Dr. Emma Wheeler: Chattanooga's Pioneer Doctor
Emma Howard (Wheeler), graduated Walden University's Meharry Medical, Dental, and Pharmaceutical College in 1905. The week of her commencement she married John N. Wheeler, who was also a physician. The newlyweds moved to Chattanooga, where for the next ten years, they would practice medicine in an impoverished, segregated black community in the city.
African Americans who required medical care were hospitalized in the basements of existing majority hospitals in Chattanooga. The mortality rate was extremely high due to poor surgical conditions. For that reason, Emma purchased two lots on the corner of East Eighth and Douglas Streets and, using her own money, erected a three-story brick hospital.
Dedicated on July 30, 1915, Walden Hospital became the first hospital in Chattanooga to be owned, operated, and staffed by African Americans and dedicated to their treatment.
The 30-bed hospital consisted of three departments: surgical, maternity, and nursery. Seventeen physicians and surgeons used the hospital along with a house staff of two and three nurses. The hospital proved so successful that the construction debt was paid in less than three years.
After almost four decades of dedicated service to the community, Walden Hospital closed its doors on June 30, 1952. Although in poor health, Wheeler continued her practice. The former Walden Hospital has been converted into apartments.
Wheeler, a true pioneer physician, died in 1957. In 1962 the Chattanooga City Commission voted to name the housing authority's newest residential project the Emma Wheeler Homes. In 1990 the Chattanooga African American Museum in conjunction with the Tennessee Historical Commission placed a state historical marker at the site of Walden Hospital to honor Dr. Wheeler and the hospital.