Historical Gems: ‘The Lord Provides…’

For years Lena Lowe Jordan nursed and nurtured countless Arkansans. As May is the month of Mother’s Day, it seems fitting to focus on this gem of an Arkansas caregiver.

Photographs courtesy of the Historical Research Center, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences  Library, Little Rock

 

During the days of the Jim Crow South, Jordan provided medical services to Little Rock’s African-American community, first as a nurse and then as a hospital founder.

In 2014, some 64 years after her death, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock’s Institute on Race and Ethnicity honored her with a bronze plaque on the Arkansas Civil Rights Heritage Trail in downtown Little Rock. Placed just east of the River Market Pavilion, the plaque is one of 10 honoring medical professionals for their achievements and sacrifices in fighting for racial justice.

John Kirk, the institute’s director, gave this reply to an email inquiry about Jordan: “At a time when states provided little to no medical provisions for their black populations, people like Lena Lowe Jordan offered their own personal commitment and resources to the black community to address its needs. Without her dedication and service, many black people would have had no adequate access to medical care at all.”

What follows is gleaned from articles about Jordan in the Arkansas Gazette, the Encyclopedia of Arkansas History and Culture, the Pulaski County Historical Review, and Arkansas Biography: A Collection of Notable Lives, a book published in 2000 by the University of Arkansas Press.

Born in Georgia on April 6, 1884, Lena Lowe was a daughter of Hollin and Martha Lowe. She studied nursing in her home state, at Savannah’s Charity Hospital, and then moved to Arkansas in the early 1920s. She furthered her nursing studies at Little Rock’s United Friends Hospital, which was supported by the United Friends of America Fraternal Benefit Society, an organization that provided medical care and burial insurance for African Americans. In 1930, she graduated from the nursing program and became a licensed nurse.

Meanwhile, she had married Peach H. Jordan Jr., grandmaster and president of the Mosaic Templars of America, a Little Rock-based fraternal insurance organization that had its headquarters at Ninth Street and Broadway. (A museum, the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, operated by the Department of Arkansas Heritage, now stands at Ninth and Broadway.) Next door to the headquarters was a building that housed the 30-bed Mosaic State Hospital. Lena Lowe Jordan became head nurse at the hospital, where she worked until 1932. In May of that year she established her own hospital at 1500 Pulaski Street. Known as the Arkansas Home and Hospital for Crippled Negro Children, it was the only institution of its type in Arkansas at the time, according to Arkansas Biography.

Later, the institution became a general hospital for African Americans and was named the Lena Jordan Hospital. It moved to 1600 Chester St. in 1942.

According to the book, “Her program for providing nurses for the hospital was an innovative one.” She brought young African-American females from rural areas to the hospital, where they would work while attending school. She gave them a small salary, clothes, room and board.

An Arkansas Gazette article published on April 26, 1950, reported that about 25 students had been educated with Jordan’s help. Some, the article stated, went “to business college, some to high school and some to college. They do not have to go on to nurses’ training afterward, but many of them do ….”

Jordan’s efforts to care for young people had to survive an early crisis. Only four years into its existence, the children’s hospital faced foreclosure. This was during the depths of the Great Depression.

Those rallying behind the hospital included the state’s largest newspaper, the Arkansas Gazette. On Aug. 6, 1936, the newspaper opined, “It will take only $1,500 to pay the first mortgage [on the hospital] … But the money must be contributed before next Tuesday to prevent sale of the property under foreclosure.”

Lena Jordan Hospital, circa 1938

Lena Jordan Hospital, circa 1938

Referring to Little Rock Mayor R.E. Overman and North Little Rock Mayor U.E. Moore, the newspaper continued: “Mayor Overman, Mayor Moore, and 12 pastors, physicians, lawyers and social workers have appealed to generous men and women to come forward in this emergency and save this hospital. … [Jordan] gave it as her all to serve as a place of refuge and healing for crippled childhood, and gave a mortgage on this home and hers to obtain funds to operate the hospital.

“The people of Little Rock may with good reason be asked to save for the community this … valuable institution. But aid must come between now and Tuesday.”

Jordan’s work not only survived, the hospital bearing her name continued to operate for several years after her death in 1950. Once asked how she managed to keep the hospital going, she replied: “The Lord provides.”

Jordan’s faith can be seen through the work she did for others.

An April 26, 1950, Arkansas Gazette article described her philosophy as “helping others to help themselves.” The article reported that the Lena Jordan Hospital had 20 beds and was equipped for general surgery, medical and obstetric care. “On needy cases the State Board of Health will pay for 20 days of hospital care, but after that the hospital furnishes the services without remuneration.”

The article noted that the hospital did not have an endowment “or regular outside aid, although occasional gifts do come in to supplement the amount received from paying patients.” Staff physicians served without pay for charity patients.

Among her other efforts in the community, Jordan worked with the American Red Cross in 1934 to provide a home nursing course. With her as their instructor, 91 African-American women earned certificates. First Baptist Church at Seventh and Gaines streets in Little Rock was the site of the graduation ceremony.

A ceremony on May 12, 1950, honored Jordan for her nursing career. Held at the hospital that bore her name, the ceremony was part of an observance of National Hospital Day. By that time, Jordan was 66 years old.

She died only a little more than four months later, on Sept. 30, 1950, of a cerebral hemorrhage. Survivors included her husband, a granddaughter, two great-grandchildren, three sisters and a brother. She is buried at the Haven of Rest Cemetery off West 12th Street in Little Rock.

Her hospital apparently continued until 1953. That was the last year the institution was listed in a city directory, according to “Some Extinct Black Hospitals in Little Rock and Pulaski County,” published in the Spring 1986 issue of the Pulaski County Historical Review.

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