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Early History of St. Luke's Hospital

St. Luke's Hospital (Fifth Avenue and 54th Street)

Figure 1

St. Luke's Hospital at Fifth Avenue and 54th Street, New York, New York 

Rev. William Augustus Muhlenberg

Figure 2

Rev. William Augustus Muhlenberg 

The first cornerstone of St. Luke’s Hospital was laid down on May 6, 1854. Located at 54th Street and Fifth Avenue in midtown Manhattan, the hospital would open in 1858 under the direction of its founder, William Augustus Muhlenberg, pastor of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Communion. [Fig. 1] St. Luke’s Hospital was one of the earliest attempts of the Episcopal Church to provide medical care to the sick and poor.  Hospital work was underway when the Sisters of the Holy Communion began treating more than 200 patients in a rear building from the proposed hospital location. By 1858, three sisters and nine patients moved into their new quarters. 

The beginning of St. Luke's Hospital dates back to 1846 when Muhlenberg suggested a hospital be built in name for St. Luke, the physician. He made a successful appeal for a Church Hospital which was incorporated in 1850. Muhlenberg believed that the Hospital should manifest to the patients the Christian charity. He believed his patients were to be treated as “guests of the Church, having souls to be saved from sin, as well as bodies to be cured of disease.”  Muhlenberg presented his appeal for a hospital in a series of lectures which were later published as A Plea for a Church Hospital in the City of New York. The document begins with the words, “On the festival of St. Luke, 1846, it was proposed to the congregation of the Church of the Holy Communion, that half of the offerings of the day should be laid aside as the beginning of a fund towards the founding of an institution for the relief of the sick poor under the auspices of religion." [1]


William Augustus Muhlenberg

William Augustus Muhlenberg (16 Sept. 1796 -8 Apr. 1877) was born in Philadelphia and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1815. [Fig. 2] He later studied for the Episcopal priesthood and was ordained in 1820. He was focused on bringing church activities to urban communities and worked to encourage congregational involvement. He supported public initiatives in education and recognized the public library as an essential resource to the community.

By 1826, Muhlenberg moved to Long Island where he founded the Flushing Institute, which would later expand to St. Paul’s College. Muhlenberg favored progressive methods of education which would come to serve as models for future initiatives. His early work and progressive thinking brought him national recognition as a reformer. In order to engage younger congregants, he introduced ritualistic practices in his chapels such as candles, incense, and flowers – practices he observed during his childhood in the Catholic Church. [2]

In 1845, he established the Church of the Holy Communion in New York City. The church focused on services to the community providing employment assistance, English language classes, medical services and social services.  Unlike the practice of the time which relied on selling or renting pews to support the church, the pews were free. Muhlenberg also founded the Sisterhood of the Holy Communion, an order of women devoted to teaching and nursing. [3]

Muhlenberg was one of the most influential figures in adopting the Christian church to the needs of the new and expanding urban-industrial society.  The hospital maintained a close relationship with the church. 



1. In A Plea for a Church Hospital in the City of New-York: in two lectures delivered in the Church of the Holy Communion, St. Paul's Church, New-York, and St. John's Church, Brooklyn. Written by W.A. Muhlenberg. New-York: Stanford & Swords, 1850. In addition to the two lectures, the document includes an Appendix which outlines incorporation for St. Luke's Hospital. 

2. For additional information, see the biographical entry for William Augustus Muhlenberg written by Alvin W. Skardon in American National Biography Online. New York: Oxford University Press, c2000-  

Accessed July 2015; 

3. The early history of St. Luke's Hospital is summarized in Ernest Flagg's History of St. Luke’s Hospital with a Description of the New Buildings. New York: Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, Printers. 441 – 447 Pearl Street. 1893. Flagg was the architect for the hospital in Morningside Heights. 



Early History of St. Luke's Hospital