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Historical Beginnings

The Journey Begins

The journey toward the establishment of this medical center began in 1912. Dr. Lewis Stimson, a founding faculty member and chairman of the Department of Surgery at Cornell University Medical College, and an attending surgeon at New York Hospital, along with George Baker, Sr., a governor of New York Hospital since 1899 and wealthy benefactor, facilitated an affiliation agreement between Cornell University Medical College located at 477 First Avenue and The Society of the New York Hospital located at West 15th and 16th Streets between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. George Baker, Sr. gave an initial donation of $250,000 to New York Hospital.  (Baker may have made additional donations as needed). The following year, the college’s benefactor, Oliver Hazard Payne, donated $4,000,000 to Cornell University Medical College. This early agreement gave the medical college the right to nominate half of the attending physicians and surgeons and all of the pathologists at the hospital, as well as the use of the hospital’s medical and surgical facilities for the training of the medical students.

The administrators that led the effort to create the medical center included Livingston Farrand, president of Cornell University; Edward Sheldon, president of the Board of Governors of New York Hospital; Payne Whitney, philanthropist and vice president of the Board of Governors; and Dr. G. Canby Robinson, director of the New York Hospital-Cornell Medical College Association. The initial plan for the medical center came from the efforts of Edward Sheldon, Payne Whitney, and other governors at New York Hospital.

At the February 20, 1917, Board of Governors’ meeting, a report was submitted by the Site Committee that discussed the idea of merging New York Hospital, Presbyterian Hospital, Cornell University Medical College, and College of Physicians and Surgeons (Columbia University) into one medical center. (In 1921, Presbyterian Hospital and Columbia University joined to build Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, which opened in 1928, on the Upper West Side. Eighty years later the two hospitals would merge).

On March 26, 1920, Subcommittee C of the Development Committee of the Board of Governors was formed to outline a plan for a medical center. Members of Subcommittee C included Edward Sheldon and Payne Whitney. By 1924, Edward Sheldon had contacted representatives from Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research with the idea of building the medical center next to their school located at Avenue A (York Avenue) and East 68th Street. At the same time, Payne Whitney had begun secretly to purchase property in the area of East 68th-70th Streets and Avenue A (York Avenue) for $2,750,000. Sadly, Payne Whitney died suddenly of a heart attack in May 1927; however, he had the foresight to leave financial provisions in his will for the funding of the medical center that included $12,400,000 for the hospital; $6,200,000 for the Payne Whitney Psychiatric Clinic (the will specified either a neurological or psychiatric clinic); and $2,800,000 for the medical college.  Additional funding in the amount of $7,500,000 came from The General Education Board of Rockefeller Foundation for the medical college buildings.

Lisa Mix

Lisa Mix
Head, Medical Center Archives
(212) 746-6072
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Elizabeth Shepard

Elizabeth Shepard
Associate Archivist
(212) 746-6072
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