Over 150 years ago, in 1867, Susan Fenimore Cooper—the visionary daughter of our illustrious James Fenimore Cooper—founded the Thanksgiving Hospital, the first such hospital in the Village of Cooperstown and, so it’s told, in the state. Dedicated to the “weak and suffering among the population of Otsego County and the adjoining counties,” it had 16 beds. At the time Cooperstown was a small rural community with 1,600 people.
Established in appreciation of the end of the Civil War, the Thanksgiving Hospital was guided for three decades by Miss Cooper, working closely with Dr. Wilson T. Bassett, an Otsego County-born son of a veterinary surgeon who had emigrated from England in 1815. When Bassett began his medical practice in the 1840s, in Mount Vision, there were 60 physicians in Otsego County, six of them in Cooperstown.
In 1869 Wilson Bassett and his wife, Mary, also a doctor, relocated to Cooperstown. Wilson and Mary Bassett became attending physicians—working without charge—at the Thanksgiving Hospital. The venerable institution treated its rural area patients with diseases “of the gravest nature:” typhoid, paraplegia, peritonitis, chronic diarrhea, influenza, ulcers, fractures, amputation, hernias, cancer, pneumonia and an assortment of serious farm accidents. It also established a training school for nurses.
When their daughter, Mary Imogene Bassett, became a doctor in 1887 she specialized in academic neurology, studying electrotherapy and lecturing on nervous diseases. She returned to Cooperstown in 1893 to work with her father, and among her patients was Edward Severin Clark who, in 1915, decided to build a new 100-bed hospital, name it for his physician and friend and appoint her chief of staff—two firsts in America for a woman.
The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital opened on June 29, 1922, with the transfer of patients, equipment and the Nurses Training School from the Thanksgiving Hospital. At the end of the first year, MIB Hospital had admitted 722 patients at an average cost of $10.68 per day; there were 12 student nurses, a deficit of $80,000, and Dr. Bassett had died. In 1924 there were 46 beds filled, the physician support was scarce, the income was $34,000 and the annual cost $120,000. The rural region could not support the new institution; it closed the following year, sending the remaining patients and the Nurses Training School back to the Thanksgiving Hospital.
Bassett reopened in 1927, receiving 17 patients—and the Nurses Training School—from the long-suffering and now permanently closing Thanksgiving Hospital, which was to become the Clara Welch Thanksgiving Home. The renewed Bassett had salaried physicians, experimental and up-to-date surgical and medical equipment, an extraordinary medical library, the proverbial Nurses Training School and, within another two years, physician internships and a bacteriological research laboratory. Bassett had become an academic hospital as well as a fully equipped, medically savvy rural institution. An important and extraordinary beginning, all coherently described by John S. Davis, MD, in his 2016 “Bassett Hospital in Cooperstown, New York: 200 Years of Health Care in Rural America.”
This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the MI Bassett Hospital, and this issue welcomes the first in a series of monthly columns, “Bassett At 100,” by its President and CEO, Dr. Tommy Ibrahim, addressing events, issues, concerns, and developments at what is a significant and welcome outgrowth of the Thanksgiving Hospital—the Bassett Healthcare Network.