McCosh Infirmary

McCosh Infirmary was erected in 1925, replacing an infirmary built on the same site in 1892. Both were named for Isabella McCosh, ``whose kindly sympathy and substantial comforts'' in days when students were fewer and younger, and living conditions rugged, endeared her to her husband's ``boys'' during the twenty years of his presidency, 1868-1888. One of them, Alexander J. Kerr 1879, has left us this picture of Mrs. McCosh on one of her missions:

``She had given strict orders to the Scottish college proctor, Matt Goldie, that any student who was ill should be immediately reported to her. Her orders were faithfully obeyed and when any boy was sick . . . she would take her large basket, place in it one of her own bed sheets, a pillow case, a towel, a wash cloth, some of her own jams and jellies, homemade cookies and tempting cakes and a jug of tea, over which she would place a tea caddy to keep it hot. She would then carry the basket to the sickroom, no matter though she had to climb four flights of iron stairs to do so. . . .

``She would tap on the door and say, `May I come in?' But without waiting for a reply she would enter and, after expressing a mother's sympathy, immediately proceed to wash the face, chest and hands of the young man, put the clean sheet on his bed, the pillow case on his pillow, brush his hair and make him as comfortable as possible and encourage him to eat the good things she had brought and to drink a cup of her good tea. Then, sitting down at his desk, she would write a note to his mother, telling her she need not worry about her boy, as `we are looking after him here.'''

Urged on by Mrs. McCosh, who was the daughter of the eminent Scottish physician Dr. Alexander Guthrie, President McCosh repeatedly pressed on the trustees the need for an infirmary, but not until after he had retired was a campaign begun for funds to build one and the decision made to name it for Mrs. McCosh at a trustees meeting in 1891. George B. Stewart 1876, an old student of McCosh's and by then a trustee, was a guest at the McCosh home at the time and broke the news at dinner, to the delight of Dr. McCosh and the dismay of Mrs. McCosh. ``Oh, they must not do that,'' she protested, ``I don't want them to call it after me.'' ``You have nothing to do about it, Isabella,'' said McCosh firmly, ``they will do as they please.''

The necessary funds having been raised in response to an appeal by the Sanitary Committee of the faculty, of which Dean James O. Murray was chairman, the cornerstone of the first infirmary was laid at commencement in 1892 and the building was ready for use the following April. Two years later Mrs. McCosh sent Murray a $1000 bond and asked that the income be used for the support and care of students confined in the infirmary.

Mrs. McCosh s gift was the first of many which Princeton women were to make to the Infirmary. In 1903, on the strong recommendation of Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, a group of women known as the ``Ladies Auxiliary,'' organized the year before to furnish women's lounges for social occasions in the new University Gymnasium, resolved to attach itself to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary in both name and deed.

Annual dues were used for the purchase of supplies and equipment, and gifts were obtained for the initial salary of the first University Physician (appointed by the trustees in 1908 on the recommendation of the auxiliary), for a fund to help needy students pay for extra nursing and special physicians, and for an endowment fund that eventually reached $200,000.

Wives of Princeton presidents, following Mrs. McCosh's example, have shown special concern for sick students and have been frequent visitors to the Infirmary.

With steadily increasing enrollment, the original Infirmary soon became inadequate, and the auxiliary began a fund for a new building. In the capital gifts campaign at the end of the First World War, a committee of women raised an additional sum of $345,000 from 1500 donors, most of whom were women, which made possible the construction of the present Infirmary. Its cornerstone was laid at commencement in 1924, and it was dedicated at a commencement meeting of the auxiliary a year later.

This building was designed by Charles Z. Klauder, who used rough-textured red brick and limestone trim to tie it in with its neighbors, Palmer and Guyot Halls. A portrait of Mrs. McCosh, painted by John W. Alexander a few years before she died in her ninety-third year, hangs in the oak-paneled waiting room. Mrs. John Grier Hibben, who as a young faculty wife in the 1890s took Mrs. McCosh as her model, was president of the Ladies Auxiliary for many years and presided at the building's dedication. After her death a tribute to ``her unfailing devotion in guarding and guiding the spirit of this Infirmary'' was carved on an oak panel in the entrance hall.

The first doctor attached to the Infirmary was John McD. Carnochan 1896, who was appointed University Physician in 1908 and served in that capacity part-time while carrying on his private practice in town until his death in 1929. Employment of full-time University physicians began after the organization in 1911 of the forerunner of today's University Health Services.

The Infirmary has long had a reputation for good food and a cheerful atmosphere. One reason for both was the long-time presence on the housekeeping staff of three members of the Hillian family, the first of whom came north from Cheraw, South Carolina, in 1917. For half a century they contributed to the Infirmary's healing ways: Mabel and Bessie as cooks, Tom as head orderly. Mabel retired after forty-seven years of service. At the golden anniversary party the Infirmary gave Bessie on her retirement, she spoke of meeting sons of students she had known in earlier years and, recently, their grandchildren, and that this made her proud. When Tom died, the Ladies Auxiliary hung a framed tribute to him in the entrance hall of the Infirmary, which said that for forty-five years he had always been cheerful, dedicated, and thoughtful, fulfilling abundantly the Infirmary motto: ``Non ministrari, sed ministrare.''


From Alexander Leitch, A Princeton Companion, copyright Princeton University Press (1978).

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