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KSHB 41: Berry sisters break barriers in founding Children's Mercy

By Caitlin Knute 

Children's Mercy Hospital's current status as one of the top children's hospitals in the country hides the hospital's otherwise humble beginnings.

A pair of sisters, Alice Berry Graham and Katharine Berry Richardson, founded it in the early 1900s. But the sisters didn’t just build a hospital in Kansas City, they built bridges to the African-American community, all while breaking barriers at every turn.

One thing the women had in common was their determination and conviction to always do the right thing. Those traits came from their father, an abolitionist during the Civil War.

"Their progressiveness, that’s what I would say they are, progressive, came very naturally because of the way they were raised by a dad who had very high principles and was willing to stand up for those principles," Children's Mercy Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer Michelle Wimes said.

It was their dad who insisted they get an education, sending them to high school - something that was uncommon for women at the time.

After that, the Berry sisters set their sights even higher.

"So the deal was that Alice, the older sister, would work as a teacher to pay for Katharine’s education in medical school," former Children's Mercy physician and amateur historian Dr. Jane Knapp said. "When Katharine was done, she would return the favor and would support Alice’s education and dental school. And that’s what they did."

When Children's Mercy first opened, Black children were not allowed inside due to segregation.

Katharine tried to change the status quo, but quickly learned she'd lose funding from donors.

Her solution was to partner with friend and fellow surgeon, Dr. J. Edward Perry. Together, they started a separate Children's Mercy ward in Wheatley-Provident Hospital, a hospital for African Americans.

Katharine made sure children would receive the same level of care regardless of hospital.

"One of the things that Dr. Richardson said more than a century ago, and I’m quoting, she said, 'I have not served children unless I have served them all,'" Wimes said.

It was a novel undertaking for the time, and created an ideology that's central to Children’s Mercy, today.


Read the full story via KSHB 41

Learn more about the History of Children's Mercy