Red Cross Hospital

Historical Marker #2534 celebrates the Red Cross Hospital that treated black Kentuckians at 1436 South Shelby St. in Louisville from 1899 to 1976.

The hopsital got its start because of medical segregation which prevented black doctors from treating patients at either religious or public hosptials. In response, physicians W. T. Merchant, Ellis D. Whedbee and R. B. Scott founded Red Cross Hospital in order to be able to practice their trade and serve the black community. Not only doctors, but nurses too refined their skills at Red Cross, including women such as Mary E. Merritt. Merritt was the first black registered nurse in Kentucky and served as the superintendent and head nurse of Red Cross until 1945. Throughout the period of Jim Crow segregation and pervasive racial descrimination, the hospital and the women and men who operated it provided high-quality healthcare to thousands of black Kentuckians who were legally prevented from receiving it elsewhere.

Beyond just providing healthcare directly to individuals, the hospital also offered training programs that prepared others to do the same. As a training hospital, Red Cross had an impact far beyond its own walls. Within the community, it also represented more than just health care, but a place of pride and hope. While the hospital eventually closed after medical desegregation, its legacy lives on today as the building now serves to the Volunteers of America Freedom House.

An impressive crowd turned out to see the marker dedicated and were treated to a program full of insightful and moving speakers with deep connections to the hospital's history. The audience heard remarks from members of the Red Cross Hospital Committee including Ms. Linda Hart Lewis, Dr. Wayne Tuckson and Ms. Bruhilda Williams, from Councilwoman Barbara Sexton Smith, and from Ms. Bobbie MacDonald Holloway, a registered nurse who was formerly employed at Red Cross. Councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton, who has family connections to the hospital and was a driving force behind the marker, delivered the dedication address and Louisville Metro Mayor Greg Fischer issued a proclamation in honor of the hospital's history. 

The marker reads:


In 1899, because black physicians
were barred from treating
patients at public or church
hospitals, Drs. W. T. Merchant,
Ellis D. Whedbee and R. B. Scott
founded Red Cross Hospital at
Sixth & Walnut Street. In 1905,
it moved to 1436 S. Shelby St.
and offered training programs for
black nurses and physicians.

Mary E. Merritt-first female and
black nurse registered in Ky. was
superintendent and head nurse
until 1945. Blacks in Ky. cities
that did not provide hospital
facilities were treated here.
In early 1960s, local hospitals
desegregated, increased operating
costs led to its decline. Closed
in 1976 as Community Hospital.
Metro CW Cheri Bryant Hamilton

The marker was dedicated on April 10, 2018.