Site 2: WILLIAM H. COLEMAN HOSPITAL FOR WOMEN (CF)
1140 W. Michigan St.
"Coleman Hospital Exterior, ca. 1928," UA24-003606,
IUPUI Special Collections and Archives
When it opened on October 10, 1927, the William H. Coleman Hospital for Women became the first women’s hospital built in the state, and only the twelfth in the nation. 1 It quickly earned a place at the forefront of women’s health research in the United States. Between 1927 and 1974, hospital doctors and nurses pioneered many new technologies in obstetrics and gynecology.
For centuries, midwives supervised the birth of babies. When obstetrics and gynecology emerged as medical fields circa 1860, physicians shared responsibility with midwives for attending to births. The vast majority of these births remained in the mothers’ homes. Around the turn of the century, as technology advanced and hospitals began to offer specialized treatment, women with birth complications began to be treated in hospitals. However, as antibiotics had not yet been invented, pregnant mothers faced a great risk of infection from contagious patients. As a result, separate women’s hospitals began to open throughout the country. 2
The William H. Coleman Hospital for Women became a reality in 1926, when Mr. and Mrs. William Coleman donated between $300,000-350,000 for the creation of a teaching hospital for obstetrics and gynecology in Indianapolis. The gift was prompted by the death of their only daughter, Suemma, as a result of complications to a pregnancy. 3
The hospital was designed by the famous local architect, Robert Frost Daggett. The completed hospital boasted 22 private rooms for patients, 64 beds, several delivery rooms, nurseries, 2 operating rooms, a sterilization room, an anesthesia room, and doctor’s quarters. As a teaching hospital, a large percentage of patients would have been lower-income women, as evidenced by the larger numbers of beds compared to private rooms. 4
Besides becoming the first women’s hospital in Indiana, Coleman Hospital was also the first hospital in the state to offer a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. After opening, doctors and nurses at Coleman Hospital pioneered groundbreaking medical research for women’s health. Between 1927 and 1974 it earned nationwide recognition for a number of research studies, from treatments for infants with birth defects to pioneering efforts in the use of new obstetric anesthetics and research on ovarian tumors during pregnancy. In addition, nurses in the 1950s at the William H. Coleman Hospital for Women pioneered a study in alternates to footprint technology, using fingerprint training from the Indianapolis police. In the 1960s, Coleman Hospital pioneered the use of electronic monitors to record babies’ heartbeats before delivery. 5
"Coleman Hospital Nursery, ca. 1930s," UA24-001096,
IUPUI Special Collections and Archives
The hospital served patients and pioneered research in women’s health for almost fifty years. In 1974, Coleman Hospital closed because the building needed extensive remodeling if it was to continue as a hospital. It no longer met fire codes, and its equipment had become outdated. In addition, while specialized hospitals would again rise to popularity towards the end of the twentieth century, in the 1960s and 1970s, they had lost popularity. Advances in antibiotics after World War II had ended the practical need for separate women’s hospitals, and some hospitals chose to consolidate all of their care into one program. When the new University Hospital opened in 1974, university trustees decided to move its obstetric and gynecology practice to the second floor of University Hospital. The building now houses the Division of Allied Health Sciences of Indiana University School of Medicine. 6
1 Madge Dishman, “Coleman Hospital: A Monument to Indiana Medicine,” Indiana Medicine August 1984: 623 in Coleman Hall Clipping File, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
2 Rima D. Apple, Women, Health, and Medicine in America A Historical Handbook, New York: Garland Publishing, Inc. (1990): 201-3.
3 “Coleman Hospital 1927-1967” unbound booklet, 3, in Coleman Hall Clipping File; Dishman, 622; No title, ISMA Journal December 1926, 490 in Coleman Hall Clipping Files, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
5 “Coleman Hospital 1927-1967,” 2; “Baby Makes an Impression”, Indianapolis Star Magazine Sept 7, 1958 in Coleman Hall Clipping File, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis; Harrison Ullman, “Beeps Save Babies Lives,” December 11, 1969, Coleman Hall Clipping File, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis.
6 Untitled Communication, April 24, 1980 in Coleman Facility and Minutes of the All-University Committee Folder, Ruth Lilly Special Collections and Archives, Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis; Dishman, 623.