St. Joseph Hospital History - Ascension Wisconsin

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Our History

When three Franciscan Sisters arrived on a mission to provide nursing care to Milwaukee in 1879, little did they know the long-term effect they would have in establishing one of the community's first hospitals – St. Joseph.

Humble Beginnings, Sacred Mission

With the help of Capuchin friars and parishioners from St. Francis Church, the Sisters settled into their first home on 4th and Walnut Streets. The Sisters relied almost entirely on charity to provide food and basic necessities for their patients, they even went begging door-to-door for donations. A stable at the rear of the Sisters’ home was used to shelter cattle, chickens, and a horse. The horse was hitched to the wagon used for the Sisters’ rural collection trips.

Their payment for serving the sick was often was less than $1.50 a week, yet the Sisters continued working day and night at the bedside of patients suffering from typhoid, scarlet fever, and other diseases.

As Milwaukee expanded, so did its need for nursing. Two more Sisters joined the group, requiring a move to a larger home on 4th and Reservoir Streets. By 1882, a hospital was desperately needed, and a group of city leaders agreed to help raise the $30,000 needed to build a 40-bed facility. The Sisters’ home and surrounding property were chosen as the location for the new hospital. The original hospital had no steam heat and patient rooms were warmed by coal stoves. Gas lights provided illumination at night. On wash days, the Sisters woke at midnight to rub clothes on a washboard so they’d be ready to take care of their patients at dawn.

Dramatic Growth, Compassionate Care

A rapidly growing patient population spurred the construction of a new hospital at 51st and Chambers Streets in 1928, dramatically increasing patient capacity and facilities. With medical advances, growing need for health services, and the introduction of health insurance in the post-war era, St. Joseph developed and expanded a number of important programs.

In 1960, a three-stage expansion project increased the hospital’s inpatient bed capacity and enlarged ancillary services. In the 1970s, initiatives prompted the debut of specialty services including the highly acclaimed neonatal intensive care unit, as well as cancer, cardiac, physical medicine, and perinatal care units. During the 1980s and 90s, advances continued in all specialty areas, and a new addition was put on to the hospital. The South Tower Lobby became the main entrance to our hospital and the location for admissions, discharge, pharmacy, and gift shop.

Over the years, St. Joseph’s growth has allowed us to offer high quality, compassionate health care through our many comprehensive services and programs.

The medical staff, clinical team, and support associates continue to be as committed as our founding Sisters in providing health services with sensitivity and compassion while ministering to the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of our patients.

For More Information

Find a doctor at St. Joseph Campus or learn more about the history of Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare.