History of the McCosh Health Center
From the earliest days, health has been one of the essential concerns of Princeton University. In the early years, professors and presidents sometimes acted in an unofficial health capacity by taking ill students into their homes. For the better part of the l9th century, health was in the hands of two well known Samaritans. John McClean, Jr., whose father and both grandfathers were physicians, ministered to ill students during the forty years in which he served as vice-president or president.
Isabella McCosh, daughter of an eminent Scottish physician, nursed many students to health while her husband, James McCosh, was University President. Effective as they were, their individual ministrations did not obviate the growing need for a more substantial health service.
A search for better health facilities was intensified after a tragic typhoid epidemic in 1880, which resulted in the death of 10 students. The epidemic brought about a thorough overhaul of the college’s drainage system and the subsequent appointment of a standing faculty sanitary committee whose efforts led eventually to the construction in l892 of the Isabella McCosh Infirmary.
The next major developments came in 1910 and 1911 with the beginning of a mental health program and the founding of the Department of Health and Physical Education. Over the years, the “infirmary“ expanded its programs and services as the student enrollment increased. In 1911, Joseph E. Raycroft, M.D., a founding member of the American College Health Association, was appointed as chairman of the new department and in this position gained wide recognition for the development of a comprehensive student health program and broadening the base of athletics through intramural competition. The Raycroft administration also heralded the beginning of a strong program in Athletic Medicine directed by Harry R. McPhee, M.D. for 36 years. As programs and needs expanded, it became apparent that the first infirmary building was inadequate and funds were raised through the University and the Ladies Auxiliary to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary for a new building. The old building was razed and the new building completed on the same site in l925.
After the Second World War, a larger enrollment and expanding services increased the utilization of health services. The Infirmary had an original complement of 50-60 beds that were fully utilized during times of heavy flu epidemics. In the 1950s and 60s the patterns of college health programs changed and the facility was remodeled to expand clinical and counseling services with the infirmary service reduced to 21 beds. The enrollment of women undergraduates in 1969 also impacted greatly upon health services and a new division for reproductive health care was created under the title of Sexuality Education Counseling and Health (SECH) and housed in the remodeled third floor formerly occupied by the live in nurses. The 70s brought continued growth and consolidation as new issues in health were addressed along with new program developments.
In 1983, two major areas of clinical care were added to the program: Occupational Medicine became a separate division staffed by a full time physician, industrial nurse and office coordinator/technician to address all issues related to employee and occupational health. The Sports Medicine program under Athletic Medicine expanded and additional Physical Therapy and Athletic Training Staff members were hired to meet the expanding needs.
Since 1987, Health Services has introduced several new programs included Alcohol and Other Drug Program; Sexual Harassment/Assault Advising, Resources, and Education (SHARE); expanded Counseling and Psychological Services programs in outreach and group counseling and a restructured Eating Disorders Program.
McCOSH HEALTH CENTER TODAY
In recent years there has been continued reengineering and restructuring of UHS to incorporate modern health care management knowledge and techniques, and improve customer service.
ISABELLA GUTHRIE McCOSH: A BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH
Adapted from a monograph written by Freddie Fox, ’39 University Archivist
When she came to America from Scotland with her husband, the new President of Princeton, Mrs. McCosh immediately became the unofficial “Director of Campus Health Services.“ In 1868, she found the College provided no infirmary and no health supervision or treatment for its students. Being the daughter of a physician, Isabella McCosh had a long-time concern for and training in medical care.
As one student, Philip Ashton Rollins ’89, remembered her: “Every morning she received from the proctor’s office a list of the students confined to their rooms by serious malady or injury, and promptly she started on her rounds. There would be a gentle knock on the door and a gentle, ‘May I come in?’ Two alumni have told me that, but for her nursing of them in their undergraduate days, they would have died of typhoid fever. Three alumni, two of them physicians, have claimed that, but for her nursing, they would have died of pneumonia. And it was my personal privilege to hear that knock and query on three occasions at the door of my very own room.“
When the Trustees of the University erected Princeton’s first infirmary, they named it for Mrs. McCosh. A generation later, her name was carried on by “The Ladies Auxiliary to the Isabella McCosh Infirmary“ when they erected the second and present infirmary in 1925. Her tradition of bright service continues to strengthen its use.
Besides looking after their physical health, Mrs. McCosh took a lively interest in the social life of the undergraduates. With personally hand-written notes, she often invited them to dine in the President’s House and, in the days when dancing was considered “unsuited to the academic atmosphere,“ she planned a series of student dances at Prospect.
