About Mercy

Mercy's History

First Mercy Hospital, 1873

First Mercy Hospital,1873; located in the Mechanics Academy Building (built in 1842) on Linn Street.

The hospital was founded by four Sisters of Mercy who traveled from Davenport, Iowa, by train. They carried as many furnishings and medical supplies as they could manage. The Sisters came at the invitation of Dr. W.F. Peck, dean of the young Medical School of the State University of Iowa. Dr. Peck had worked with the Sisters of Mercy to establish a hospital in Davenport and hoped the Sisters would open another in Iowa City. Such a hospital would provide a facility where medical students could gain clinical experience by working with patients and where the Sisters could pursue their mission of caring for the poor and sick.

When they arrived at the Iowa City train station, a kindly local farmer offered them a ride in his wagon to their destination-Mechanics Academy, on the site where the University of Iowa building, Seashore Hall, stands today. The Sisters were greeted by Dr. Peck and set to work immediately, cleaning and refurbishing the abandoned building. Only three weeks later, on September 27, 1873, the new Mercy Hospital admitted its first patient—a gentleman with tuberculosis.

In 1885 the Sisters purchased a property called the Dostal House, located about two blocks northeast of the Mechanics Academy building, and moved into it early the next year. The remodeled building offered space for more patients and included a carriage house that was turned into a surgery amphitheater. Mercy Iowa City continues on this site today.

The Sisters of Mercy and the Medical School faculty continued to work together for a number of years, until in 1898 the State Board of Regents appropriated money to build a new hospital for the Medical School. Thus, the University's own hospital was created, and the Sisters of Mercy were free to operate their hospital as a private, community institution.

From 1911 to 1972 Mercy Hospital also operated a school of nursing which graduated more than 900 nurses.

The story of Mercy’s history is told in From Obscurity to Distinction: The Story of Mercy Iowa City, 1873-1993 (second edition, 2008), by Sister Mary Brigid Condon, RSM. Copies are available for sale in the Mercy Gift Shop.