Community Comes Together to Establish the First Northern Virginia Hospital

Inova Alexandria Hospital,  the oldest continuously operating community hospital in Virginia, celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2022. The motivating force behind the establishment of Alexandria’s first medical facility came from Julia Johns (1822-1883), daughter of the Episcopal Bishop of Alexandria.  Miss Johns called upon her “charitably disposed” friends to support her efforts.  On December 12, 1872, she met with a like-minded group of six women and two men at St. Paul’s Church to “consider formation of a society to establish and control a hospital for the sick.”  On December 23, 1872, a charter was granted to the Alexandria Infirmary Association by the Commonwealth of Virginia.  In January 1873 the infirmary was opened on the southwest corner of Duke and South Fairfax Streets, the first of six locations.

Under the vision and leadership of Julia Johns, the Board of Lady Managers, representing Alexandria’s churches and synagogues, was organized to manage the infirmary’s day-to-day operations. At the end of the first year it was reported that the receipts from the 54 patients who were treated were not adequate to meet expenses and the trustees were on the verge of closing the infirmary. Julia Johns implored Alexandria merchants to furnish food, medicine and other supplies. The community was asked to donate what they could: sheets, blankets, nightgowns, and canned goods. Farmers donated milk, butter, and livestock. Church and synagogue circles raised money and took a special offering on Thanksgiving to support the infirmary, a custom that continues to this day. The infirmary, now Inova Alexandria Hospital, succeeded because of widespread community support. Over the ensuing 150 years, Alexandria and the surrounding communities continue to come together in response to current needs of the hospital.

Hospital Leads in Innovation

In 1882, a doctor, George T. Klipstein, performed the hospital’s first surgery on a man who needed his leg amputated after a railroad accident. The man would have died if he had been transported to his home for the surgery, which was the custom at the time; it took almost seven hours before the doctor reached all of the infirmary’s Board of Lady Managers for permission to perform the operation at the hospital.

In 1894 the Board of Lady Managers started a nursing school, the first in Northern Virginia, graduating nurses almost yearly through 1987.

In 1900 the Board of Lady Managers began the first outpatient care facility in the state, and in 1902, the infirmary officially changed its name to Alexandria Hospital.

Alexandria Hospital, 1918

In 1941, after 69 years of management, the Board of Lady Managers transferred administration of the expanding hospital to a professional staff but retained director positions until the merger with Inova Health Systems in 1996.

Throughout the years, the hospital has led the medical field in many ways. In 1953, doctors at the hospital were the first on the eastern seaboard to perform epidural anesthesia to ease pain for mothers in labor. It also was one of the first hospitals to allow family members and siblings to be with a woman during childbirth. In 1961, the hospital opened the only 24-hour emergency room in the country that was staffed with full-time, specialized emergency physicians. “The Alexandria Plan,” as it was called, was hailed as a national model in a 1963 issue of Time magazine.

In 1987, the hospital was among the first to use laser surgery, and two years later, it established the Sleep Disorders Center and opened the Northern Virginia Cancer Center, becoming the first hospital to receive accreditation from the American College of Surgeons for its community cancer program.

In 1996 Alexandria hospital merged with Inova Health System, the state’s largest nonprofit network of hospitals and other health services. In 2011, Inova Alexandria Hospital dedicated its Same Day Surgery Lobby to the Board of Lady Managers “in recognition of its inspirational commitments to the past, present, and future of Inova Alexandria hospital.”

Now in its 151st year, the Board of Lady Managers supports the hospital through a variety of fundraising events and continues to rely on the support of the community.