Filed Under Women and Gender

The Deseret Hospital

When pioneer Utahns realized their lack of medical knowledge, Brigham Young sent women to the East to obtain medical degrees. Upon their return, many set up private practices, but they wanted to have an official hospital. This desire led to the construction of the Deseret Hospital in 1882 and its operation for 12 years until it closed in 1894. In 2003, a replica of the building was constructed at This is the Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City.

During Utah’s territorial years, the pioneer settlers lacked medical knowledge which led to high maternal and infant mortality rates. This problem led Brigham Young to encourage a few women to go to the Eastern United States to obtain medical degrees. Some of the women who heeded the call were Martha H. Cannon, Romania P. Penrose, Ellis R. Shipp, Ellen B. Ferguson, and Elvira S. Barney. When they returned to Utah, several opened private practices but they all recognized the need for an official hospital. With the support of the scores of women who convinced church leaders of the need, the women gained their hospital in 1882. 

The Deseret Hospital was established by the Latter-day Saint Relief Society and was dedicated in July 1882 by LDS apostle Franklin D. Richards. It was located in a building previously used by the nuns of the Holy Cross Hospital. At the dedication, Ellen B. Ferguson was set apart as the resident physician and Romania P. Penrose as the resident surgeon and visiting physician. 

The hospital treated illnesses such as rheumatism, typhoid fever, and diphtheritic tonsillitis, among other diseases. It was also used as a maternity home and training facility for midwives. Women who wanted to learn midwifery but who could not pay for instruction could give fifty days of charity work instead. The hospital was supported by donations that supplied it with the materials necessary to operate. The Relief Society also organized the Deseret Hospital Association, which any woman in good standing could join by paying one dollar annually. Patients were charged $3-6 a week for board, room, and nursing, and the hospital’s maximum capacity was about 40-50 patients. 

In 1884 the hospital was moved to a different location, but a lack of funds forced its closure in 1894. The midwifery school continued to operate until 1905 when W. H. Groves purchased land to build a new LDS Hospital. This hospital continued to expand until it had fifteen branches under the direction of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In 1975, the Church transferred the operation of the hospitals to Intermountain Health Care. 

A replica of the Deseret Hospital was constructed at This is the Place Heritage Park in 2003. The first floor of the building shows a replica of the hospital and the second floor contains a collection from the Utah Quilt Guild. Elder Russell M. Nelson dedicated the structure on October 25, 2003, to highlight the contributions of the women who traveled to the East to obtain an education and to commemorate the original Deseret Hospital.


LDS Hospital - a Full-Service Community Hospital - Salt Lake City, Utah
LDS Hospital - a Full-Service Community Hospital - Salt Lake City, Utah Image of the current LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City. Source:

Schoenesmoers. n.d. “English: LDS Hospital - a Full-Service Community Hospital - Salt Lake City, Utah.” Wikimedia Commons. Accessed April 18, 2023. 

Ellis Reynolds Shipp (January 20, 1847 – January 31, 1939
Ellis Reynolds Shipp (January 20, 1847 – January 31, 1939 Image of Ellis Reynolds Shipp who was one of the women who traveled east for a medical degree. Source:

Unknown. 1923. “English: Ellis Reynolds Shipp (January 20, 1847 – January 31, 1939) Was One of the First Female Doctors in Utah.” Wikimedia Commons. 1923.  

Romania B. Pratt (Peterson's Magazine, 1896)
Romania B. Pratt (Peterson's Magazine, 1896) Image of Romania Pratt Penrose. She was among those who obtained a medical degree in the east. She was the first resident surgeon at Deseret Hospital and later resident physician as well.  Source:

“File : Romania B. Pratt (Peterson's Magazine, 1896).PNG.” Wikimedia. Accessed April 18, 2023.,_1896).png 

Martha Hughes Cannon
Martha Hughes Cannon Image of Martha Hughes Cannon. One of the women who traveled east for a degree and was later a resident physician at the Deseret Hospital. Source:

Evans, John Henry; Kimball, Mary Connelly. “Martha Hughes Cannon”. The Relief Society Magazine XIX (10) 585. Salt Lake City, Utah. Accessed April 18, 2023.  



Madison Sterzer, Brigham Young University, “The Deseret Hospital,” Intermountain Histories, accessed June 13, 2024,