Northwestern Memorial Hospital History

Northwestern Memorial Hospital was created on September 1, 1972 by the consolidation of two of Chicago’s oldest established hospitals—Passavant Memorial (founded 1865) and Wesley Memorial (founded 1888). Bringing together these respected institutions created what was then the Midwest’s largest private, nonprofit hospital.

For the past three and a half decades, Northwestern Memorial has continued to meet the ever-changing healthcare needs of the Chicago area, expanding facilities, adding clinical programs and providing service to the community. Our association with Northwestern University dates back more than a century, and as the primary teaching affiliate for the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern Memorial is recognized as a leading hospital in advancing patient care, education and research.

Passavant Memorial and Wesley Memorial Hospitals had their roots in Chicago’s Lutheran and Methodist Episcopal deaconess movement, spiritual communities of women organized during the 19th century to provide for the sick and needy. The formative years of our hospitals were marked by the struggles of these unpaid groups in caring for patients, raising funds, managing real estate, and meeting the growing professional expectations of physicians. Yet both Passavant and Wesley would evolve from small charitable institutions to larger, better staffed hospitals that kept pace with modern medicine and the needs of the rapidly growing city.

By the turn of the century, hospitals were being transformed from refitted homes to increasingly modern facilities where not only could health be restored, but disease and injury scientifically diagnosed, studied and treated.

As hospital management transitioned from religious orders to active boards of lay trustees, the growing influence of medical school faculty, auxiliary groups and donors also helped determine Wesley and Passavant’s organization, mission and future goals. Although not formally affiliated with a medical school, Passavant’s staff included faculty from Northwestern and Rush, and operative clinics conducted by surgeon Christian Fenger, MD, brought future surgical giants to the hospital for invaluable postgraduate experience.

The formation of Passavant’s Woman’s Aid Society (1897) and the Passavant Hospital Auxiliary (1904) were also critically important to the hospital’s future. Wesley Hospital and Northwestern University shared a common Methodist heritage, with the hospital and medical school becoming affiliated in 1890 and occupying several buildings on South Dearborn between 24th and 25th Streets.

In 1914 philanthropist James Deering made a $1 million gift to Wesley Memorial to support free care and solidify the hospital’s relationship with Northwestern University’s medical school. Wesley agreed to join Northwestern University on its new North Side campus in 1924, but funding for construction of a new building was delayed until the 1930’s.

In the interim, Northwestern University offered Passavant Memorial an affiliation and site for a new hospital, which opened in 1929. Wesley Memorial’s new facility was completed in 1941, and over the next thirty years the two institutions, located across the street from each other in the Streeterville community, served as the primary teaching hospitals for Northwestern University Medical School. Over time, the hospitals began collaborating on a number of clinical services and teaching programs, setting in motion plans for a long-contemplated merger.

The process accelerated with the 1966 establishment of the McGaw Medical Center of Northwestern University, focused on joint purchasing, shared facilities, graduate medical education and development of a group practices, furthering joint planning efforts towards a unified medical center.

Passavant and Wesley responded by merging nursing schools, exchanging staff privileges, and combining clinical areas—culminating in the consolidation of the two hospitals on September 1, 1972. Other important additions included mergers with Prentice Women's Hospital and Maternity Center and the Stone Institute of Psychiatry (1975), and the opening of the Olson Critical Care Pavilion (1979).

By the mid-1980s, our original inpatient facilities could no longer support technological advances and were prohibitively expensive to maintain. Extensive planning began for one of the nation’s largest healthcare construction projects—designing a state-of-the-art facility to replace Passavant, Wesley and more than 20 scattered outpatient sites. In 1994, construction began on a new 2-million square foot facility on the block bordered by Fairbanks Court, Saint Clair, Huron and Erie Streets.

On May 1, 1999, the 17-story Feinberg Pavilion and 22-story Galter Pavilion opened. A model facility for healthcare providers, hundreds of local, national and international tour groups visit Northwestern Memorial Hospital each year.

Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s reputation as one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers continues as we develop additional world-class facilities and expanded clinical programs with our academic partner, Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.

The former Passavant and Wesley sites were redeveloped as part of a comprehensive campus master plan in conjunction with Northwestern University. The Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center has expanded biomedical research at the Feinberg School of Medicine and Prentice Women’s Hospital, opened in late 2007, is a state-of-the-art facility supporting patient-focused care in an environment of comfort, privacy and comprehensive care for patients, families and visitors.

Building on a history of compassionate care and clinical excellence, Northwestern Memorial is forging a stronger partnership with its campus partners to become one of the nation’s great academic medical centers.

See the Northwestern Memorial Hospital History Timeline.