I know I am in for a good story when someone has to start and stop several times before acknowledging that he or she has to back up quite a bit to give more background for the rest of the story to make sense. It creates major confusion to find out someone just back from a trip that involves updating navigational equipment on ships in England if I don’t first know that his profession involves such work, or hearing a story about a couple meeting at the top of the Empire State Building on Valentine’s Day in an otherwise completely random way if I don’t recognize the references from “An Affair to Remember” or “Sleepless in Seattle.”

In the same way, I can’t say that the first school of nursing to be established in South Dakota was started by St. Joseph’s Hospital in Deadwood in 1905 without giving the history of how a group of five nuns came from Melchthal, Switzerland, in 1889, to start St. Martin’s Academy in Sturgis. (Consider that my start and stop to back up to give you more background. It’s not as obvious as when it happens in conversation, but since I’ve told you that’s one of my favorite parts of these moments, I feel it is necessary to point it out so you don’t miss it.)

So yes, in 1889, five Sisters from the Order of St. Nicholas of Flue, a Benedictine convent in Switzerland, came to Sturgis at the invitation of Bishop Martin Marty to start an academy. The nuns first lived in an abandoned tavern and got straight to work, starting summer school within 10 days of their arrival to Sturgis. By 1916, a four-year high school was established, St. Martin’s Academy, which remained in operation until 1991.

Around the same time period in nearby Deadwood, the first hospital was operated by the Sisters of the Holy Cross from 1878-1883, and because the hospital was not self-supporting, the nuns started a school, St. Edward’s Academy, as well. A building for the academy was constructed in 1889, but the academy was later discontinued because of lack of enrollment.

An 1889 typhoid epidemic in Deadwood would bring the two groups together: the Benedictine Sisters from Sturgis came to Deadwood to help with caring for the sick, and St. Edward’s Academy on Charles Street was converted to a 20-bed hospital.

The Benedictine Sisters would purchase the building in 1896, for $10,000, and after remodeling it, St. Joseph’s Hospital officially opened on Jan. 15, 1897. A newspaper article in the Pioneer Times described, “Some persons doubt that a hospital can be made to pay and become a success, in Deadwood, but this is certainly a good field for such an institution and if anybody can make a success of it, the Sisters can and will.”

An article by Edna V. Grieb in “Some History of Lawrence County” describes that six nuns served at the hospital at its start, fulfilling nursing, cooking, housekeeping, and office duties. According to the article, typhoid was the most common ailment treated during the hospital’s first year.

The first records for the hospital were dated 1898, and costs at that time were $1 per day per patient, which included room, board, care, and special services. By 1900, the daily cost rose to $10 per day, plus an additional $5 if surgery was required for the patient, as well as added costs for medicine, dressings, and “use of night shirts.”

If only a daily hospital visit could still be paid with a $20 bill.

Here I’ve gotten to the end of my space for today’s column, and we haven’t even gotten to the part about the nursing school’s beginning. Think of all the backstory you would have missed, though — and keep it in mind for next week’s continuation of the story. Stay tuned!


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