In 1897, a group of Austin women known as the St. Vincent’s Aid Society discovered that Catholics treated in the city-owned hospital were not receiving the sacraments and there were “discourtesies regarding religious matters” which distressed the ladies. Some members of the Society were familiar with the work of the Daughters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul, and these sisters were invited to come to Austin to operate a new hospital.
In 1898, the Daughters agreed to consider coming to Austin if the Society would provide house and grounds suitable for a hospital. By 1900, the sum of $5,300 was raised by the Society. The money purchased “Tobin Park,” almost five acres of land on 26th Street between Nueces and Rio Grande. Seton Infirmary was granted a charter by the State of Texas on April 4, 1900. At the time, Austin had a population of just 22,258.
Rockwell Milligan, of St. Louis, Missouri, was the architect who designed the four-story, red pressed brick building in the “Southern Colonial” style. Seton Infirmary – named after Elizabeth Ann Seton, who founded the order that would become the Daughters of Charity in the United States – was dedicated on May 29, 1902. It contained 17 private rooms, 11 wards, special diet kitchens on each floor, plus separate dormitories and refectories for the sisters.
Seton’s first pamphlet said that the hospital “belongs to suffering humanity in general, irrespective of creed, color, nationality, financial standing or any other limitation. All well-intentioned persons are cordially welcomed. True charity knows no bar to brotherhood.”
In the same year it opened, the school of nursing commenced on the top floor with four student nurses enrolled. These four nurses graduated in 1905 and, since that year, over 730 graduates have taken their place in the nursing field.
Under the administration of Sister Ursula Fenton, the hospital rapidly grew in size, from 40 beds to 75 beds by 1914. In 1917-1918, Travis County suffered an outbreak of small pox, and Travis County officials turned to the sisters at Seton Infirmary for help. The sisters helped and refused compensation for their services. In appreciation, the community presented the sisters with a gold medal.
During World War I, the army turned to the sisters at Seton for help when three military camps near Austin were struck with an epidemic of influenza. Seton’s grounds were covered with tents as there was not room in the hospital for all the sick.