The Origin of Swedish Hospital, Denver

Honoring the People Who Created What We've Inherited

In 1892, Karl Albin Bundsen, a 20-year-old native of Sweden, arrived in the United States. After receiving training in Swedish massage and gymnastics in Chicago, he moved to Colorado, where he hoped to use what he had learned to benefit tuberculosis patients.

After serving during the Spanish-American War (1898) — and after meeting Dr. Robert Levy of Denver's Gross Medical College (founded in 1887) — Karl Bundsen studied for his MD at Gross Medical College, from which he graduated with honors in 1902. He was ordinarily known as Dr. Charles Bundsen.

In 1904, Dr. Bundsen became a staff physician at Denver's Mercy Hospital, a position that he held, part time, until his retirement in the 1940s.

In 1904, Dr. John Lindal — sponsored by Reverend Carl A. Nelson and the Mission Covenant Church — opened the Swedish-American Sanatorium, Bethesda, in Edgewater, on Denver's west side. In 1909 Dr. Lindal's facility merged with Dr. Bundsen's.

In 1905, Dr. Karl Bundsen began the process of establishing the Swedish National Consumptive Sanatorium which opened in Englewood in 1908, and which eventually became Swedish Medical Center.

Dr. Bundsen had interned at St. Joseph's Hospital in Denver and at the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad Hospital in Salida, and was a staff physician at Mercy Hospital in Denver — all of which admitted working class patients. Those experiences gave him an understanding of how difficult it was for some people to get the medical care they needed, and the Swedish Sanatorium always tried to find room for those who couldn't pay, or who could only pay a little.
There were 3,000-4,000 Swedes in Denver at this time, and 12,000-15,000 in Colorado. Like people of all nationalities, many of them had tuberculosis. Because "foreigners" weren't warmly welcomed in Colorado at that time, Dr. Bundsen created a sanatorium for Swedes. He responded to being mocked because of his Swedish accent by making a Swedish flag lapel pin a permanent part of his professional attire.

The Swedish Consumptive Ladies' Aid Society, formed in 1905, made it possible for the Sanatorium to exist. Their initial mission was to assist Swedes arriving in Denver with tuberculosis get treatment and to help run the Sanatorium. Mrs. Alma Hendryson was the Society's leader.

The women cooked, cleaned, assisted with patient care, and gradually developed strategies for supporting the Sanatorium including bazaars, Christmas smörgåsbords, and an annual fundraising picnic at Elitch's Zoological Gardens.

The Swedish Consumptive Sanatorium

In 1906, Dr. Karl Bundsen reported that he had found five acres for $2,500 in Englewood for the Swedish Consumptive Sanatorium: "The land being located conveniently and near streetcar services, it is high and with a view of the entire range of mountains almost from Cheyenne to Colorado Springs. It is sunny and dry."

On October 29, 1906, the Colorado Board of Health approved the Englewood location for use as a tuberculosis facility. The first patients, as was typical at the time, were housed in wall tents, about 8 feet square, with wooden pallets for floors. Gustav Nywall was superintendent, and Dr. Bundsen was medical director. Swedish Consumptive Sanatorium would eventually become Swedish Medical Center.

In November 1906, the Sanatorium board hired Reverend Edward Gravander of Chicago to be its nationwide "traveling representative." The sanatorium's board let him keep 25% of the funds he raised for the Sanatorium. He in turn contracted with other men who became fundraisers in their own communities.

The Swedish National Consumptive Sanatorium

In 1907, concerned about marketing and fundraising, the Swedish Consumptive Sanatorium in Englewood changed its name to the Swedish National Consumptive Sanatorium to make the point that it served Swedish-Americans nationwide. As additional funding became available in 1907, small cottages began to replace the tents.

In March 1908, the board of the Swedish National Consumptive Sanatorium decided that the minimum daily charge for patients would be $6.00. Unlike some other sanatoriums, Swedish admitted tuberculosis patients who were gravely ill and unlikely to recover, and patients who could pay none or only part of the $6.00 daily fee. The board's fundraising strategy included raising enough to pay the costs of treating indigent patients. The board also decided to have a telephone installed at the Sanatorium.

