UnityPoint Health—Meriter takes pride in its up-to-date approach to patient care, but it also has a long and storied past. With records spanning from the late nineteenth century to the present day, this rich history is documented in the Meriter Archives, a repository for the documents, printed material, photographs, artifacts, and memorabilia from Meriter and the institutions that proceeded it.
The Archives’ breadth and depth make it a potentially invaluable resource on American medical and nursing history. In late 2016, funded by a grant from an anonymous donor, the Meriter Foundation launched an initiative to develop a comprehensive record and online presence for the wide-ranging historical collections of Meriter. The eventual goal of the project is to make the Meriter Archives accessible to researchers, subject to HIPAA guidelines on patient privacy. In December, a temporary archivist began the process of ordering, cataloging, and digitizing the collections.
Meriter has a complex history, and its archives are similarly complex. The institution traces its roots back to two separate hospitals: Madison General Hospital, incorporated in 1898, and Methodist Hospital, incorporated in 1919. These hospitals’ parent companies merged in 1987 to become Meriter Health Services; Meriter officially partnered with UnityPoint Health to become UnityPoint Health—Meriter in 2014. Each of these entities is represented in the archives, along with several affiliated local clinics.
Administrative records form a large portion of the archives. From daily minutes to annual reports, internal newsletters to public outreach campaigns, these records document both day-to-day events and long-term strategic planning at Madison General, Methodist, Meriter, and affiliated organizations. In addition, the archives also contain thousands of historic photographs, along with collections of patient ledgers, scrapbooks, uniforms, awards, dedication plaques, medical equipment, and other objects. Taken together, these holdings build a vivid picture of healthcare in Madison over the last 120 years.
Some of the most exciting objects in the archives come from two nursing schools from the pre-Meriter era, the Madison General Hospital School of Nursing (c.1902-1982) and the Methodist Hospital School of Nursing (1921-1974). These two schools, both of which maintain vibrant alumnae associations, trained over three thousand nurses. Over the years, alumnae and their relatives have donated an array of documents and artifacts—including student scrapbooks, textbooks and training manuals, and uniforms—that provide a fascinating cross-section of nurses’ training across the twentieth century.
Among the most startling finds so far has been the 1938 scrapbook of Methodist School of Nursing student Esther Siekmeier (later Esther Seikmeier Buntrock, 1912-2000), which contained samples of surgical scalpels, needles, and sutures!