The House of St. Giles the Cripple was founded in 1891 by Sister Sarah, an Episcopalian nun.
Located in Brooklyn, it was one of the country’s first hospitals to concentrate on orthopaedic care and treatment for children. From its earliest days, St. Giles was concerned not only with the hospitalization and surgical treatment of children but also with their rehabilitation and education while in the care of the hospital 97 sometimes for extended periods due to polio and cerebral palsy.
After several moves to larger quarters, in 1916 St. Giles opened a new hospital at 1346 President Street and the corner of Brooklyn Avenue. Coincidentally, that was the year of the great polio epidemic, and the new facility quickly filled to its capacity of 100 patients. A separate convalescent home, “St. Giles in the Fields,” had been built in 1903 at Garden City, Long Island, and it too filled to capacity.
From the 1920’s through the mid-1950’s, polio was the most dreaded childhood disease and one of the most difficult to treat. Victims of polio required more individual attention than all other St. Giles orthopaedic patients combined. For many of those years, St. Giles also ran the second largest outpatient clinic among all of the children’s orthopaedic hospitals in America.
In 1954, Salk vaccine was discovered, followed by Sabin oral polio antitoxin in 1960. This led to an almost immediate decline in polio cases and a steady falloff in the patient count at St. Giles. As polio became less and less prevalent, the need for our Long Island convalescent home diminished and it was sold in 1973.
After 1975, the polio patient population in the U.S. became so small that the rated capacity of St. Giles Hospital was lowered considerably. Concurrently, the hospital faced new capital outlays ordered by the New York State Department of Health, a national trend away from small, specialized hospitals, and steadily rising operating losses. After careful analysis and consultation, the decision was made to close the hospital and transform St. Giles into a charitable foundation. This was done in 1978.
As a foundation, St. Giles has retained its original mission of serving disabled children while it has simultaneously expanded its reach and effectiveness over a far broader spectrum of juvenile diseases and disabilities than ever before.