1873, the new Mercy Hospital admitted its first patient—a gentleman with tuberculosis. Click here for more details about Mechanics Academy.

2-1890MechanicsAcademy SE view w addition
Circa 1897 – An expanded Mechanics Academy (25-beds). As the medical needs grew, so did the first University hospital. By the mid-1890’s, an addition was added to the Mechanics Academy which included a two-story amphitheater on the east side. But by the late 1890’s, the College of Medicine had grown to such a degree, the University decided to step away from its agreement with the Sisters of Mercy, expanding into their own state-sponsored 65-bed hospital, which opened as University Hospital on January 11, 1898.

University Hospital (1898 – 1928).


The first wing (southwest corner – 328 Iowa Ave) of the new University Hospital opened in 1898. The most impressive feature of this new facility was a 200-seat amphitheater for clinical instruction, making Iowa the first university-based teaching hospital west of the Mississippi River. The building also housed the first University school of nursing, with seven nurses graduating from the school in 1900.

A Major Disaster Charts a New Course (1901).


In the wee-morning hours of March 10, 1901, a devastating fire consumed both the Medical Building and South Hall on the main campus, leaving the College of Medicine without a teaching home. The short term solution was to build two temporary structures on the foundations of the burned out buildings, and find other classroom space as they could.


Hall of Anatomy & Medical Laboratories Building (1904 – present).


The State Legislature (1901) authorized the construction of two new building to replace those destroyed by fire, but delay in construction occurred. The two wooden structures built on the foundations of South Hall and the Medical Building served in the pinch, along with some additional space found in the new Hall of Liberal Arts (Schaeffer Hall) on University Square.  Finally, in 1904, the Hall of Anatomy and the Hall of Histology, Physiology and Pathology opened on Jefferson Street. These two buildings were closer to the growing University Hospital (on Iowa Avenue) and the Homeopathic Medical Building (on Dubuque Street) and served as medical laboratories until a new Medical Laboratory Building was completed, in 1927, on the west side of the river.

(P-0109)  This picture postcard from 1909 comes from a satisfied customer,  “They tested my eyes today – I can read the light line now so I guess they are getting much better.”

University Hospital – East Hall – Seashore Hall (1898 – 2019).

(M-0041) State University of Iowa Hospital Souvenir Plate – circa 1920’s

As we said earlier, when the University and the Sisters of Mercy decided to go their separate ways, Mechanics Hall was razed (1897), making way for the first phase of the new University Hospital (southwest wing), which was completed in 1898.

1907suihospital 2

Additions came in several installments; the southeast wing being completed in 1906, the northwest wing in 1912, and the northeast wing and an addition to the central portion being built in 1914.

After the University Hospital outgrew this expanded campus, moving to the west side of the river in 1928, University Hospital was renamed East Hall, and in 1981, in honor of Dr. Carl Seashore, the buildings were renamed Seashore Hall.

(P-0200) (P-0105) (P-0106) Circa 1900-1920 – SUI University Hospitals on Iowa Avenue.

(P-0111) This adorable “I Love to Help You – Do You Need Help?”  penny postcard, from 1911, is dripping with historical significance for Iowa City historians, railroad enthusiasts, and University of Iowa Hospital history…
(P-0111) This “get-well” card is addressed to Miss Eunice Crawford, who is a patient at the University of Iowa Hospital in Iowa City (Nov 23, 1911). It was mailed by her Aunt “Sister Mary,” from a community located somewhere on the Muscatine/Montezuma Railway line, postmarked at 1402 (2:02 pm) on the RPO and delivered to the Hospital probably later that day.

(P-0254) This “Greetings” postcard (featuring an intriguing picture of elephants) is dated March 9, 1918 and comes from an “old college pal” to Mr. Harold Johnson, a WWI sailor who is recovering in the 2nd Ward West of SUI hospital.

1919 – 1928: The University Medical Community Expands Westward.

1921ChildHospital 2
(P-0193) 1919: Children’s Hospital. The first medical building to be built on the west side of the Iowa River.

By 1915, after three wings had been added to the hospital, it had outgrown its facilities. When a 1919 state law required the hospital to accept patients statewide, and after receiving a donation for $2.25 million from the Rockefeller foundation, ground was broken (1926) for a seven-story, 770-bed modern hospital on the west side of the Iowa River.

While the main hospital remained on the east side until 1928, the University built a 150-bed Children’s Hospital on the west side of the Iowa River in 1919 and a Psychopathic Hospital for those with mental illness in 1921.
University Hospital Shuttle (circa 1919). When the Children’s Hospital opened in 1919, this little electric shuttle was used to transport patients and staff across the river from east campus to west campus.
(P-0252) This unique four-plex postcard features the SUI Hospital Campus as it appeared in the late 1920’s.

Click here to read more about the new SUI Hospital and its place in Iowa City “skyscraper” history…

(P-0201) 1928 – University Hospitals on the West Side.

(P-0113)  University Hospital Tower. When the move to the west side was finally completed in 1928, University Hospital with its beautiful Gothic tower became the foundation of the modern University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics. Click here to read more about the SUI Hospital Tower and its place in Iowa City “skyscraper” history…


#1 – Mercy Hospital (1873 – present).


In 1885, the Sisters of Mercy, while still working side by side with the University, purchased a property called the Dostal House, located about two blocks northeast of the Mechanics Academy building, and moved into it early the next year. The remodeled building offered space for more patients and included a carriage house that was turned into a surgery amphitheater.

Click here to read more about John P. Dostal and his role in early Iowa City…


As we discussed earlier, the Sisters of Mercy and the University continued to work together for a number of years until, in 1897, the Board of Regents appropriated money to build a new hospital for state-supported purposes only. Thus, the University’s own hospital was created, and the Sisters of Mercy were free to operate their own hospital as a private, community institution.

(P-0118) (P-0232) The Dostal House – This 1910 postcard, from one friend in Iowa City to another friend in Chicago, has a great message – “Would like to exchange pennants with you – will send you one with IOWA on it if you will send me one with CHICAGO on it – send it as soon as you can and I’ll return immediately.”

Circa 1915 – Here’s a view looking east on Market Street picturing Mercy Hospital on the far left, and Iowa City High School in the middle.
(P-0119) Mercy Hospital – Iowa City continues on this site today,  growing over the years to become a 234-bed hospital with a 10-county clinic system, providing high-quality care to the people of southeast Iowa.

#2 – Veteran’s Hospital (1952 – present).

1960-VetHospital 2

In 1952, with the University Hospitals & Clinics becoming a regional center for medicine, the United States Department of Veteran Affairs opened a 300-bed hospital near the expanding University Hospital campus.

(C-0100)  “Honoring Veterans.”  Veterans organizations have a long history in the United States. Originally set up to aid veterans, their families, and the families of fallen soldiers, today’s veterans’ organizations help their comrades, their communities, and their country through a variety of public service projects.

University Hospital & Clinics (1928 – present).

(P-0116) University Hospitals and Clinics – circa 1980’s.

University Hospitals and Clinics Today – Stead Family Children’s Hospital.

Today, the University of Iowa College of Medicine sits at the heart of a health sciences campus that also includes the colleges of Dentistry, Nursing, Pharmacy, and Public Health, as well as UI Hospitals & Clinics and the nearby. Combine all that with Mercy Hospital/Iowa City and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, and you have a world-class medical community right here in the Heartland of Iowa.

Campus Aerials

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