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Dr. Katharine Berry Richardson: Her drive built Children's Mercy

Mission of mercy began with a single bed

In June 1897 surgeon Katharine Berry Richardson and her sister, dentist Alice Berry Graham, rented a hospital bed for a 6-year-old girl named Stella. They had found her abandoned on the Kansas City streets.

“A little child, alone, sick, frightened...,” recalled Richardson many years later. “Who needs help more, or deserves it as much” as youngsters in desperate need of treatment?

From that first act of charity rose the Berry sisters’ Free Bed Fund Association to provide a mattress and medicine for “sick, crippled, deformed and ruptured children” who haven’t the financial means of receiving care.

In 1904 a working hospital with five beds opened on Highland Avenue.

So began Children’s Mercy Hospital, called just Mercy Hospital at the time but dedicated to treating youngsters. It’s now a billion-dollar-a-year enterprise of 350-plus licensed beds, 1,000 volunteers, and medical staff exceeding 700.

Spreading from Hospital Hill across several specialty clinics and urgent care locations, Children’s Mercy is among the region’s most generously supported institutions.

Its beginnings, however, were met with grumbling skepticism.

In her Mercy’s Messenger mailings Richardson asked: Why shouldn’t children be entitled to free hospitals? “See if your argument (also) applies to free schools and free churches — it takes all three to make a citizen.”

The public back then looked warily on assuming responsibility for poor and neglected children. Many just looked away.

“We had children being brought in from all over,” who required costly attention and could spread disease, said Thomas M. McCormally, the hospital’s current director of archives. “People were asking, ‘Why are they taking care of sick kids from North Dakota?’”

Read the full story via The Kansas City Star.

Find out more about Children's Mercy's history here.