Oct. 16 2013 12:00 AM

Lansing Historical Society looks at history of local health care, including famous quadruplets

The Lansing quadruplets were local celebrities in the 1930s. Courtesy photo.

Wednesday, Oct. 16 — The Historical Society of Greater Lansing takes a look back at local health care at a special event on Thursday. In the late 1800s, Lansing hospitals were so bad nobody would go there said Mary Jane Wilson, a local historian and volunteer at Sparrow Hospital for 45 years.

“That’s where you would go to die,” Wilson said.

Wilson will join Karen Douglas, also a hospital volunteer and former Lansing State Journal writer, in a presentation on the history of health care in Lansing since 1844 when the only “hospital” in town was the Ingham County Poor Farm. Wilson and Douglas have nearly 75 years experience volunteering at Sparrow Hospital between them; they will cover the era after those early days up through the modern state of the art hospitals in Lansing today. Hospitals included in the history talk include the Ingham County Tuberculosis Sanitarium, the St. Lawrence Hospital, Neller Hospital, the Lansing Polio Hospital, McLaughlin Osteopathic Hospital, Lansing General Hospital and most recently McLaren Greater Lansing.

According to Wilson, it wasn’t until 1889 that Lansing would see its first city hospital, which was the beginning of what we know as Sparrow Hospital.

“The most remarkable thing about that new hospital was it was started by a group of women that had the gumption and the ability to believe they could open a hospital,” she said.

Wilson said Sparrow and St. Lawrence Hospital would later open nursing training centers that trained thousands of women as nurses until they closed in 1960.

Sparrow Hospital received worldwide recognition in 1930 when the Morlok quadruplets were born, becoming the first known set of identical quadruplets in the world. At birth, they would be identified by hospital nurses as A, B, C and D. Their parents were not prepared to name four children so they decided to use the first letters from the full name of the hospital: E.W. Sparrow Hospital. And so they became Edna, Wilma, Sarah and Helen. The girls who would later perform comedy and dance routines in the Midwest.

It became common for the quads to be featured in local Lansing advertising campaigns for everything from bread to political campaigns. The girls were later cited in the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest living quadruplets. Today, two sisters survive and live in Michigan.

The history of Lansing health care was not always that glorious or record setting since another early hospital for those with communicable diseases such as small pox was named “The Pest House,” shortened from House of Pestilence.

“It was conveniently located next to the cemetery,” Valerie Marvin, president of the Historical Society said.

The History of Health Care in Lansing
Presented by the Historical Society of Greater Lansing
7 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 17
Capital Area District Library downtown branch
401 S. Capitol Ave., Lansing