The American Oncologic Hospital (AOH) was founded in 1904 as the first cancer hospital in the United States. It was "devoted exclusively to the treatment of cancer and other tumors, and research into the nature and causes of those affections." The charter for the AOH stated that patients would be admitted free of charge “without regard to race, creed, or color if such persons are in indigent circumstances.” Patients who could afford to pay would be admitted and their payments would be used to enlarge and maintain the hospital. At the time, few hospitals could care for cancer patients and the disease was considered incurable. One of the problems was the need to provide aseptic surgery. To treat cancer patients, hospitals would have to have a separate staff of physicians and nurses to guard against the infection of surgical wounds. (Inquirer, Nov. 11, 1904)
|First Home of the American Oncologic Hospital, 45th and Chestnut Sts|
The AOH quickly outgrew its first home. In 1906, Elizabeth Anderson, a thrifty domestic servant, donated $40,000 (the equivalent of almost $1 million today) which enabled the AOH to consider plans for expansion. Her estate, which totaled over $76,000, was donated to numerous causes, including $5,000 to Presbyterian Hospital and $1,000 to the Old Man’s Home at Powelton and Saunders Avenues. In 1911, the AOH purchased a stone mansion on a large plot of land at 33rd St. and Powelton Avenue. At the time, it was described as "one of the largest of the many fine residential properties in the section." In 1858, the mansion was the home of John C. Keffer, a writer and newspaper editor. In the early 1860s, he also ran a liquor store and distillery. At the end of the Civil War, Keffer moved his family to Montgomery, Alabama. As representative of the Union League in New York he played a central role in the early period of Reconstruction in that state. In the 1870s, he moved his family to Cleveland where he was an editor known for his large personal library.
American Oncologic Hospital, 33rd and Powelton (1914 addition at left)
In 1914, the Oncologic Hospital began construction of a new two-story building. It included the finest operating room in the city, special facilities for x-ray and radium treatments and eight additional beds. The AOH was a leader in research -- particularly the use of x-ray and radium in treating tumors. The new building contained the radium therapy which had previously caused problems for the x-ray work. An article in the Inquirer at the time explained that “[f]or some time past it has been the custom at this institution to treat cancer by placing the radium on the tumor, rather than injecting it into the body as is done in some instances.”
3501 Baring St. where he and his wife lived for more than 50 years. They had two children, one of whom died in infancy. Newcomet wrote the first comprehensive book in English on the use of radium in treating tumors (1914). Beginning in 1915, his primary appointment was Director of the Lucy B. Henderson Foundation for Radiation Therapy at Jefferson Medical College.
In 1930, the University of Pennsylvania received an anonymous donation of $210,000 to a fund for cancer research created in 1928 by Irenee du Pont. (As a child, she lived at 3500 Powelton Ave.) The funds were used to equip a new clinic at the AOH for modern diagnosis and treatment of tumors. Continuing the focus on surface cancers, the chief of the clinic was Dr. George M. Dorrance, Professor of Maxillo-facial surgery at the Penn School of Dentistry. (NYT, Jan. 26, 1930)
Brady A. Hughes, Sr. Using the "Radium Pack," to Treat a Patient
at the American Oncologic Hospital in the 1930s.
The radium used in the treatments was very expensive. In 1932, The New York Times reported that a new cleaning woman at the AOH had accidently swept four needles containing radium into the trash. They were valued at $30,000. Three of the needles were recovered.
In 1967, the American Oncologic Hospital built a new path-breaking “patient-centered” hospital and joined with the Institute for Cancer Research to form Fox Chase Cancer Center. Today the buildings at 33rd and Powelton belong to Drexel University.