(The following is the second portion of Camden Archives and Museum Director Katherine Richardson’s keynote speech at the Baruch Society Annual Meeting, Nov. 15, 2012. Further portions of the speech will be printed in later editions of this column.)
The Baruchs were of Jewish descent and were proud of their heritage. In Camden they were part of a relatively large Jewish population. All of the Camden Jews were integral members of Camden society who received absolute respect from their neighbors. Camden was a very accepting community, none more so than after the Civil War when they began to welcome Northern visitors with complete Southern hospitality. When Bernard was a young boy, a New York relative visited them in Camden. He recalled, “We boys had our faces scrubbed and were sent to pay our respects. We wondered what a New York lady looked like. My recollection is that the visitor stared at us through a lorgnette. It was summer and we were barefooted. The New York lady looked at our feet and threw us a dime, remarking, “Buy yourself some shoes.” She intended it as a joke, but the humor was lost on us. We bolted home.” In New York the Baruch boys had to wear shoes. He reminisced, “In Camden we had worn shoes only when the weather demanded it or on the Jewish Sabbath … the sidewalks of the city were a poor substitute for the woods around Camden.” Here in New York they also encountered prejudice against Jews. Standing off with a taunting New York boy calling them “sheenies,” Hartwood, his brother, beat the boy so badly in fisticuffs, armed with a wagon spoke, that they were never called “sheenies” again in their neighborhood. But, this incident of prejudice left an impression on Bernard that he carried throughout his lifetime.
I believe that this encounter with prejudice against Jews and the full realization of the service his father performed for the African-Americans of Camden shaped his vision of the Camden Hospital. The Emancipation Act of 1863 and the end of the Civil War released white Southerners from the responsibility of providing health care for blacks. Dr. Simon Baruch treated the freedmen but received little recompense for his services to them. Of course, he also knew that they could not be blamed for their economic plight and that they deserved proper healthcare. Simon’s biographer wrote, “The freedmen’s inability to pay for his own medical care was more than an immediate hardship for doctors.” Often blacks were not given timely or effective medical treatment due to their economic situation. His biographer continued, “Baruch saw in this threat to the welfare of blacks a threat to the South itself … In his opinion, South Carolina could ill afford to neglect the health of its blacks when many were already leaving the state, victims of “Florida Fever.” He did not think the whites alone could provide for themselves.” So Simon labored to care for the black freedmen seeking his help. Bernard wrote of Camden, “How high was the community’s regard for my Father was brought home to me rather vividly when I returned to Camden around 1913, more than thirty years after we had left. A Negro driver was taking me from the railroad station. As we passed the house in which we had lived, the Negro remarked, “A doctor used to live there. The Yankees paid him all kinds of money to come North. After he left, the people around here died like flies.”
Bernard’s mother also had compassion for the plight of the blacks. In 1957, Bernard wrote, “One reason I established a second home in the South was that my mother had asked me not to lose touch with the land of my forebears. She also urged me to try to contribute to its regeneration and, in particular, to ‘do something for the Negro’.” And here is his statement about his support for the original Camden Hospital. “When the town of Camden asked me to contribute to the erection of a local hospital, I laid down one condition for my support – that a specific number of beds be reserved for colored patients.”
The Camden Hospital developed during a significant era in the nature of health care in the United States. Prior to the Civil War, hospitals were considered a place for the poor and indigent to receive treatment and wealthier people received private treatment at home. Hospital conditions were not completely sanitary and care was haphazard in claustrophobic wards crowded with patients. The rise of Florence Nightingale and the era of the trained nurse arose from this squalor in health care. An author on the transformation of American medicine wrote, “Before the last hundred years, hospitals and medical practice had relatively little to do with each other.” Between 1870 and 1910, the image of “hospital” was transformed into the norm as a place for treatment and the hospital became thought of as “the most visible embodiment of health care.”
Drs. McKain and Shannon opened the first “hospital” in Camden in 1848. It was an infirmary for the “chronically ill” which charged patients 60 cents per day – surgery was extra! Later, in 1901, Dr. John Corbett opened an infirmary, later called the first “hospital,” in the little house still standing at 310 Laurens Street, next to his residence with the mansard roof. Then in 1911 the idea of a hospital for Camden began its soaring flight. First, John Burdell left a provision in his will for “The John Burdell Hospital Fund for the Alleviation of Suffering Humanity.” The 1,000 acres of farmland he left in West Wateree was to generate monies for this fund. In response, the ladies of Camden founded the “Women’s Auxiliary to the Board of Managers of the Jno. Burdell Hospital Fund.” Then Mrs. Douglas Boykin, Mary Elizabeth, issued a call to ranks in the Camden newspaper urging both men and women to raise money for a “Memorial Hospital.”