American Mission Hospitals History

American Mission Hospitals History
In 1895 Samuel Zwemer, one of the co-founders of the Reformed Church of America’s (RCA) Arabian Mission, stopped in Kuwait City on his way from Bahrain to Basrah. At the time, he noted that it was “the cleanest Arab town in the Gulf . . .”
That stop may have been the moment the RCA became interested in working in Kuwait. In his history of the Arabian Mission, Lewis R. Scudder III wrote that the organisation considered Kuwait “to be a very promising site for its work. It had two principle virtues. First, it was a relatively clean place . . . it was a healthy place. . By and large, it was a town that one could easily come to enjoy.” Kuwait’s second virtue, reported Scudder, “lay in the fact that it was a commercial hub with many routes of access into the interior deserts . . .”
Kuwait was a different place in 1909, when Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah, the 6th Ruler of Kuwait (1896 – 1915) invited physicians from the Arabian Mission of the Reformed Church of America (RCA), already working in Basrah, to establish a hospital here. At the time, there were no hospitals and no western trained medical professionals in the country. Sheikh Mubarak prudently saw the advantages of setting up a hospital in Kuwait and was its greatest patron.
In 1913, after being asked to establish a permanent mission in Kuwait, the RCA began construction of the first medical facility in the country. Sheikh Mubarak donated an acre adjacent to the land the RCA had purchased, giving them adequate space for the desired buildings.
Initially there was some resistance in the local community, as the medical personnel were affiliated with a Christian church. However, Sheikh Mubarak tackled the situation head on. “. . . These men! Who are they? Are they diplomats? Are they politicians? Merchants? No!”, he’s quoted as saying. “These men have come here to teach us. They will build a hospital and take care of our sick. Everybody dies today but when these men come we shall have our sick attended to.”
Scudder reports that “[t]he initial reserve and parochialism of Kuwait society was something that gave way quickly . . . and was more than compensated for by the gracious – indeed, the proverbial – hospitality of the people, their generous friendship, and their effort to integrate the mission as fully as possible into their social structure.”
The Battle of Jahra, in 1920, proved to be as historic for the mission as it was for the country. 135 soldiers seriously wounded in the battle were brought to the hospital for care. Of those, only four died. In recognition of, and appreciation for, the hospital’s efforts, individuals in the community contributed to a fund to expand the facilities and services of the hospital.
Ultimately, the RCA built four hospitals: the original Men’s Hospital completed in 1914, the Women’s Dispensary in 1919, a full women’s hospital, officially named the Olcott Memorial Hospital, in 1939, and the Mylrea Memorial Hospital for men in 1955. The last two hospitals were built on land donated to the project by Sheik Salim al-Mubarak (Ruler of Kuwait 1917 – 1921), Abdulatif Eisa Abduljaleel, and Sheikh Ahmed al-Jaber (Ruler of Kuwait 1921 – 1950) and other Kuwaiti families.
The hospitals, commonly known as the American Mission Hospitals, are one of two remaining examples of Gulf Mission style architecture in the world. At a time when buildings were constructed from stone, wood and mud mortar, the buildings on the compound were made from steel and concrete.
Characterised by the extensive use of veranda for ventilation, aesthetics and socialisation, the hospitals were designed to replicate the fabric of family life in Kuwait. Patients and their families enjoyed the cooling breezes during the hot months and they took advantage of the ventilation to prepare meals in the hospital rooms and hallways. In the evenings, the verandas replaced courtyards as gathering places for families and friends.
But, of course, there were more important areas of the hospitals than the verandas. Being modern facilities, the hospitals included operating rooms, treatment rooms, a maternity ward, pharmacies, eye and paediatric care. According to records from the Women’s Hospital, in the first year alone (1939), there were 188 in-patients, including maternity cases, more than 30,000 clinical treatments, 3,015 vaccinations, 212 operations, and 347 house calls.

