Virginia Changemakers
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Rebekah Dulaney Peterkin (1849 - 1891)

Rebekah Dulaney Peterkin.png






The daughter of an Episcopal minister, Rebekah Dulaney Peterkin (September 24, 1849–July 26, 1891) grew up in Richmond. During the Civil War her mother volunteered as a nurse at one of the city's many hospitals. Peterkin was keenly aware of the financial struggles faced by many residents in her father's parish, and she participated in a variety of charitable enterprises. About 1887 she organized her church sewing circle into one of Virginia's earliest chapters of the Order of the King's Daughters, a Christian service organization. She had long been concerned about the lack of medical care available to the working poor and suggested that the group organize a hospital to provide acute care free of charge.

Peterkin convinced the owner of a boarding house to allow the building to be used rent-free for a year. The sewing circle raised funds, secured supplies, and persuaded a physician to offer his services at no cost. Sheltering Arms Hospital opened in February 1889. Peterkin was the hospital's treasurer when it was incorporated in March 1891, only a few months before her death. Her leadership and devotion led to the creation of the Rebekah Peterkin Memorial Association, which endowed a room in her honor when the hospital moved to a larger facility in 1894.

Her vision of serving the community's health care needs continues in the twenty-first century. Sheltering Arms remained the state's only independent hospital to provide free medical and surgical care until 1981, when it changed its focus to rehabilitative services.

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Image Courtesy of the Valentine