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Women’s History Month: The mothers of Mary Bridge

Posted on Mar. 10, 2017 ( comments)
TOA members at Mary Bridge groundbreaking 1954
Members of the Tacoma Orthopedic Association, now the Mary Bridge Brigade, at the Mary Bridge Children's Hospital groundbreaking in 1954.

It’s meaningful, perhaps divine that the anniversary of the founding of Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital occurs in March — also Women’s History Month.

Mary Bridge Children’s was built by women, after all.

Do you know the history of Mary Bridge Children’s? Keep reading for some real girl power inspiration.

From 15 women with station wagons to Ed Sullivan (yes, the Ed Sullivan)

A century ago, 15 women began driving children with orthopedic needs from Tacoma to Seattle for medical treatment because this care was not available in Pierce County.

In 1921, these women formed the Tacoma Orthopedic Association (TOA) and set an ambitious goal: building a children’s hospital in Tacoma. From the very beginning, their mission was to ensure that all children in their community had access to the care they needed, regardless of their family’s ability to pay.

The TOA’s first big victory came when they received funding from an estate gift from Albert Bridge, a local physician who left money in his will for a children’s clinic to be named after his mother, Mary.

The TOA secured the remaining funding they needed to build a children’s hospital through grassroots fundraising efforts: collecting and selling tin, hosting baked goods and flower sales, and penny drives. By 1954, they finally had enough funding to make their dream of a children’s hospital in Tacoma a reality and plans for a 40-bed children’s hospital were announced.

Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital broke ground on 1954. At the hospital’s cornerstone ceremony in March 1955, famous TV host Ed Sullivan recognized the work of the TOA, saying, "This will always be my memory of Tacoma, one of human values and sacrifice." 

By then, the group of 15 women had grown to more than 1,700 members.

Unstoppable builders

Imagine being a member of the TOA in 1955. You’ve just worked tirelessly for more than two decades to help build a children’s hospital. Now what? Take a breather?

No. You keep building.

The opening of Mary Bridge might very well have been the TOA’s crowning achievement, but thankfully, it was only the beginning of a tradition of setting and achieving ambitious goals aimed at improving children’s health.

Today, the TOA is known as the Mary Bridge Brigade— a change that reflects the expanded geographical reach of Mary Bridge Children’s. Members of the Mary Bridge Brigade have had a hand in just about every major milestone that Mary Bridge has reached since 1955.

Since 1921, the TOA/Mary Bridge Brigade has donated more than $35 million and countless volunteer hours. The group remains the largest donor to Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital.

Thoroughly modern Mary Bridge Brigade

Nearly 100 years after they were founded, the Mary Bridge Brigade is still going strong. Its membership includes community leaders, Mary Bridge staff, grateful Mary Bridge families and former patients. Both women and men make up the Brigade.

The organization continues community fundraising and outreach through projects such as holiday wreath sales, a successful thrift shop in Gig Harbor, the immensely popular Festival of Trees event (established by the Mary Bridge Brigade 31 years ago) and dozens of other fundraising projects and events.

As Mary Bridge Children’s continues growing and adapting to the health care needs of children, support from the community remains as important as ever. That’s why members of the Mary Bridge Brigade are still building. And they are using Dr. Albert Bridge as inspiration.

Wills and estate plans reveal a lot about a person and what they value most: spouses, children, friends, charitable causes. Dr. Albert Bridge’s estate plans, for instance, revealed that he cared deeply for his mother and for children’s health. His estate gift created such a meaningful, lasting legacy to both.

In that same spirit, through the Mary Bridge Legacy Campaign, members of the Mary Bridge Brigade are creating a $10 million Mary Bridge Legacy Fund through estate gifts supporting patient care at Mary Bridge Children’s.

“The need for support of children’s health has never been more critical,” says Jenny Pasco Smith, longtime Mary Bridge Brigade member and Chair of the Mary Bridge Legacy Campaign. “As Mary Bridge Brigade members, we have a tremendous responsibility to help shape the future of health care for children in our community.”

A $10 million permanent fund would provide at least $400,000 every year to support patient care and expanded access to services for children and families provided by Mary Bridge Children’s. The Mary Bridge Legacy Fund will ensure that all sick and injured children receive care.

Our community is so grateful for these visionary builders.

Join the Mary Bridge Brigade

Anyone can become a member of the Mary Bridge Brigade. Find out more at

Interested in learning more about the Mary Bridge Legacy Campaign? Contact Jennifer Schlatter at the Mary Bridge Children’s Foundation at [email protected] or 253-403-1369.
Posted in: Foundations | History | News | Tacoma

About The Author

Laura McDonald Laura McDonald

Laura McDonald is manager of grants and strategic communication for the Foundations of MultiCare. She writes stories that celebrate the impact of philanthropic giving. You can reach her at [email protected]

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