One hundred and fifty years ago, Julia Johns and a team of local women changed the face of healthcare in the City of Alexandria, and we couldn’t be more thankful. In 1872, after a sailor arrived at the city’s port with typhoid fever and subsequently caused community worry, it immediately became apparent that the city didn’t have a location to treat or quarantine ill community members.
An emboldened Johns took it upon herself to gather a group of like-minded women who put their heads together to build “a hospital for the sick.” The foundation was precarious at first, as evidenced by the hospital almost closing after its first year due to financial woes, but it steadily solidified over time. Local businesses and residents came out of the woodwork to supply the fledgling organization with medicine, blankets and food to keep it afloat.
Now, several thousand employees, patients and one upcoming renovation later, the hospital has decidedly secured a foothold in the city.
It’s awe-inspiring to watch a seedling idea evolve over more than a century into a large-scale operation – one so large, in fact, that it has to build an entirely new medical campus to meet growing demand. Even more heartening is the knowledge that the community’s unwavering support is what lifted Alexandria Hospital out of the trenches and helped ensure its longevity.
But the most impressive aspect is the fact that a group of women, led by Johns, was steering the ship. Their dogged determination produced reverberations throughout the entire community that continue today, which is highly inspiring in and of itself, but is compounded by the fact that they accomplished such a feat at a time when women weren’t even allowed to vote.
Clearly, the world has come a long way since then – and still has a long way to go – but Johns and her team are nothing short of pioneers who have unquestionably earned their place as city icons.
Thanks to Johns, city residents don’t have to travel far to receive medical aid. They have access to innovative technology and state-of-the-art care from a nationally recognized institution that will only enhance when the hospital transitions to its larger new location.
It’s also exciting and entirely appropriate that the city is currently working on its “Alexandria Hospital: Women Mobilize the Community” exhibit, which will outline Johns’ full story and the effort involved in starting and running the hospital.
A plaque by Johns’ grave, located at the Virginia Theological Seminary, refers to her as “A Visionary Community Pioneer, Extraordinary Leader of Women and Compassionate Humanitarian.”
Thank you, Julia Johns. And congratulations on 150 years, Alexandria Hospital. Here’s to 150 more.