A women’s charity organization, the Indianapolis Flower Mission served the sick poor of the Circle City for over one hundred years. Part of a national movement, the charity began in 1876 when Alice Wright, the daughter of a prominent railroad manager, and a handful of her friends started taking bouquets of fresh-cut flowers, canned preserves, fresh fruit, and reading materials to patients at the Indianapolis City Hospital (now Eskenazi Hospital, formerly Wishard Memorial). Within a few years, they began visiting poor patients in their homes, taking necessities like food, bedding, and clothing. Although these women’s tasks began simply, the organization branched out into other activities as the women entered the political sphere, actively fundraising and organizing projects.
The philanthropic society pioneered several important developments in Indiana healthcare. In 1883, the organization founded the Flower Mission Training School for Nurses, the first nursing school in the state, part of a nationwide movement to professionalize nursing. The City Hospital took charge of the school in 1896, which closed in 1980. The mission also started the city’s premier visiting nurse program in 1884, which continued under the Public Health Nursing Association. The public health, or district, nurse visited poor patients at home, assisting with nutrition and hygiene as well as medical problems.
The Flower Mission also founded several hospitals in Indianapolis. Starting in 1895, the organization administered the Eleanor Hospital for Sick Children, named for the deceased daughter of Colonel Eli Lilly, a local philanthropist and pharmaceutical entrepreneur who made a substantial donation to the facility. Located at Capitol Avenue and 18th Street, Eleanor Hospital was pediatric hospital in Indiana, operating until 1909 after the City Hospital opened a children’s unit.
In the early 1900s, the Flower Mission made the anti-tuberculosis movement one of its key causes. The charity’s 25-bed hospital for “incurables,” founded in 1903, constituted the only medical institution in Indiana for patients in the final stages of tuberculosis (TB). Owned and operated by the City Hospital, it was torn down in 1923 to make room for a new administration building. The second TB hospital, a house on Coe Street, was condemned in 1930, forcing the organization to treat patients in their homes. After years of intensive lobbying and fundraising, the charity built its third tuberculosis hospital, the 100-bed Flower Mission Memorial Hospital, in 1937.
Cheering the Sick (1938-1993)
The Indianapolis Flower Mission’s activities slowly declined for the next 56 years, never finding a new focus after the tuberculosis crisis abated, serving primarily as a hospital auxiliary and grant funding institution. One of the most active and enduring organizations of its kind, the organization finally disbanded in 1993. Today, the building that once housed the Flower Mission Memorial Hospital contains the Bellflower Clinic and the Wishard Memorial Nursing Museum, which documents the history of the nursing school that the Flower Mission founded. To visit the museum, stop by during open hours (Wednesdays, 9:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.) or contact the museum at (317) 630-6233 to schedule an appointment.