by Paul R. Spitzzeri
There was a post on this topic nearly two years ago, though there have been more instances demonstrating the ways historic objects from the museum’s collection have assisted people looking into their family history.
This evening’s post is a particularly interesting example, especially it involves someone who did not know their actual family until very recently. A local woman contacted the Homestead requesting a copy of a press photograph from July 1925 of Faith Maternity Hospital, located in the Silver Lake neighborhood of Los Angeles.
When I contacted her, she told me that she was putting together what she could of the story of a friend who was born during the Second World War at the facility, renamed about a year after its opening the Los Angeles Lying In Hospital. Moreover, this friend was adopted and knew nothing about her birth parents until the advent of DNA testing, which led to the identification of the biological parents.
So, the researcher is putting together a binder of the history of her friend so that it can be passed down to her family. Part of that story is more common than we might think and shows what often happens with unintended consequences. The woman’s mother was a widow in her mid-30s and living in San Diego with two teenagers when she met a man serving in the United States Navy, which has had a huge presence in that area for many years. The mother then traveled to Los Angeles and gave birth to her daughter at the Lying In facility, putting her up for adoption.
The researcher mentioned in an email that she’d been working on her friend’s story for decades, but it was the DNA part that made the story come together. As she expressed it, “just to know one’s history and ethnicity when you’re adopted is huge.” Obviously, the question of someone’s identity is complicated by situations like adoption and, as the researcher added, there are “so many unanswered questions,” though relatives through the biological parents, who have long since passed away, have been located.
Having access to the photo provides a strong visual element of that search for identity and the Homestead is happy to be able to play a small part in the process by providing a copy of the photo of the maternity hospital.
As to the facility, the photo was taken of the Mission Revival structure as it was being readied for opening in July 1925. It would appear that the original name of Faith Maternity Hospital was reflective of a religious orientation for the institution, which was non-sectarian. A little searching, however, revealed that it was actually named for the 5-year old daughter of the obstetrical nurse, Catherine Eisoff, who founded the hospital. This tidbit was played up a bit in newspaper accounts that were published in other parts of the country in the summer of 1925.
The founder was born Catherine Mary Mackay in July 1887 in Glasgow, Scotland. She migrated to the United States in either 1894 or 1901 (different census listings reflect these dates), probably with her mother and a stepfather named Anderson because she had that surname when, at 18 at the end of 1904 (when she appears to have been naturalized), she married William Hazelhurst in Chicago. By the end of the first decade of the 20th century, the couple lived in Alhambra with a young son and Catherine’s sister. A daughter was born about 1913, but whether William Hazelhurst died or there was a divorce, Catherine remarried in 1916.
Her second husband, Michael, was a native of Chernigov, Ukraine who migrated to the U.S. in 1906 and was in Los Angeles by 1913. He was previously married and had three children and Michael and Catherine had two daughters, one being the namesake of the hospital, and an adopted daughter, perhaps born at the facility.
Also known as Michael Wilson, Eisoff was a musician who worked in the house orchestra at Clune’s Auditorium next to Pershing Square. He then was manager of the orchestra at the Metropolitan Theater in Los Angeles, opened by the famed impresario Sid Grauman in January 1923 with the distinction of being the largest in Los Angeles seating over 3,500. In fact, when Catherine Eisoff decided to open the Faith Maternity Hospital, Grauman donated the entertainment for the opening ceremonies.
As noted earlier, the hospital’s name was soon changed and it operated for nearly two decades. In the 1930 census, there was a page just for the Lying In Hospital because it was an institution and these were handled as separate entities during enumeration. The hospital continued operation until at least 1943 when the subject of the family history for which the photo was requested was born. By then, Michael Eisoff was dead and Catherine married Arthur Greenhill, though she died shortly afterward at the end of 1947 at age 60.
There are many interesting personal connections that come from historic artifacts and this post is just one of an untold number that can be discerned from objects in the Homestead’s collection. Check back from time-to-time for more in this series.