History Of Newell Hospital, Doctors And Nurses

Monday, April 8, 2013 - by Ann N. Yungmeyer
Newell Sanitarium completed in 1911.
Newell Sanitarium completed in 1911.

At the urging of a family friend, Dr. Ed Newell (1876-1965) moved his medical practice from Louisiana to take over the Nolan Infirmary in Chattanooga, treating his first patients on Friday the 13th, March 1908. His cousin, Dr. Dunbar Newell (1873-1952), soon joined him and the two founded Newell Sanitarium. By 1910, they had outgrown the small infirmary and moved across the street to build a new 35-bed medical facility at 707 Walnut Street.

A classic for its day, the Newell Sanitarium was a stately red brick building with massive columns and white porch railings, the front façade resembling a colonial plantation home. The facility was gradually expanded and remodeled with additional beds and medical services, and it was later renamed Newell Clinic Hospital. From the beginning, the hospital had a broad impact in the community, and its doctors experienced notable advancements in the field of medicine.

Medical Milestones

In 1918, Dr. Ed introduced the first X-ray equipment in Chattanooga, utilizing the old hand-crank method with the film being developed on glass plates. The hospital was the first in East Tennessee to use radium treatment for malignancy and the first in Chattanooga to receive charter membership from the American Hospital Association. In 1938, Newell associate Dr. Jim Higginbotham returned from surgical residency in Boston and introduced the then novel technique of treating fractured hips using the hip pinning method.

Dr. Ed Newell Jr. joined his father in practice in 1940 and soon afterward served in WWII in the South Pacific, where his Army medical unit was the first to use experimental penicillin to treat war wound infections. With remarkable success, it became known as the “wonder” drug. In 1964, Newell administered the Sabin oral vaccine (sugar cube) program in Hamilton County when more than 100,000 people were immunized against polio. 

Nurses Training

Newell Hospital School of Nursing was established in 1910 and graduated over 500 nurses before it closed in 1948, when the hospital's board decided to discontinue the training program.  The accredited program combined coursework at UTC, classes and clinical work at the hospital, and evening lectures by the doctors on anatomy, surgical nursing, microbiology and other topics. Requirements also included training in pediatrics at Children’s Hospital and six months training in Philadelphia at Pennsylvania General.

Ella Ruth Swaim Long, a member of the last graduating class of 1948, recalls wearing a blue dress with a white apron and white bib as a nurse trainee, and the program being a rigorous three-year regimen.

“We did everything,” said Long, age 87. “There were no nurses’ aides and many things were different in that day with no disposables and no plastics. We used rubber and glass items and had to clean it all.”

A day’s work was full of variety, said Long, who worked as Dr. Ed’s OR supervisor after becoming an RN. She recalls scrubbing up for many types of surgeries including hip nailing under fluoroscopy, gall bladder, broken bones, hysterectomies, reconstructive surgeries and delivering babies. She later moved to Alabama and continued her nursing career for 41 years.

The Doctors

In addition to many dedicated nurses, some of the longstanding surgeons and physicians on staff included Drs. Campbell, Armstrong, Higginbotham, Frere, Landry, Mabe, and Swann. Dr. Cecil Newell, nephew of the founders, also practiced in the group, and numerous interns and residents were associated with the hospital through the surgery residency program. The Newell Hospital doctors served as physicians for the Southern Railway for many decades.

All four Newells served as president of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society. Drs. Ed Newell Sr. and Jr. both served as president of the Tennessee Medical Association (1917-18 and 1968-69), reportedly the only father and son to have both held the position.

In 1969, the hospital was purchased by a Nashville-based healthcare corporation, which led to the construction of a new facility in 1975, and the name change to Downtown General Hospital (now Kindred).  Dr. Ed Newell Jr. served as chief of staff of the new hospital and continued in clinical practice with Mabe, Swann and new physicians Drs. Akin and Laramore, until his retirement in 1982.

Fresh-Squeezed Orange Juice, Really?

Through the special efforts of devoted employees, Newell Hospital offered a few perks for patients including homemade chocolate pies and fresh Florida fruit. The hospital’s first dietician, loyal to her Louisiana roots and Southern cooking, took great pride in preparing patient meals, and her delicious cream pies became a tradition. During winter months, the menus included fresh juice from oranges and grapefruits shipped by rail from Dr. Ed’s citrus groves in Homosassa, Fla., which he believed enhanced his patients’ health.

Celebrations such as the hospital’s milestone anniversaries meant flowers for each patient – gardenias for the ladies, carnations for the men. Personalized care and a family atmosphere were hallmarks of the Newell Hospital throughout its 67-year history, and its founders were never superstitious about Friday the 13th.


Ann Newell Yungmeyer used to accompany her father (Ed Newell, Jr.) to visit patients on Saturday morning rounds, then stop by the kitchen for a piece of pie. She is a freelance writer in Kingsport, Tn.  www.annyungmeyer.wordpress.com.





Nursing School, last graduating class 1948 - Front Row:  Viola Moore, Lorene Garrison, Gladys Hixon, Imogene Paul. Back Row:  Jeanette Pippin, Frances Martin, Ella Ruth Swaim, June Gaddis.
Nursing School, last graduating class 1948 - Front Row: Viola Moore, Lorene Garrison, Gladys Hixon, Imogene Paul. Back Row: Jeanette Pippin, Frances Martin, Ella Ruth Swaim, June Gaddis.

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