History of Hospital's Founder is Lost
Mrs. Elizabeth L. Speers, sole benefactor and fairy godmother for the hospital which bears her name, today remains a woman of mystery.
After weeks of research and interviewing, this reporter has compiled some information about Speers Hospital's glorious past - but little about its founder.
The futile effort to shed light on Mrs. Speers personal life ended, after a search of all available records and interviews with Dayton's oldest citizens brought scant results.
We do know Mrs. Speers, a short frail woman, came to Dayton in 1883 with her husband, Charles, who died in 1883. The couple had lived in Cincinnati and Texas prior to their arrival in Northern Kentucky.
Home Now Eagle Aerie
Mrs. Speers was of English birth. The family resided in a home that now houses the Dayton Eagles organization. It was sold in 1914 to settle the Speers estate. In her last will and testament, the small gray haired lady said: “I convey and transfer the entire balance of my estate, real, personal, and mixed of every kind and wherever situated to Dr. B. K. Raeleford, Dr. C. B. Schoolfield, and William G. Pickering. They are the trustees in trust for the establishment and maintenance of a hospital in the City of Dayton." The will was recorded June 20, 1893.
Elder Helm Settled Estate
She also said, “The said hospital is to be erected and maintained and conducted in such a manner and upon such plan as in their judgment would do the greatest good.” “Their” meaning the board.
Webster Helm, Campbell County's grand old man of law and former Kentucky State Senator recalls, “my father, an attorney, Charles J. Helm, settled Mrs. Speers' estate. As a strange coincidence, my father also represented the Gaddis estate. From that estate came the land St. Luke is built on today,” Helm said.
The property Speers built on was purchased by the board of trustees for $13,000 on July 31, 1895.
The board had first considered three sites including the McArthur site on Berry Avenue, Dayton; the William Donaldson site (present one); and the Spillman site at Benham and Clark Streets in Dayton. After the Donaldson site was purchased all hospital construction was completed by individual contracts. George Vogel was the superintendent of the actual building.
Start Building in 1895
In October of 1895 the actual construction began.
Mrs. Speers donated $100,000 to build the hospital, setting it up as a memorial fund for her husband.
Dr. C. G. Schoolfield admitted the first patient in October of 1897.
The building located on Main Street between Fourth and Fifth looked like a summer hotel with countless porches. At first it contained 30 private rooms and four large wards, approximately 45 feet by 28 feet each with 48 single beds. The main building today is still the principal hospital.
No trust fund was set up for the hospital upkeep or maintenance, so when funds were depleted, Speers was on its own.
Main Building Four Stories
The main building had four stories above the basement. An east wing was added in 1910.
A large yellowing paged record book, kept in the safe in the office of hospital administrator F. D. Dober, recounts the first days of hospital life.
“The book seems to keep more of a record of all board meetings and their worries with hospital finances,” Mr. Dober said he paged through the volume.
“In October of 1897, 31 doctors were approved and appointed to the hospital staff as regular and consulting members,” Dober said. He added, “The ladies aid society, which grew into the present sewing guild began November 30, 1897.”
Anna K. Sutton was the first hospital superintendent.
The person in charge of the hospital was not called administrator until Mr. Dober took over two years ago.
In 1895 the first hospital board met at Speers.
John Trapp was president and Dr. Schoolfield vice president. C. W. Nagel was secretary-treasurer.
Throughout the years the hospital's sole support has been from the Ladies Sewing Aid, free will donations, and money left by benefactors.
Served in Depression
Patients' fees have enabled the hospital to break even in expenditures and salaries. During depression years the hospital remained a community service.
A beginning toward permanent organization came in 1951 when Speers Society was formed. Since then many “necessary improvements have been made and the best equipment installed at Speers.” The society is responsible for collecting and earning more then $175,000 for Speers.
Dayton and its leaders are fighting to keep Speers, the community's largest employer, at its present location. Marshall Dodd, Dayton Mayor, said: “The hospital is a vital part of Dayton and northern Kentucky, and we hope to keep it that way.”
By Judy Shoemaker, Kentucky Post-Times Star, March 9, 1966