They didn’t just care about their “own” children. Their father taught them, according to legend, that a woman “derives no special consideration, nothing more than a cow or a horse” for taking care of their own. “The truly charitable woman is big enough to help children other than her own,” he said. They embraced immigrants, printing educational materials in languages other than English and rejected racial segregation, working to take care to African-Americans at a time when few others gave the insanity of “separate but equal” a second thought.
Discussing Alice Berry Graham and Katharine Berry Richardson
Kansas City,
22
March
2017
|
06:00 PM
Europe/Amsterdam

Strong women make us all stronger: Starr Women’s Hall of Fame at UMKC celebrates sisters who founded Children's Mercy

Berry+Sisters

Writing the Book Blog is just that ... a blog about writing The Book. In this case, the book is a history of Children's Mercy - Kansas City. Children’s Mercy is almost 120 years old and the last time a history was published was in 1961. There’s a lot of history to cover. There’s a lot of researching and writing to do. When its published, in June 2017, it will be about a 200-page coffee table book with lots of pictures and amazing stories of adversity and triumph, of compassion and determination, of research and discovery, or science and medicine, of community and love. The blog will discuss the writing process; will ask questions; will tell stories that may or may not end up in the book; and will chronicle the author's work, his mood and his creative (we hope) process.

We’re getting ready to this week induct the founders of Children’s Mercy into the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame at the University of Missouri – Kansas City. I first wrote about this last fall and it’s a pretty big deal.

I have, of course, spent a lot of time in the past couple years thinking about Alice Berry Graham and her sister Katharine Berry Richardson, our founders. But with the Hall of Fame coming up, and with Women’s History Month upon us, it seems like the perfect time to think about the influence that women — the Berry sisters and others — have had in our lives, and in our world.

The Hall of Fame says it “celebrates extraordinary women.” That’s Alice (left, above) and Katharine. They were smart. They were tough. When the odds were stacked against them, they did not back down. They went to dental school and medical school in the 1880s when women weren’t allowed in medical societies; they opened a hospital when women couldn’t own property (unless they were widows, which they both were) and decades before they could vote. They raised lots of money to buy, expand and build again, at a time when men were entrusted with nearly all business matters.

With a strong love for helping others, they began caring for children who were sick, abandoned and poor. Children the rest of society was ready to throw away. “It’s time someone took a greater interest in children like these,” Alice reportedly said one night as she and sister looked at the first little girl they had rescued.

It was 1897. The only hospital that would have them in the cow town of Kansas City was a ramshackle old house next to the train tracks and the coal yard. But they were strong and their commitment was stronger.

Soon, other children came. And then other women doctors.

They didn’t just care about their “own” children. Their father taught them, according to legend, that a woman “derives no special consideration, nothing more than a cow or a horse” for taking care of their own. “The truly charitable woman is big enough to help children other than her own,” he said. They embraced immigrants, printing educational materials in languages other than English and rejected racial segregation, working to take care to African-Americans at a time when few others gave the insanity of “separate but equal” a second thought.

The list of women who have been influential in this hospital begins with Alice and Katharine, but it does not stop there. There was the woman who led the hospital for nearly 20 years after the second of the sisters, Katharine, died in 1933. Imagine the incredible void she stepped into. She had to be tough. There were women who served on the board of directors — only women, of course, until the 1950s. Some of them served for decades. These were busy women, in demand. And they chose the cause of caring for poor, sick children.

And today, we are still led by strong women. Three of our four executive vice presidents are women. My boss the entire 20+ years I’ve been here has been a woman. Our CEO credits his mom, a pediatric nurse, with jump starting his career in health care. The last I checked, something like 80 percent of the employees at Children’s Mercy are women. (If you’re a guy intimidated by strong, powerful women, this is not the place for you.)

This hospital, all the children and families it has helped over the past 120 years, and, in fact, all of Kansas City, owes a great deal to strong women.

Read the rest of "Strong Women Make Us Stronger" blog post.

To learn more about the behind-the-scenes work it takes to chronicle 120 years of history, visit our “Writing the Book” blog here.