May 1908 — Swedish National Consumptive Sanatorium Opens

In May, 1908, Colorado Medicine reported that the Swedish National Consumptive Sanitarium had completed a building and six cottages and was ready to receive patients. It was described as "in South Denver east of the terminus of the Englewood car line" (pg. 213). During an organizational meeting, the following appointments were made:

  • President — Charles A. Bundsen, MD
  • Secretary — Alf Hakanson, MD
  • Executive Committee — Edward F. Dean, MD, H. Grieger, MD, Alf Hakanson, MD, and A.H. Williams, MD
The following doctors were on the first attending staff at Swedish National Consumptive Sanitarium:
  • Medicine — Rudolph Arndt, Charles Bundsen, Edward Dean, H. Grieger, Philip Hillkowitz, and A.H. Williams; James Arneill and Josiah Hall, consultants
  • Surgery — Edward Dean and Arthur Williams
  • Gynecology — R.S. Chamberlain
  • Nose, Throat, and Ear — Alf Hakanson
  • Eye — Frederick A. Davis and Edmund W. Stevens
  • Dermatology and G.U. Surgery — J.B. Davis
  • Gastro-Enterology — Charles B. Spivak
  • Neurology — Samuel Hopkins, George Moleen, and Bernard Oettinger
  • Orthopedics — Albert Silverstein and Henry W. Wilcox; George Packard, consultant
  • Pathology and Bacteriology — Ross Whitman and John Simon
  • Diseases of the Kidneys — Edward C. Hill
  • Obstetrics — T. Mitchell Burns and Joseph Cooper Hutchison
  • Radiography — Samuel Childs and George Stover
  • Anesthetics — Carl Parsons
  • Dentistry — Rich Loustano, R.M. Kempton, and O.A. Burgeson
  • Massage — S.W.H. Schroder

The Swedish National Sanatorium

In 1909, the Swedish-American Sanatorium, Bethesda (1904), merged with the Swedish National Consumptive Sanatorium (1905). The new institution was a large brick, stucco-covered house located in Englewood, and its name was shortened to The Swedish National Sanatorium.

Dr. Karl Albin Bundsen continued as medical director; Reverend Edward Gravander continued as director of fundraising; Zelda Krantz continued as matron, and the board hired Aurora Lindstrom, a 1907 graduate of the nursing school at St. Joseph's Hospital, as nurse.

The new Swedish National Sanatorium board reflected the fact that this was a faith-based healthcare facility. The board included ten laymen along with five ministers who represented their denominations:

  • Reverend Anton Anderson of the First Swedish Baptist Church, 12th and Delaware, Denver
  • Dr. Gustaf Albert Brandelle of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Augustana Church, 23rd and Logan, Denver
  • Reverend Peter Munson of the Swedish Methodist Episcopal Church, 22nd Street and Court Place, Denver
  • Reverend Carl A. Nelson of the Swedish Mission Church, 3519 Delgany Street, Denver
  • Reverend John Udd of the Swedish Evangelical Free Church, 1076 Acoma Street, Denver
In 1910, the Swedish National Sanatorium published the first monthly issue of its fundraising newsletter, the Sanitarie Bladet, which was sent to subscribers, donors, and friends of the Sanatorium, and distributed by the Sanatorium's national network of fundraisers.

The City of Denver authorized the Swedish Consumptive Ladies' Aid Society to have a "Tag Day" on December 14, 1912, which permitted them to stand on corners and ask for donations to the Swedish National Sanatorium. The women raised $1,722.60, and continued a wide variety of fundraising activities for decades to come.

Swedish Hospital

In 1956, because tuberculosis was no longer the threat that it once had been, and because medical treatment of the disease was now so different from what it had been, the Swedish National Sanatorium in Englewood became a general hospital.

The formal opening of Swedish Hospital was on June 4, 1956, after the Sanatorium's Mayflower Building and Bundsen Addition were converted for use as a hospital.

The hospital now had 72 beds and 200 staff physicians, and was the only hospital in Arapahoe County. Tuberculosis patients continued to be housed in the Men's and Women's pavilions.

The Swedish Hospital board had sent a letter saying that "the objective of the hospital was care of the sick and injured, and that profit was secondary" (Swedish Medical Center – 1905-2005: A Century of Caring, pg. 50). Swedish Hospital continued the Sanatorium's tradition of treating people who needed free or reduced-cost healthcare.

On September 3, 1956, Dr. Karl Albin Bundsen, 83 — founder and medical director of the Swedish Consumptive Sanatorium in Englewood — died of cancer at Swedish Hospital.

Contact book [at] coloradohealthcarehistory [dot] com or @ColoradoHealth on Twitter with additions, corrections, suggestions, or for more information. Thank you!

Bibliography and Acknowledgement

Julie G. Lonborg of HealthONE Swedish Medical Center in Englewood provided information and guidance, and sent a copy of Swedish Medical Center – 1905-2005: A Century of Caring, by Rebecca Hunt and Sandy Durkin (2005).

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