How a Generous Gift Started BMH

thompson photo

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, on one of his carriage trips through the state. The daughter of a farmer, she was just 19 years old.

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 Elizabeth. 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. At that time women gathered to make garments for soldiers of the Civil War. That summer, on a visit to Brattleboro. When Thomas asked Elizabeth to whom she would like to bequeath the money he would be leaving her, 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.”

Eight years later, Thomas Thompson died, leaving Elizabeth with a million dollar trust.  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.