More Than Just a Hospital

More Than Just a Hospital

Community Hospital and Health Inequality in Evanston, Illinois

By George Krupkin

Community Hospital of Evanston holds an interesting place in the collective Evanston memory. Founded in 1914 as Evanston Sanitarium and Training School, it aimed to address the needs of Evanston’s growing Black community. Many Evanton natives over the age of 50 remember the hospital vividly, whether it was with Dr. Hill as she reset their broken arm, or in the maternity department, welcoming their child into the world. At the same time, a sizable proportion of Evanstonians know only of the hospital by name, although sometimes as “the Black hospital”. Not surprisingly, those who remember it this way are largely white Evanstonians who grew up outside of the 5th ward. This segregated memory of Community Hospital is unfortunately very representative of the town’s racial history. I embarked on this research journey to examine the ties between segregation and public health, which led me to Community Hospital. Although I grew up just a few blocks from the former hospital, I wasn’t aware of its rich history until I started this research project as a sophomore in college. As my research continued I started to examine the story as a public history project that could be used to help tell other Evanstonians about Community Hospital. With an interactive timeline and this accompanying blog post, I examine Community Hospital’s complex but integral role in the 5th ward through the lens of personal connection and community.

Local Black doctors Isabella Garnett and Arthur Butler (a graduate of Northwestern University Medical School) founded Evanston Sanitarium and Training School to serve Evanston’s Black community. At the time, not all Evanstonians received quality care at the local Evanston Hospital. For example, Black patients were only admitted when their lives depended on it. The services the Evanston Sanitarium provided were so vital that, around 15 years after its founding, Evanston Sanitarium grew out of its humble beginnings at 1918 Asbury and moved to a new building under a new name, Community Hospital.


Construction on the new hospital facility in 1951. (Shorefront).

By the 1940s, Community Hospital was still growing. Community began fundraising to build a state-of-the-art medical facility of their own, which drew considerable backlash from many North Shore residents when plans to expand its facilities were announced. Some residents, both Black and white, believed new facilities for a “segregated” hospital contradicted the growing national civil rights movement for integrated public and private facilities. However, Black Evanstonians continued to face life-threatening discrimination at white-serving Evanston hospitals. Evanston and St. Francis hospital believed they were reflecting the attitude of the community by not admitting Black patients, nurses or doctors. Community Hospital, on the other hand, had always accepted patients of all races and was the only facility that continuously met their needs. As Chief of Staff Dr. Elizabeth Hill put it in 1950, “we can’t wait fifteen years for integration because people are sick now”. A medical gap existed and Community Hospital aimed to fill it. Community Hospital opened their brand new $1 million dollar, 56 bed hospital in 1952, at 2040 Brown Avenue, marking a significant milestone in its mission to serve Evanston’s diverse population.


From the 1950’s onward, the hospital provided more than just medical care for Black Evanstonians. In a time of societal marginalization, Community Hospital helped the Black community thrive in its self-contained neighborhoods and communities. It provided steady employment to many 5th ward residents, while being less hostile and more sensitive to Black patients than a non-Black hospital might have been. “A lot of times you knew the people that worked there. You knew their families and you got really good care”, Evanstonian Joanne Cromer recalled of Community.

The welcoming environment of the Brown Street facility fostered unique experiences and relationships among community members and the medical staff. For example, Lynne Green’s mom spent many years as a Community Hospital employee, first as a receptionist, and later as the medical records librarian. It was through her mother’s relationship with Dr. Hill that Lynne found her first summer job as a candy striper in the mid 1960’s. 2 summers later, at 16, Lynne’s fascination with science led her to assist Community Hospital’s lab. She learned how to draw blood, do EKG’s, and identify ovarian parasites through a microscope among many other things. One summer day, Lynne was told to follow a pathologist from Northwestern down the hall, who said “come and learn something”. It was with this pathologist that Lynne was able to witness and partially assist in an autopsy. Lynne believes that she was able to have these inspiring formative experiences (that, she admitted, might have gone against hospital guidelines) because the hospital governing board “didn’t really pay attention [and] nobody ever complained”. Her time at Community inspired her to go to medical school, although it turned out her true passion was teaching science. She has done so in and around the North Shore ever since.

