How a Generous Gift Started BMH

At the turn of the 20th Century, Brattleboro did not have a hospital, nor did any nurses live in town. That all changed in 1901.

Elizabeth Rowell Thompson (1821-1899), a Vermont-born farmer’s daughter, and Thomas Thompson (1797-1869), a wealthy Bostonian and Harvard graduate, were married in 1843. They established a generous fund, the Thompson Trust, to support the working women of Brattleboro, Vermont, and Rhinebeck, New York. Both were places where the Thompsons took summer excursions and received friendly hospitality.

The original wording of Thomas Thompson’s will of 1869 directed his trustees to provide “for or towards the relief and support of poor seamstresses, needle-women, and shop girls, who may be in temporary need from want of employment, sickness or misfortune,” and “to apply surplus to such kindred charitable purposes.” The Trust went into effect upon the death of Elizabeth Rowell Thompson in 1899.

In the three decades that passed between the establishment of the trust and the death of Mrs. Thompson, the nature of women’s work changed dramatically. Therefore, the Massachusetts high court allowed a significant broadening of the interpretation of the phrase, “kindred charitable purposes.” This permitted the trustees to spend $100,000 of the accumulated trust to build a hospital in Brattleboro. In 1904, Trustee Richards M. Bradley, a Brattleboro native acting on behalf of the Thompson Trust, used that money to purchase the estate known as The Hemlocks — the site where Brattleboro Memorial Hospital stands today.

Over the past 100-plus years, Brattleboro Memorial Hospital has grown along with the healthcare needs of the community. It is now a licensed, 61-bed, not-for-profit community hospital serving a rural population of about 55,000 people in 22 towns in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. The medical staff includes more than 100 board-certified physicians in both primary care and many specialties. And our approximately 600 employees enjoy the help of scores of active volunteers.