Slossfield Community Center

Dr. Thomas Boulware

Dr. Thomas Boulware, later nicknamed ‘The Old Stork’, was brought over to Birmingham by Dr. Charles Carraway where he performed many of Alabama’s obstetric firsts including the first pregnancy test administered, the first ‘bikini cut’ Caesarean section, and the first OB/GYN residency approved in the state.

In the realm of the indigent care though, Boulware went the extra the mile, especially for black expectant mothers and their newborn babies. At the time, having a baby was a huge risk if you were black and lived in certain areas of the city.

Slossfield was one of these areas, a district which surrounded the American Cast Iron Pipe Company plant, where thousands lived without plumbing, in shotgun houses built on stilts over undrained dirt streets. Many areas in the district were considered “blighted” by the county health department. Out of every 100 babies born here, 8 to 10 of them would die.

In the 1930s, Boulware joined a public health movement to provide help to the people of Slossfield. With the help of matching money from ACIPCO, black workers had pooled their earnings together to build a community center complex.

Designed by E. B. Van Keuren and constructed sometime between 1936 and 1939 by the Works Progress Administration, the complex consisted of a health and maternity clinic, a recreation building and an education building.

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

The health clinic opened on July 1, 1939 and expanded to 1941 from 28 to 39 rooms. Dr. Boulware worked in the maternity clinic for the next seven years, cutting the stillbirth rate on average from 6% among black mothers countywide to 3.3%, and reducing neonatal deaths from 4.3% among blacks countywide to 2.4%. He also trained black physicians at Slossfield, his protégé being Dr. Robert Stewart who became Alabama’s first “non-white” board certified OB/GYN practitioner.

The Hill-Burton Act was passed in 1946, co-sponsored by Senator Lister Hill of Alabama. The law was designed to provide federal funding to hospitals as long as they adhered to several requirements, mainly that facilities were not allowed to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, or creed and they had to provide a ‘reasonable volume’ of free care each year for those residents in the facility’s area who needed care but could not afford to pay. With hospitals being constructed, like the Holy Family Hospital in Ensley, the Slossfield health clinic closed in 1948.

Waiting for the doctor at Slossfield.
(Photo from UAB Archives)

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

The rest of the Slossfield Community Center closed down in 1954. The recreational center and education building were used on occasion until the late 1970s, where they were then used as storage for the Birmingham City school system.

Due to Dr. Thomas Boulware’s contributions to the community, the complex was places on the National Register of Historic Places in 2008. Currently, the Salvation Army is renovating the former Lewis Elementary School building located across the street for their new headquarters. The community center may be renovated as well sometime in the near future.

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

Slossfield Community Center | Photo © 2014 Bullet, www.autopsyofarchitecture.com

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