She was a campus favorite. While her husband was admired for his disciplined mind and unyielding purpose, she was loved for her sauciness, kindliness and “delightful burr.“
A story is told of the Scot-American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie’s first visit to the College when, being met at the railway station by President and Mrs. McCosh, he opened the conversation by stating: “Doctor McCosh, for a long time I’ve been much interested in Princeton.“ Mrs. McCosh instantly retorted: “Indeed, Mr. Carnegie, thus far we have seen no financial evidences of it.“ As the startled philanthropist admitted afterward, it was a fair retort because it was “Scot against Scot.“
Along with her other duties, Mrs. McCosh also fulfilled the role of mother and housewife. She bore four handsome children: two boys and two girls. For the marriage of her daughter to David Magie, Jr. ’82, she helped choose a wedding dress of white silk covered with white tarlatan and adorned with orange blossoms. Each fall, she enjoyed preserving a quantity of cranberries for her larder, “enough to enable us to entertain our guests until spring.“
As time passed, her visage kept a youthful sparkle and her dignity never permitted itself a trace of dourness. Buoyant with kindliness, with loving recollections and with the confidence of her religious faith, she finished her course.
For years after her husband’s death in 1894, Mrs. McCosh would stroll in front of Nassau Hall and around the campus. On these occasions, she always wore her best bonnet and, as she moved along the pathways, the students would step aside and doff their hats, bareheaded and at attention until she passed by. It was a royal progress in the miniature.
THE GREATEST GIFT…
from the Life of James McCosh, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1897
“The greatest gift which I got was my dear and excellent wife. She was the daughter of Alexander Guthrie, an eminent physician known all over the country. She has proved to be a most loving wife to me, and has constantly watched over me and my interests. She was an admirable household manager, and enabled me to live handsomely at times on a small income. She had a good deal of the Guthrie character. She was characteristically firm, and did not always yield to me. She advised and assisted in all my work as minister and professor. She visited sick students and looked after their welfare. A hospital has been erected in Princeton College, bearing down her name to future generations.“
THE McCOSH INFIRMARY GARDEN
From “The Vistas of Princeton University: Gardens, landscaping and courtyards of the campus.“ a Princeton University Publication, Office of Communications/Publications, Stanhope Hall, Princeton University 08544.
Literally off the beaten path is a small garden behind McCosh Infirmary. Hidden behind a brick wall covered in English ivy, the garden was intended for the enjoyment of the infirmary’s patients and staff. After climbing a slight incline where jasmine blossoms cascade over a wall in the late winter, one descends from a terraced area, where two saucer magnolias grow, to the garden itself. Here several species grow against the walls: a southern magnolia, English holly, Chinese photinia, and nandina, whose foliage and red berries are brilliant in the fall. On the east and west walls is Chinese witch hazel. (Crush its bright yellow flowers in midwinter and the lovely fragrance provides an intimation of the coming spring.) The center flowerbed blooms in spring and summer with tulips, daffodils, irises, geraniums, daylilies, and perennial hibiscus. The serenity and beauty of this secluded spot illustrate the restorative effect careful landscaping can have on both body and spirit.
THE JOSEPHINE PERRY MORGAN BENCH
Pictured below is Josephine Perry Morgan, president of the Women’s Auxiliary from 1902-1915, with her daughter Sarah Gardner and granddaughter Sally Tiers on the Garden Bench, donated by Sally Tiers in memory of her grandmother and now located on the second floor of McCosh Health Center.
THE McCOSH ROSE
Earlier in this century, a tradition had been maintained in which each week a fresh rose was placed on a table in front of the portrait of Isabella McCosh. To revive this reverential tradition custom in a more practical manner, Mrs. Laughlin, an accomplished artist, created a painting of a rose that is now framed and hangs in McCosh Health Center.
LETTER OF APPRECIATION FROM WOODROW WILSON
Letter of Appreciation from President Woodrow Wilson to Josephine Perry Morgan, President, Women’s Auxiliary 1902 – 1915
Transcription of letter:
Mrs. Junuis S. Morgan
Princeton, New Jersey
28 October, 1908.
My dear Mrs. Morgan,
I know that you will understand my delay in acknowledging your kind note of the twenty-second. I was in bed (being punished for defying a savage cold) when it came, and only to-day am I down stairs to stay. Here tofor I have dressed and come down only to meet important committees or to see guests who had been invited to come to us from out of town.
It was very kind of you to write me so promptly the delightful news that Mr. Alexander is going to paint a portrait of our dear Mrs. McCosh. God send he may have the genius and insight to paint a spirit! It is futile to regret that it could not have been done when she had the full beauty of her prime, and those of us who know her will be able to see in whatever Mr. Alexander paints the dear lady we so deeply love and reverence. It is for the sake of those who come after us that I pray the artist may be given some special gift of insight and inspiration.
With warm appreciation and regard,