The fight over naming Lenox Hill Hospital

It started out in 1857 on Canal Street as the German Dispensary.

As the city’s German population moved north, the dispensary did too, first to East Third Street, then Second Avenue and St. Marks Place, and finally in 1905 to Fourth (Park) Avenue and 77th Street.

But in 1918, with anti-German sentiment raging, the dispensary got a more palatable name: Lenox Hill Hospital.

In 1925, the war long over, many hospital trustees, most of German descent, wanted the name changed back.

It wasn’t a nationalistic thing so much as a cash donation one. “Last year the deficit had grown to $50,000,” reported a New York Times article. “[a hospital trustee] felt certain that the resumption of the word ‘German’ in the hospital’s title would have a marked financial effect.”

The name switch didn’t fly though, and Lenox Hill Hospital is still based on 77th Street.

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12 Responses to “The fight over naming Lenox Hill Hospital”

  1. petey Says:

    thanks for that, i need to know all things yorkville but i hadn’t heard this story.

  2. wildnewyork Says:

    You should start a blog on Yorkville history. It’s rich with stories and characters and the neighborhood is evaporating before our eyes.

  3. Christopher Says:

    People forget the anti-German backlash story. It was pretty rough. My own grandmother’s family moved to Canada for awhile as my great-grandfather couldn’t find work in upstate New York at the time. They moved from Syracuse to Buffalo and then finally to Canada before settling near Detroit once things died down.

    In SF there are random vestiges in naming from anti-German backlash… what are called German potato salad and German chocolate cake are called San Francisco potato salad and San Francisco chocolate cake.

    • petey Says:

      like ‘freedom fries’!
      from sidney hook’s autobiography i learned about the antigerman and prowar atmosphere of the 1910s. virulent stuff, i had to keep it in mind during bush’s years to remind myself that things had been like that before and eventually recovered.

  4. Kellye Says:

    Thank you. I was born in Lenox Hill, so this is particularly interesting to me!

  5. mfrisk Says:

    Interesting. I was born at Lenox Hill Hospital, and my Mom died there 21 years later. I had a friend whose dad was a surgeon there, and we used to go swimming in the indoor pool down in the basement.

  6. When Brooklyn dedicated its German Hospital « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] what happened to German Hospital? Like Manhattan’s German Hospital, it underwent a name change after World War I, when anti-German sentiment was […]

  7. Where the “worthy poor” went for medical care « Ephemeral New York Says:

    […] in 1827, this nonprofit was one of several dispensaries established in the city during the 19th century for the “worthy poor,” reports a New […]

  8. Lenox Hill Hospital’s Modernization Captured in Photographs – Circulating Now from NLM Says:

    […] the hospital moved several times and finally settled in its current location in 1905.  The name of the hospital changed to “Lenox Hill” in 1918, the name of the Upper East Side neighborhood in which the hospital resides, in order to distance […]

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    […] a German school, a women’s wing of the German Hospital (renamed Lenox Hill in 1918 due to anti-German sentiment), and a home for indigent German women in Astoria called the […]

  10. Zoé Says:

    I came over here from a 2018 post. But anyone interested in anti-German sentiment may want to know it did not end after the two World Wars. It was illegal for people to speak German – including for children. I read that this law stayed on the books until 1970. (I’m not sure if that is accurate; as I did not search for other sources & verification afterward).

    This affected my own family. My mother was brought to the States via the Red Cross as a DP. (After the 1948 Displaced Persons Act for Germans displaced by allied bombing & others).

    Initially she spoke German & English at home to my oldest brother. When he was little he mixed the two languages up as young children do.

    My mum sent him off to school & heard a loud pounding on her door. His teacher stood there w/ my brother by the hand & furiously told my mother that if she ever heard him speaking German again he would be kicked out of school.

    My mother then stopped speaking mostly in German to him & the other three children she had after him. Because of that the two middle siblings do not speak German. Only my brother the eldest & I the youngest do because our grandmother lived w/ us & helped raise us; but not the two middle children until they were older. (Due to my parents moving to NY after my eldest brother was born & prior to my grandmother moving in w/ us after my grandfather’s death). My grandmother spoke German to us – ignoring the law. (She’d ignored Nazi laws also – but that is another story).

    My brother went on to study German for several years in high school & at university & is now a fluent speaker! I think that angry teacher had the opposite influence on him that she desired!

    A lot of people are not aware that some German Americans were murdered & lynched by their neighbours. And that like Japanese & Italians they were put in camps w/ their families & lost (had taken) everything they owned.

    Unlike Japanese Americans they have never received an apology. Japanese Americans received an official apology in 1988. Less German Americans were arrrsted & put in camps simply because it was logistically impossible; as so many Americans claim a portion of German heritage. About 70% of Americans claim some German heritage.

    I’m sure this has to do w/ the racism that was involved in anti-Japanese actions at the time; which were not as much in evidence toward Italians & Germans.

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