Women's History Month

Women Have Long Shaped the History of Pardee

“Too much credit cannot be given to the ladies of Hendersonville, Flat Rock, and Fletcher for their arduous work and untiring energy in bringing to a successful realization this most essential and credible institution… – French Broad Hustler, 1917

March is Women’s History Month, a time to honor the women in our history whose legacy paved the way for the women of today.  Female thinkers, activists, and trailblazers have played an important role in health care for centuries, and the same can be said for the past century in Henderson County.

For every Florence nightingale, or Virginia Apgar (for whom the Apgar score was named), there are thousands of women who have helped shape the delivery of healthcare in their community. And this Women’s History Month, we’re taking the opportunity to highlight the achievements of women who have made an impact on our community — and our health system.

The Beginning

UNC Health Pardee, formerly Pardee Hospital and Patton Memorial Hospital before that, has had a long history of donations and leadership from area women that have long helped to support — and improve access to services for our community.

“In 1905, the ‘Flower Mission’ was organized to care for the sick of the Hendersonville community. Meeting in a small room equipped by Mrs. Charles E. Wilson, the ladies, led by Mrs. Marion C. Toms as their president first formulated the ideas and plans that would lead ultimately to Henderson County’s first hospital Patton Memorial Hospital. With that end in mind, the women changed their organization’s name to the Hendersonville Hospital Association.” (Bailey, 1999) 

By December 10, 1912, with funding in place led by the women of the Hendersonville Hospital Association, construction began on Patton Memorial Hospital, named after a generous land donation by Mrs. Annie M. Patton.

The hospital’s pathway to success was unquestionably chartered by its trustees, whose presidents over the years were with the exception of one – all women: Mrs. M.C. Toms, Mrs. Charles Whitaker, Mrs. Alicia Trenholm, Mrs. CJ Valley, Mrs. Thomas Shepherd, Mrs. Plede Jackson, Mrs. John Forest and Mr L.Y. Biggerstaff.

A New Hospital

As the needs of the community began to outstrip the capacity at Patton, plans were made to find a location and begin fundraising for a new hospital. And again, fundraising led by women and supported by a large donation in honor of one woman would enable this growth.

Money left by Margaret Pardee to her nephew Ivor for the specific intent of donation to a worthy cause was matched by doctors and other local donors, and built the hospital expansion from Patton Hospital in 1953. The hospital was thus named, Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospital. It is unsurprising that the first baby born in the hospital on the day of its opening to Dottie Keith was named, Margaret Pardee.

Despite a physician staff made up entirely of men, the board that saw the expansion of the hospital in 1953 was made up of fourteen women and just five men. The opening of Margaret R. Pardee marked a major modernization of institutional medicine in this small mountain town, and can be credited to the rallying of so many in the community, heralded by influential women.

The Women’s Auxiliary

As the needs of the community grew, board member Georgiana Lane was asked to form a Women’s Auxiliary Group.  From humble beginnings making chair cushions for the hospital, the group grew tremendously and took on projects like a coffee cart, book cart, mail flower delivery. Contributions collected through fundraising events went to purchase equipment needed for the hospital. And later, a Georgiana Lane loan funded financial help for nursing students.

Later, Myrtle Barnette started the Candy Stripers program at Pardee, bringing high school girls into the hospital that had an interest in becoming nurses.

The Hospital Auxiliary disbanded and became the Pink Ladies in 1958, and under the direction of Mrs. L.Y. Biggerstaff they opened the Auxiliary Snack Shop, providing revenue for hospital special projects and equipment purchases.

A Growing Health System

In 1983 a $400,000 bequest from the will of Mrs. Watts Lahr allowed for the purchase of the Opportunity House property, a portion of which was to serve as an adult day care center for up to 16 patients.

Mrs. Helen Kayden, a longtime volunteer at Pardee, organized sewing circles which made gifts to sell in the Snack Shop to raise funds for the hospital. Outside of her volunteer work, she was a major benefactor of the hospital, and the Kayden Radiation Oncology Center was named for her.

And years later, donations were made to build the Elizabeth Reilly Breast Center, honoring the memory of the mother of a local philanthropist. Kathleen McGrady, an area pediatrician wanted to honor her mother, Elizabeth Reilly’s 35-year nursing career.

In fact, Generations of Excellence (Bailey, 1999) details the wonderful stories of numerous women who had long and successful careers at Pardee, often breaking barriers in healthcare. For example, the first full time hospital pharmacist Mrs. Margaret Gretz was later elected President of the NC Society of Hospital Pharmacists.

Present Day Pardee

But the legacy of leadership and service at Pardee didn’t end in the twentieth century. Today, our board includes notable women from multiple industries as does the Pardee Hospital Foundation Board. Female physicians, nurses, laboratory technicians, assistants, surgeons, and administrative leaders can be found throughout Pardee – and it is thanks to the rich history of trailblazing women that this culture exists.

Too many women to name have shaped our community and health care system and continue today to lead us forward. Today, and every day, we thank the women and their families who have supported and improved access to care in our community.

A special thanks to Louise H. Bailey, who penned Generations of Excellence, a history of Pardee Hospital, from which much of this article is based.



  1. Bailey, L. H. (1999). Generations of excellence: History of Pardee Hospital, Hendersonville, North Carolina. WorldComm.

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