Christopher’s Hospital for Children opened its doors on November 30,
1875 as a charitable ambulatory pediatric clinic in a small second story
room at 552 Dauphin Street. This was the industrial area of Kensington,
Philadelphia, with a population of about 100,000 working class people.
The area was also full of children who were in desperate need of
healthcare; it was a time when the incidence of acute infectious
diseases and infant mortality were distressingly high. Public assistance
was virtually nonexistent, and medical assistance was almost wholly
dependent upon those who were charitably inclined.
Dr. William H.
Bennett, the founder of St. Christopher’s, enlisted the help of
Children’s Seashore House of Atlantic City to establish St.
Christopher’s. While working at Episcopal Hospital, Dr. Bennett
recognized the need for a special children’s hospital in that section of
Philadelphia. The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, founded 20 years
earlier, was then at 22nd Street, near Walnut Street, and was too far for the practical needs of the Kensington Community.
Bennett acted as a physician, apothecary, recorder, and business
manager, treating all patients and preparing all medications, which he
dispensed all at a fee of five cents per patient visit, a fee that was
collected only if the patient could pay.
Early in its existence,
St. Christopher’s developed a commitment to social service and outreach
in pediatric healthcare delivery. In 1880, Job Lewis Smith, in a plan
for reducing the great mortality among young children, suggested that
district visitors working out of the dispensary be appointed to visit
each family that had children and to establish a friendly relationship
with the family. A visitor’s duty was to document the state of
cleanliness, furniture arrangement, condition of clothing, food, method
of cooking, and become more integrated into the family. The visitor
would impart instructions on the hygienic management of the children and
if needed, would positively impact the habits of the family, as they
would lead to a better state of health and disease prevention.
Board of Lady Visitors continued as the hospital matured. This group
would act as a communicating link between the hospital and the
community. Some would provide transportation to the hospital for mothers
and children, some distributed coal, food, milk, and other necessities
needed to survive in a healthy manner. These efforts and others, secured
as part of the hospital’s mission: a commitment to community pediatric
medicine and preventative medicine.
Under Dr. Bennett’s
leadership, St. Christopher’s was expanded to include overnight bed
space and isolation areas to protect children from airborne contagions.
In 1890, the main building was completed, raising the number of beds to
43. A legacy from Dr. George S. Pepper subsidized the Pepper Ward.
Contiguous properties continued to be acquired to enhance nursing space
and dispensary activity until the great depression halted expansion for
After WWII, Dr. Waldo Nelson moved St. Christopher’s
academy affiliation from the University of Pennsylvania to Temple
University in 1947. This marked a new era for St. Christopher’s. Dr.
Nelson rapidly built a department of pediatrics that attracted worldwide
attention. Teaching and research assumed equal importance with patient
care, and St. Christopher’s exploded into one of the world’s greatest
comprehensive pediatric medical centers.
In 1952, weekly programs
presented continuous medical education for general practitioners and
have since become a tradition at St. Christopher’s. The hospital’s first
hearing and speech clinic was also introduced in 1952.
Psychiatric Center was established in 1955 and staffed by 19
professionals, serving 43 emotionally disturbed children. Pediatric
psychiatry evolved rapidly and in 1959, the Child Psychiatric Services
and soon after, by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. That
year, St. Christopher’s also established the largest cystic fibrosis
center for children on the east coast.
In the 1970s, St.
Christopher’s became the first hospital in the U.S. to establish a
tracheotomy unit for infants and children. In 1972, physicians at St.
Christopher’s performed the first pediatric kidney transplant in the
In 1985, the hospital quickly became a major
transplant center with the first pediatric liver transplant and the
first pediatric heart transplant in the region. The hospital also
performed the first kidney/liver transplant. In addition, St.
Christopher’s established the first pediatric burn center between Boston
and Washington, DC, and became the first hospital in the world to use
oxygen-rich liquid ventilation to help critically ill, premature
newborns to breathe.
The 1990s brought even greater advances in
the delivery of pediatric medicine to St. Christopher’s, including
expanding transplant services, the use of electrical mapping to locate
and remove brain tumors in pediatric patients, and the establishment of
the region’s first grief support group.
1990, after 106 years at
its location on Fifth Street and Lehigh Avenue, St. Christopher’s
relocated to its present location on 160 East Erie Avenue in
In 2014, St. Christopher’s was the only pediatric
hospital in the state and one of only nine nationally to be listed as a
Top Children’s Hospital by The Leapfrog Group. The Leapfrog Top
Children’s Hospital award is given to hospitals that demonstrate
excellence in hospital safety and quality and is given to less than
seven percent of eligible hospitals. St. Chris, also celebrated in
2014, the opening of the Center for the Urban Child, which provides
children with comprehensive services to help break the cycles of food
insecurity, violence, and childhood illness.
In 2015, St.
Christopher’s once again achieved Magnet status and numerous awards to
St. Christopher’s physicians, who are frequently recognized in regional
and national publications as “Top Docs” in their fields of expertise.
April 2016, St. Christopher’s opened the Critical Care Tower, which is
home to a brand new neonatal unit, expanded dental unit, a larger gym
for physical and occupational therapies and more.
Christopher’s is a 189-bed hospital that is committed to delivering
high-quality family and patient-centered care to children throughout
the greater Delaware Valley. Its highly acclaimed programs include the
highest level of pediatric trauma care and neonatal care, a Heart
Center, Oncology unit and the only dedicated pediatric burn center in
the region. St. Christopher’s also has one of the busiest emergency
departments for children in the country, with more than 70,000 annual
visits. In addition to its main location in Philadelphia, the hospital
has a growing network of primary and specialty care locations throughout
the Philadelphia suburbs and New Jersey. Currently, St. Christopher’s
offers a walk-in urgent care center in Abington, PA, the first of its
kind in the region to specialize in pediatrics.
affiliations with Drexel University College of Medicine, Temple
University School of Medicine, and Albert Einstein Medical Center, St.
Christopher’s is a teaching hospital, helping to train the next
generation of professionals in pediatric medicine. For more than 60
years, the hospital has been dedicated to not only the education and
training of physicians, but also to that of nurses and other allied
health professionals. We see undergraduate and graduate nursing students
from several colleges and universities including: Drexel University,
Villanova University, Thomas Jefferson University, Holy Family and
To learn more about St. Christopher’s, call (215) 427-5000 or 1-888-CHRISKIDS (247-4754). Find us on social media at Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.