McCord’s Zulu Hospital

McCord’s Zulu Hospital is a well-known institution in Durban. It was started in 1909 by Dr James B. McCord, who had studied medicine at Northwestern University in Ohio, qualifying in 1891.

McCord James B.JPG

McCord joined the Student Volunteer Missionary Movement at Oberlin College and there met his future wife, Margaret Mellen, who was born in Natal when her parents had been missionaries there. She and James fell in love and decided they too wished to go to Africa as missionaries.

In 1899 he was sent to Adams Mission in Amanzimtoti as a medical missionary. Medical services for Africans in Natal at the beginning of the twentieth century were meagre at best and at worst non-existent.

So, right at the start of the Anglo-Boer War, James and Margaret, accompanied by two young daughters, travelled to South Africa in a troop ship carrying British soldiers! In 1902 he became a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, and a licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians in London. He then moved to Durban where he remained for the rest of his working life. Initially he opened a clinic and a dispensary. To establish his hospital for Zulus in a fashionable part of Durban Dr McCord had to battle ingrained prejudice and unfounded fears. In time McCord’s Zulu Hospital became a well-known institution in Durban, gaining a reputation for excellence both in its treatment of patients and for its teaching and research.

It was here that Dr. McCord trained the first African women to become nurses, and fought for them to become registered by the nursing profession overcoming suspicion and the deadweight of bureaucracy. At first he was assisted by two doctors who worked part-time and one trained nurse. His wife Margaret served as nurse and business manager. Much later the hospital staff expanded to include nine doctors, and 150 nursing sisters and trainees.

By the time of Dr. McCord’s retirement in 1940 at age 70, African female nurses were being licensed for the first time. His dream of establishing a medical school to educate and qualify African doctors was realized in 1947, three years before he died, when the University of Natal in Durban brought into being a Faculty of Medicine for black students, now named after Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela.

In 2014 the Provincial Government of KwaZulu Natal took over the McCord’s Zulu Hospital and converted it into a specialist eye hospital, McCord’s Provincial Eye Hospital. I readily refer people without medical insurance to McCords these days for cataract and other eye surgery. They get great treatment there.

Dr. McCord wrote his autobiography My Patients Were Zulus (Rinehart & Co., New York, 1946); His daughter Margaret wrote The Calling of Katie Makanya (John Wiley & Sons, New York, 1995) about McCord’s first translator, theatre nurse and ward supervisor, who worked with him for over 40 years.

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From a paper by Prof Dennis Luck of Oberlin College Ohio, sent to Bruce Soutar. Bruce and Heather took Dennis – who grew up in Durban – and his wife to see Ohlange Institute at Inanda, a high school founded in 1900 by Rev Dr John Langalibalele Dube and his first wife Nokutula. It was the first educational institution in South Africa to be founded by a black person. Like Dr McCord and Prof Luck, Dube had studied at Oberlin, and was a founder of the ANC. Nelson Mandela cast his first free democratic vote in 1994 at Ohlange school.

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Pics from Hugh Bland’s great Natal-History-Saving site. Go and have a look at it.

One thought on “McCord’s Zulu Hospital

  1. bewilderbeast

    Feedback from Prof Dennis Luck via Bruce:

    Dear Bruce, Many thanks for sharing with me comments from various people who have read the “one-pager” on James B. McCord. It seems that they found it interesting and informative.
    I’ll never forget the day, some years back, when I stumbled across McCord’s autobiography, My Patients Were Zulus, in a second-hand bookshop in Oberlin that was going out of business. What a lovely connection between Durban, where I was born and grew up, and Oberlin, where I taught at the College for 33 years before retiring in 2005. I never knew that James McCord was a graduate of Oberlin College until that time!
    John Dube, by the way, was not a graduate of Oberlin College: he attended the College for only two years,1888-1890 (thus overlapping with James McCord), before returning to South Africa. On a return visit to the US in 1897 he studied at the Union Missionary Seminary in Brooklyn, New York, for two years: in 1899 he was ordained as a priest thus becoming the Rev. John Dube. Finally, in 1936 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of South Africa, becoming Dr. John Dube. Oberlin College is very proud of him, and claims him as one of their own!
    Another by- the- way: my field was biochemistry, not microbiology. Sorry to be so pedantic – I guess it comes from being an academic!!
    All best wishes, Dennis
    ***post amended – thank you!***

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