As the hospital navigated integration, experiences like Lynne Greene’s became less frequent. The national Civil Rights Movement pressured white businesses, including the healthcare system, to end their segregationist policies. Northshore hospitals slowly desegregated throughout the 1950’s, thanks to efforts of organizations like the Evanston/Northshore Branch of the NAACP, which had considerable influence on Evanston’s racial politics. While white businesses opened their doors to new Black customers, Black businesses rarely gained the same type of attention from white customers. The same trend began in the town’s hospitals. By the mid-1950’s, both Evanston and St. Francis Hospital had begun accepting Black doctors onto their medical staff, who brought their Black patients with them. With more expansive facilities, vast and consistent funding, and a partnership with Northwestern University, Evanston Hospital could offer Black doctors more resources than Community.

On the other hand, Community’s smaller and less specialized facility didn’t attract white medical staff in the same way. Throughout the 1960s Community experienced dips in staffing and patient admittance that correlated with considerable financial deficits. In 1974 Evanston Hospital admitted the same number of Black patients as Community Hospital, which was struggling to keep its doors open. Efforts to rebrand the hospital as an outpatient facility and later a drug and alcohol treatment center weren’t enough to combat the shift away from community based care that had deemed the 56-bed hospital obsolete. Other hospitals overshadowed Community Hospitals’ implicit mission of serving the Black community and Community ceased operations at 2040 Brown Avenue in 1980.

Community Hospital’s closure had untold effects on the residents it used to serve. The nearest hospital was now on the other side of town, where Black patients were much less likely to be treated by Black doctors and nurses than at Community. That said, nowhere in my research was Evanston Hospital or any other white medical institution found to provide subpar care or exhibit outwardly racist tendencies towards black patients. Many of my interviewees praised the care they have received outside of Community Hospital.

A 2023 map of life expectancy by census tract in Evanston. The dark blue area, representing the lowest life expectancy of 75.5 years, is located in Evanston’s historically Black 5th ward, where Community Hospital once stood. (City of Evanston).

Nonetheless, racialized health disparities within Evanston have endured. The 2023 Evanston Project for the Local Assessment of Needs (EPLAN) examined the overall health and wellness of Evanston, revealing notable differences in health outcomes based on race and geography. Evanston’s historically Black 5th ward was found to have a life expectancy of 75 years, 7 years less than the citywide average of 82. Factors such a lower median income and high housing costs led to 5th ward residents having less available income for a healthy lifestyle and proper medical care. The EPLAN recommended investing in “the development of a 5th ward health hub” to address the inequities in local health care (City of Evanston, 2023). The health hub would provide various forms of physical and mental health support, be a vaccination site, and have a resident nurse. In many ways, the health hub seeks to fill the hole that Community Hospital left in the 5th ward more than 40 years ago, providing healthcare on a neighborhood level. The history of Community Hospital illuminates ongoing racial disparities in healthcare access and outcomes, encouraging us to reexamine community-based solutions to help bridge these profound gaps.

In my interviews with former patients I explained that my goal was to share this story back with the Evanston community. One interviewee challenged me on this. “This story has been told, ” she remarked. And she was right. This story had been told, but not outside of the neighborhoods and families who interacted with Community Hospital. This was an issue that Community Hospital was always aware of and working against. As stated by the hospital’s executive director Steven Dorn in 1969, “We’ve been in existence for over 40 years and many people don’t even know we exist”. It was only through the continuous dedication of the medical staff, the Women’s Auxiliary, and many other individuals and organizations throughout Evanston that Community Hospital was able to provide unmatched personal healthcare for as long as it did. The path forward was never guaranteed for the small facility, which makes its long history one worth preserving and commemorating.


Dr. Hill makes her rounds at Community Hospital. c.1960’s. (Shorefront).


City of Evanston. (2023). “Public Health Goals.” 

Sarraf, I. (2022, June 10). “In Focus: As Evanston braces for its first ward redistricting in nearly two decades, residents say changing demographics speak to a lack of affordable housing.” The Daily Northwestern.

Primary sources were obtained from the following archives and libraries:

Shorefront Legacy Center

Evanston History Center

Evanston Public Library

Northwestern University McCormick Library of Special Collections and University Archives

North Carolina A&T State University Archives and Special Collections

This exhibit was curated by George Krupkin, Shorefront Intern. George completed undergraduate research on Community Hospital at Elon University and worked closely with Shorefront throughout this two-and-a-half-year process. He aims to use this exhibit to highlight the important history of the hospital and the communities it served.