The Village Improvement Association of Doylestown (VIA), which founded and governs Doylestown Hospital, marks 120 years of service to the community. The VIA was the first Women’s Club established in Bucks County.
It started with an effort to mitigate the dusty Bucks County roads 120 years ago. A group of forward-thinking women joined together to tackle problems affecting the health and appearance of their growing town. Doylestown was the county seat and homes, shops and services were flourishing along with the agriculture. These women were bold enough to take matters into their own hands, ushering in progress by addressing the needs of the community.
Fourteen women gathered on April 26, 1895 to form the Village Improvement Association. Dusty, unpaved roads were causing health problems, and these women arranged for sprinklers to keep the dust down in the summer. Mr. Buckman ran the sprinkler for 35 cents an hour. These details are meticulously recounted in Anne Biggs’ 1998 book, Through their Eyes: A Story of Doylestown Hospital.
The mission of the group was simple – "to promote the health and beauty of the town," so it was written in the minutes of their charter meeting. Early on, the VIA recognized the need for public health initiatives and community healthcare services, and began with the employment of a Visiting Nurse in 1916. The 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic galvanized the need for formalized community based health care.
The VIA, together with local medical professionals and the Doylestown community, opened the Doylestown Emergency Hospital at Pine Street and Oakland Avenue in the heart of the borough in 1923. The hospital was officially dedicated on October 9, 1923. VIA members took care of the laundry and cooking at the new hospital.
Today’s Doylestown Hospital, founded and governed by the VIA, is the flagship of the Doylestown Health system. VIA members currently serve on hospital boards and organize the largest annual fundraiser for the hospital, the Bucks County Designer House & Gardens.
Throughout its history, the VIA continues to be forward looking, while maintaining the original goals of the Association, which are to promote "every proper means of improving and beautifying Bucks County…improving the health and welfare of the residents,” and "supporting a community hospital and other health care facilities for the benefit of all persons." Each year members rededicate themselves to these commitments made in 1895. The VIA continues to grow in size and in scope of activities with more than 350 members.
"It is a privilege to stand as President of the Village Improvement Association of Doylestown as we celebrate the 120th anniversary of this organization," said Linda McIlhinney, VIA president. "We look back at the positive changes the ladies have brought over the years to central Bucks County. We actively seek to address current and future needs to improve the health and beauty of our wonderful, vital community. We are driven by our mission to support not only Doylestown Hospital, but also other means to impact the lives of our community through welfare and scholarship support, to name a few."
The organization’s efforts go beyond health services in supporting the local community. The VIA offers one-time grants to community efforts; educational scholarships for outstanding high school seniors pursuing health-related careers and women seeking professional careers; and through its Welfare Fund, the VIA provides a variety of support for those in our community with emergency needs. An active Veterans Committee supports local military and veterans with funds for everything from transportation to supplies for those serving overseas.
At a special meeting of the VIA Tuesday at the James-Lorah Memorial Home in Doylestown, special guests recalled the legacy of the original founders and thanked current members for their dedication.
"You have left your handprint throughout our community,” said State Representative Marguerite Quinn. "You and those who have come before you. When I talk to people about our town and our hospital, I brag about what is done here.”
Doylestown Mayor Ron Strouse told the group of women about the receipt he found for his older sister’s birth at Doylestown Hospital’s second location on Belmont Avenue. The bill totaled $34. "You have been building our community since your organization began. You deserve the thanks today.”
VIA member Kimberly Cambra gave the group an advance look at a documentary she is producing about the history of the organization and their impact in the Central Bucks community.
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