|HOSPITALS, THEIR ORIGIN AND EVOLUTION|
WASHINGTON, D. C.
THE story of the birth and evolution of the hospital is a record of the conquest of barbarism by civilization and of the triumph of Christian altruism over the selfishness of the pagan ideal. Bargaining, trading, warring, the nations of the earth have struggled upward along the difficult highway of achievement, making slow but certain progress in the betterment of humanity. Always this approach toward the ideal has been characterized by an increased interest in the welfare of the public as opposed to the individual, and exemplified in unselfish efforts to befriend the sick and friendless.
No better index, therefore, of the progress of any nation in ethics and altruism can be obtained than a report of its work in the building and management of hospitals.
In its origin the word hospital comes from early Christian days when it was used to designate a place where strangers and visitors were received and cared for. Whether or not hospitals proper existed in pre-Christian time is a much-debated question. The fact has been established that the Egyptians studied medicine and that the sick were brought to their temples to be healed by the priests. To some extent this practise was observed by the Greeks and by the Romans in their temples of Æsculapius.
There is certain evidence of the existence in pagan Rome of Valetadinaria, or dispensaries, for sick soldiers and slaves; but of the existence of hospitals proper, houses of refuge for the poor and the ill, we have no proof. Something more than mere civilization was necessary for the establishment of these tokens of man's regard for his fellow man.
In India, a country whose ancient moral code was less pagan, if not more Christian, than that of either Greece or Rome, hospitals for men and animals are described by two early Chinese explorers. Prescott states that hospitals existed in Mexico before the Conquest, but his documentary proof is indefinite. Gaelic literature is rich in traditions concerning the House of Sorrow, a hospital for the wounded of the Red Branch Knights who lived about 300 B.C. at Tara, the palace of the kings of the heroic age of Ireland. But on sifting the evidence, we are justified in assuming that the claim of the pre-Christian hospital rests largely on tradition, while proof is abundant that these institutions were liberally by the Christian Church.