The Dallas Baby Camp

The Cottage
The Cottage | Source
Signature of May F. Smith on a baby's death certificate
Signature of May F. Smith on a baby's death certificate | Source
Incubators at Dallas Baby Camp, 1920s
Incubators at Dallas Baby Camp, 1920s | Source

Five years after moving to Dallas, Miss May F. Smith was a 39-year old nurse who enjoyed her work at a local sanitarium. She was what they called “an old maid” in those days; a woman who never married. She had received her nursing education in Philadelphia a few years earlier, and decided to forge a new life in the great state of Texas.

Dallas had a population of around 20,000, two sanitariums and a brand-new Parkland Hospital. Miss Smith couldn’t help but notice that some babies weren’t receiving adequate care, especially those from indigent families. So she set about to fix that situation, and spent the next thirty years devoted to that cause.

With the help of six other nurses from the Graduate Nurses Association, she persuaded officials to put up four tents on the grounds of Parkland Hospital at the corner of Maple and Oak Lawn. They recruited three physicians to volunteer their time (Dr. Moore, Dr. Embree and Dr. Loving). They tore up old sheets to use as diapers, made beds from old laundry baskets, asked everybody they knew to donate clothing and baby items, and ran their camp on a shoestring. Their efforts were so successful that the following year a cottage was built, with a 15’ screened porch and room for 30 babies. This meant that they wouldn’t have to camp out under trees any more for afternoon nap time.

Miss Smith was still determined that Dallas needed to do even more for its indigent infants, so she put a big sign near the front door that read “Someday the Dallas Baby Camp Will Be A Children’s Hospital”. Her optimism and vision must’ve been contagious, because in 1922, they moved across Oak Lawn Street, into an even better facility. The American Red Cross and a couple of other charitable organizations had begun to sponsor Miss Smith’s dream, and over the years the babies of Dallas began to receive much better care. The Camp even operated a pediatric nursing school for a few years. In 1930, the facility was renamed and eventually became part of the Bradford Memorial Hospital for Babies, which is now Children’s Medical Center of Dallas.

May Forster Smith died in 1938 at the age of 64, but she leaves an exciting legacy to young girls of the 21st century. One dedicated woman managed to plant the seed that transformed a few tents on a lawn into a major medical facility. She deserves our respect and admiration.

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Comments 4 comments

Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 3 years ago from North America

May Smith did important work and I hope that the current medical facility has a plaque in her honor and teaches incoming staff about her.

To Start Again profile image

To Start Again 3 years ago

Very interesting subject and loved the pictures

Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

Marcy Goodfleisch 3 years ago from Planet Earth

What an interesting woman - and one who indeed earns respect for her humanitarian leadership. Thanks for sharing this story! Voted up and shared!

viking305 profile image

viking305 3 years ago from Ireland

A very interesting article about babies in need of care. One person can make a difference to so many other lives when they believe in their dreams. Ms Smith was an extraordinary woman

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