An increased demand for services inspired the AMH medical professionals to begin a training programme for local residents. Over the years Kuwaitis were trained as dressers, practical nurses, pharmacists, and X-ray technicians. Ultimately, one, Mr. Haider Al-Khalifa, was trained in management and was appointed hospital administrator.
The increase in demand also drove improvements in the facilities. A modern laboratory was added in 1941 and an X-ray machine was added two years later. In 1945, a full X-ray unit was added. Air conditioning was added to the operating rooms in 1952.
Finally, the demand was such that a new hospital facility was constructed. The Myrlea Memorial Hospital, commonly known as the Men’s Hospital, was built “largely through enthusiastic donations from the people of Kuwait.” The hospital was opened by H.H. the Amir, Sheikh Abdullah Salim in 1955.
However, as the AMH facilities and services grew, so did those provided by the government. The Amiri Hospital and the KOC Hospital in Maqwa opened in 1949. The three hospitals worked well together and the close cooperation between them is credited with advancing the development of healthcare in Kuwait.
By the 1960s, the government of Kuwait was providing sufficient medical services to meet the needs of the community. In 1967, the American Mission Hospitals in Kuwait were closed. During the years of operation, the hospitals helped established a positive relationship between the local community and the ‘foreigners’.
King Abdulaziz ibn Saud, after receiving treatment from the Mission, said “. . . The missionaries came with love and built schools and hospitals. They have built a bridge of friendship between our people and theirs.” The AMH buildings are a physical reminder of that friendship.

Samuel Zwemer, one of the cofounders of the Arabian Mission, stopped in Kuwait on his way to Basrah from Bahrain and noted that “the place is the cleanest Arab town on the Gulf . . .”
Sheikh Khaz’al, ruler of Muhammarah and a patient of the Arabian Mission’s Dr. Arthur K. Bennett, invited Dr. Bennett to meet Sheikh Mubarak, the 6th ruler of Kuwait.
Dr. Bennett performed successful cataract surgery on Sheikh Mubarak’s daughter. Sheikh Mubarak invited the Arabian Mission doctors to practice in Kuwait. They agreed and Kuwait became an outstation of the Basrah facilities.
Sheikh Mubarak provided an annex of his palace to be used as a hospital. Seeing that full-time physicians were needed, Sheikh Mubarak asked the Arabian Mission to create permanent medical facilities in Kuwait and deeded land to Dr. Bennett for the purpose of building a hospital. Dr. Paul Harrison and Dr. Eleanor Calverley were the first doctors assigned to the Kuwait American Mission Hospital (AMH).
Construction on the first purpose built hospital was completed.
Sheikh Salim al Mubarak al Sabah becomes Amir.
The purpose built Women’s Dispensary was completed and Dr. Calverley moved from the hospital.
Soldiers from the Battle of Jahra were treated at the AMH and only four of the 135 seriously wounded died.
Electric generators were installed in the hospital and the doctors received a Model T Ford, one of the earliest cars in Kuwait, making house calls easier. The American Mission School for Boys opened and the original list of pupils included Sheikh Fahad Salim al-Sabah, who became the first minister of health and public works, and Khalid al-Ghunaym, who became speaker of Parliament. [The school closed during the Depression and never reopened.]
Operating theatres were added to the AMH facilities.
The Olcott Memorial Hospital, commonly known as the Women’s Hospital, was opened by Sheikh Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah. Dr. Mary Bruins Allison replaced Dr. Calverley.
Facilities and services reduced due to a lack of supplies during the World War II years. Dr. Mary Bruins Allison was sent home.
Dr Ruth Crouse replaces Dr Mary.
A modern laboratory was added.
The first X-ray machine was added.
Dr. Mary returned and began restoration of the Women’s Hospital. A full X-ray unit was installed.
Amiri Hospital and the KOC Hospital in Maqwa opened.
Air-conditioning was added to the operating rooms.
The Mylrea Memorial Hospital, commonly known as the Men’s Hospital, was opened by H.H. the Amir, Sheikh Abdullah Salim.
Kuwait had sufficient public hospitals and the American Mission Hospitals are closed down.
UNESCO and Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah began exploring preservation plans for the AMH buildings.
Restoration and historic preservation work on the buildings began, with support from the National Council of Culture, Arts and Letters, UNESCO, the Ministry of Information and Dar al-Athar al-Islamiyyah (DAI).
DAI established an Islamic arts and culture library and temporary administrative offices in the Women’s Hospital building.
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Small exhibitions and the Children’s Art Workshop activities started to be held in the Al Amricani Cultural Centre.
Renovation work began on Al Amricani Cultural Centre.
The renovated American Mission Hospitals re-opened as the Amricani Cultural Centre, featuring a multi-media presentation of the history of the buildings and Treasury of the World: Jewelled Arts in the Age of the Mughals, the first exhibition of objects from The al-Sabah Collection on display in the new facility.
Since officially opening in 2011, the Amricani Cultural Centre has hosted a variety of exhibitions – both of objects from The al-Sabah Collection and temporary exhibitions curated by local art afficianados and various embassies, innumerable concerts, lectures, workshops, education programmes for children, programmes for visiting classrooms and multi-day conferences with a cultural spin.