Today, the invention of the hospital. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
Hospitals have formed slowly
for 2000 years. Doctors of classical Greece tended
the sick in their homes. The methodical Romans had
systematic, if brutal, means for handling wounded
soldiers, but no public houses for sick civilians.
Hospitals were a very altruistic Christian
invention. The word itself is all mixed up with the
words hotel and hospitality. By the 4th century AD,
newly Christianized Romans began running homes for
the sick and needy. By the 8th century, the
functions of Christian hospitals, or hospices, were
highly specialized. Some served the sick, some the
needy, lepers, the insane, and orphans.
The new nations of Islam followed suit in the 9th
century AD. By the 12th century, the Christian
Order of St. John of Jerusalem, and the St.
Augustine nuns, had shaped Medieval hospitals, with
their diverse functions, into fine institutions.
Deterioration set in as control shifted away from
the Church during the late 13th century. Secular
hospitals grew increasingly crowded and dirty.
Hospitals remained, but the well-to-do didn't use
them. Small wonder that, in 1642, Sir Thomas Browne
For the world, I count it not an inn, but an
hospital; and a place not to live, but to die
In 1524 Cortes set up the Hospital of Jesus of
Nazareth in Mexico City. It's still running. French
missionaries built Montreal's Hotel Dieu in 1639.
Quakers set up the Philadelphia Almshouse in 1713.
It became an insane asylum in 1731, and today it's
the Philadelphia General Hospital. But we didn't
build a true hospital here until about 240 years
ago. In 1751 a Dr. Thomas Bond went to Ben Franklin
and asked him to help form one.
Ben Franklin secured funds from the Colonial
legislature. A small building went up under the
motto, "Take care of him and I will repay thee,"
from the story of the Good Samaritan. It's now the
East Wing of Pennsylvania Hospital.
But it took another force to make hospitals a place
you would enter willingly. That force was Florence Nightingale. She
restored the ingredient that'd left hospitals in
the 13th century -- the ingredient was a place for
women. Before 1850, a nurse stood on a lower rung
of the social ladder than a trollop.
When Nightingale was done, not only women's place
in hospitals, but hospitals themselves, had been
re-civilized. Hospitals as we know them didn't
really exist until after the Crimean War. It was
only then that Elizabeth Barret Browning could
How many desolate creatures on the earth
Have learnt the simple dues of fellowship
And social comfort, in a hospital.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds