In 1975, St. Margaret’s was, and had been for many years, the premier hospital and deliverer of health care services to Montgomery; it had filled that role since the hospital’s founding here in 1902. It was a Catholic institution, and was operated by the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul. The Order had its U.S. headquarters in Indianapolis, a parent order in France, but it was really answerable to the Vatican.
In 1998, now that it’s been turned into Humana, then Columbia, and now Baptist Downtown, it is difficult to grasp the dominance which St. Margaret’s exercised over the medical community in the 1950’s, and even into the 1960’s. “St. Margaret’s” trained virtually all of the nurses in the Montgomery area through the Sixties. The Sisters ran a tight ship and gave excellent nursing care. Every doctor of note practiced there, and the specialists tended to group their office nearby. All of my four daughters were born in St. Margaret’s Hospital.
The Order largely reconstructed its Montgomery facility in 1959 with Charles McCallie of Birmingham as architect. Five years later, when kindly Sister Scholastica was Hospital Administrator, Pearson, Humphries & Jones acquired the hospital as a client. Initially St. Margaret’s was a Bill Pearson patron, and he did the central boiler plant, the laundry and the School of Nursing. Yours truly joined the team in 1967 when we remodeled a section of the hospital into an intensive care unit. From that point forward, our work at St. Margaret’s became more technical, and because I ran the office hospital practice, the work there fell under my jurisdiction.
As the 70’s approached, despite the significant investments of the 50’s and 60’s, the downtown decay began to cast its shadow over the venerable old hospital. Baptist and Jackson Hospitals began to make gains in plant facility, clientele, and physician allegiance. Being located in what was, by then, a rundown neighborhood, St. Margaret’s naturally drew the bulk of the charity cases, and the Catholic nuns could not bring themselves to turn away the indigent patients. The white middle class became afraid of the neighborhood and was reluctant to visit there after dark.
Slowly the tide turned against the grand old institution, which by 1970 was hemorrhaging red ink. Its 250 beds had a reasonable occupancy rate, but too few were occupied by paying patients. The Daughters of Charity were facing a daunting challenge, and PH&J felt a keen client loyalty toward St. Margaret’s at its time of need. And, needless to say, St. Margaret’s was the flagship of our modest hospital practice, and gave our efforts needed big-city respectability.
-Charles Humphries (“Peril and Intrigue Within Architecture”)