Newcomers to the triangle (less than 20 years, anyway) reading about WakeMed's bid to buy Rex Hospital don't remember the day in 1980 when all the patients and hospital staff moved in from the old hospital on Wade Avenue, including newborns who were born in one hospital and discharged from another.
But the hospital's history goes back much farther. It was funded by John Rex, who died in 1839. His will provided funds for a hospital in Raleigh for the city's "sick and afflicted poor," and for money to free his slaves and relocate them in Africa. The hospital actually opened in 1894 on South Street near Salisbury Street. The building, which had been the residence of former Governor Charles Manly, was later operated as a hospital by the St. John's Guild. It opened as Rex Hospital on May 1, after repairs were made and a two-story annex was built for black patients.
The Rex Hospital Nursing School was organized later that year with four students.
In 1896, another annex was built for patients who could afford to pay for medical care. In 1908, the original building was demolished to make way for a new one. The black patients were sent to St. Agnes Hospital, and white patients were temporarily transferred to the Hinsdale House on the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Peace Street. The new building opened in October 1909 and operated there until 1937.
Rex Hospital nurses, graduating class of 1918, Photo Courtesy of the North Carolina State Archives.
The second part of John Rex's bequest, to free his slaves was detailed by Memory F. Mitchell, a former state archivist, in 1978.
All except Winney, who chose not to leave her husband, agreed to go. The others soon left Raleigh by rail for Norfolk ... On August 4, the ship Saluda sailed for Liberia with the group of 17 former slaves: Ben Simmons and his wife Malinda; Hagar and her son Henry; Jenny; Martha and her daughter Eliza; Becky; Tresa; Sampson; Dick Wilson; Claxton; Ellick; Hubert; Asa Williams; Lucy; and Abraham Rex. They ranged in age from 8 to 65. Early in November they landed in their new home.
The estate paid transportation costs and gave each of the 17 a six-months subsistence of $50.
What happened to them? Abraham stayed only a short time in Africa, returning to Raleigh by the summer of 1840. He was given $140 by the executors to help him travel to the north. This payment seems highly irregular until it is known that he was the son of John Rex by his slave Malinda. This man could not have remained in Raleigh as a free person under the laws of the time.
Malinda wrote at least once ... of the difficulty of living in such a poor country and bemoaning the fact that she had agreed to go to Africa. She was among the missing when funds were distributed. What became of the transplanted group is unknown.
Back in Raleigh, Rex Hospital was joined by the new Wake Memorial Hospital in 1961.
Frank Daniels Jr., former publisher of The News & Observer, served on the boards of both hospitals. In a 2002 interview, he talked about how the rivalry between the hospitals existed from almost the very beginning.
And then they built the hospital, and then there was instant animosity between Rex Hospital and Wake Hospital. I think they called it Wake County. They used to call it Wake Memorial Hospital. And they brought Bill Andrews in as the executive director. I think he came right off the bat. ...
And Bill built the hospital. I became friends with Bill Andrews in later times, but he played everything very close to his vest. Didn't want to share anything with anybody. Saw Rex Hospital as a competitor. The guys who were running Rex Hospital saw Wake as a competitor. And doctors didn't want to go back and forth between the two hospitals, so they had trouble getting the doctors to go to Wake.