You cannot talk about Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, particularly its founding, without talking about the Thompson Trust.
In 1840, Vermont-born Elizabeth Rowell met a wealthy Bostonian, Thomas Thompson, quite by chance on one of his carriage trips through the state. The daughter of a farmer, she was just 19 years old and, according to The Vermont Peoples National Bank publication “With Interest” (published in 1926), “No Mona Lisa on canvas could rival successfully Elizabeth Rowell in her prime.”
Thomas Thompson, a Harvard graduate and a culturally refined middle-aged bachelor who had inherited a fair amount of money for the time, was smitten by the cabin-born Green Mountain girl. For three years, he thought about her as the type of girl he wanted for a wife and, in December, 1843, Elizabeth Rowell and Thomas Thompson were married.
The second chapter of this romance happened in 1861, a year that Brattleboro was a veritable beehive of sewing women who gathered to make garments for soldiers of the Civil War. That summer, the Thompsons visited Brattleboro and found it quite beautiful, so they visited often. When Thomas asked Elizabeth to whom she would like to bequeath the money he would be leaving her (as a considerably older husband), she is reported to have said, “Perhaps I can use the money for the benefit of humanity…it shall go to the sewing women of Brattleboro and of Rhinebeck, New York, where we have so often stayed.”
Eight years later, Thomas Thompson died, leaving Elizabeth with a million dollar trust, a sum she was “eminently worthy of…whose every thought was in relieving the sufferings of others,” according to the bank pamphlet “With Interest.” When Elizabeth died in 1899, her will decreed that two-thirds of the income from the estate was to go to Brattleboro, and one-third to Rhinebeck, and although the sewing women were (indeed) named as beneficiaries, the court ruled that the phrase “kindred charitable purposes” would permit other activities, including the building of a hospital in Brattleboro.
At the turn of the 20th Century, Brattleboro did not have any nurse who was a resident of this town, let alone a hospital, so in 1901, the fund known as the Thompson Trust became available to the town. Richards M. Bradley, one of the two trustees, obtained the court’s sanction to spend $100,000 of the accumulated income of the trust to build a hospital in Brattleboro. In 1904, acting for the trust, Bradley bought the estate known as The Hemlocks – the site where Brattleboro Memorial Hospital stands today.
Think what a gift can do! One person’s generous gift allowed Brattleboro, Vermont, to have an excellent hospital for the benefit of millions of patients throughout its more than a century of service.