The Sydenham Hospital: a Laramie institution

Before Ivinson Memorial Hospital opened in 1917, of the over 23 “hospitals” in Albany County, nearly 20 were in private homes. One of the longest-running of these was the Sydenham private hospital at 264 North 2nd Street.

 Some of the private hospitals were in doctors’ homes, others were established by local entrepreneurs in their residences. Most lasted a very short time, but the Sydenham was different because it continued on even after IMH opened. Despite being a repurposed residence, it was nearly a full-service hospital, not just a “convalescent hospital” as were several of the others.

 The Sydenham Hospital was open from at least 1912 to beyond 1920. It was founded by a widow, Mrs. Mary A. Sydenham (1856 – 1917), who had moved to Laramie around 1907 from Nebraska with her four teen-age daughters.  One daughter, Vera, was taught nursing skills by Dr. A. E. Lane, who practiced in Laramie between 1908 and 1922, according to local nurse-historian Gertrude Gould. Ms Gould documented many of the local home hospitals in her 1973 book “History of Health and Hospitals in Albany County, Wyoming.”

 Apparently Mrs. Sydenham took in lodgers at first. A 1912 newspaper mentions her in connection with the failure of a boarder to pay his bill, which resulted in his being jailed on her complaint. But by December of that year, the papers mention a tonsillectomy being performed at the “Sydenham Hospital.” At times she advertised in the Boomerang as operating both a hospital and a boarding house.

 It is unknown if Mrs. Sydenham had nursing skills herself, but she did employ at least one nurse in addition to her daughter Vera.

 Laramie newspapers contain over 350 references to the Sydenham Hospital between 1912 and 1920, frequently as a maternity hospital. Some Laramie natives say they were born there as late as 1928. After 1920, Laramie newspapers tend to say operations or births were “at the hospital,” so it is unknown if the location was Ivinson Memorial or the Sydenham Hospital.

 Mrs. Sydenham died in 1917 at age 61. Her passing was reported in the Dec. 24, 1917 issue of the Boomerang under the headline “Sad Death of Esteemed Laramie Lady.” Her illness was not specified, but the paper said that she had been successfully operated upon by a surgeon, Dr. Williams, who came from Denver to perform the operation. By then Ivinson Hospital was open, so the surgery could have been done there or in her own hospital. However, despite the “success” of the surgery, she died two weeks later. She was survived by the four daughters and a son; burial was in Axtel, Nebraska, next to her husband.

 Notably, the Sydenham Hospital continued after her death, under the direction of nurse Mabel Kelly Davis. After the Sydenham closed, Mrs. Davis moved the maternity “hospital” to her own home at 410 South 7th, a historic house that had been owned at one time by Laramie Boomerang founder Bill Nye. There she continued to operate the maternity hospital for 20 more years.

 In addition to having delivered many local babies, Mabel Davis was an organist and pianist noted for her lively playing of ragtime and march music. She even played for silent movies in the former Lyric and Empress Theaters of Laramie, according to her 1985 Boomerang obituary. It also says that she organized social activities for Union Pacific employees (her spouse David George Davis, was a UPRR locomotive engineer), and was active in the Laramie Methodist Church.

 Like several of the other private hospitals in Laramie, the building in which the Sydenham was located  is still standing.

By Judy Knight

Caption: Many Laramie babies were born in this hip roofed “prairie four-square” styled house, built around 1900.  From 1912 through at least 1920 it was known as the Sydenham Hospital. Now divided into several apartments, it is located at 262 North 2nd Street, near Clark Street. Courtesy photo by Judy Knight