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The City Journals

One woman saved hundreds of lives and impacted Murray’s history

Mar 15, 2021 11:44AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Amanda Bagley, founder of the Cottonwood Maternity Hospital. (Photo courtesy of Murray Museum)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

Amanda Bagley’s name isn’t featured prominently on any street signs or buildings in Murray. Yet her effort to improve the health of women and children in Murray, by creating the forerunner to what would become Cottonwood Hospital, and later Intermountain Medical Center, stands as one of the most impactful events in the city’s history.

In the early part of the 20th century, Utah’s neonatal death rates were exceptionally high by today’s standards (49 per 1,000 births in 1920). Nationally, women lacked access to adequate maternity care. Congress passed the Sheppard-Towner Act to provide financial aid for states to create health centers and prenatal clinics.

Amy Bowen Lyman, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Relief Society presidency, saw this as an opportunity to establish maternity centers in struggling Utah communities. 

According to archivist Loretta Hefner, “Even though the Sheppard-Towner Act was in the midst of a critical debate in Congress, in which conservative groups suggested that it was part of a Communist Bolshevik plot to gain control over the children of the country, the Relief Society joined the nation’s progressive leaders…to reduce what they believed to be the extraordinarily high infant and maternity morbidity and mortality rates in the United States.”

In 1914, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints created the Cottonwood Stake, a regional collection of congregations that included Murray, Cottonwood Heights, Millcreek and Taylorsville wards. Amanda Bagley was called as the first stake Relief Society president, where she led the women’s organizations within the stake. 

After seeing two women die during their pregnancies, from conditions that could have been prevented had they received proper care, Bagley recorded in her history that something had to be done.

“It was sad to see those children left motherless,” Bagley said. “I longed to do something for mothers. Knowing conditions and dangers in the home, I felt that the greatest need was to protect motherhood with hospital care.”

In 1924, Bagley approached Church leaders for financial support to purchase the Neil McMillan home on 400 East and 5600 South in Murray. Bagley described the large brick home as a “cool, quiet, restful location.” Upon given approval, the women of the Cottonwood Stake Relief Society rallied to provide funds, furnishings and supplies for the new hospital.

The need for such a facility was clear, as three months before the 10-bed facility was even officially opened and dedicated, the center hosted its first birth. Leadership for the new hospital was not handed over to a corporation but managed by the women of the Cottonwood Stake Relief Society.

In her book, “Social and Moral Reform,” Nancy Cott noted the growth of the hospital. “Even though most of the other facilities were much smaller in size and did not grow into major medical complexes like the Cottonwood Maternity Hospital, the fact that some place was set aside for examinations, prenatal care, delivery and physicians had access to…sterile equipment had a significant impact on the maternity and infancy mortality and morbidity rates.”

Demands for services at the hospital increased, so the building was enlarged to include new rooms with updated resources. Until 1963, the Cottonwood Stake Relief Society ran the hospital. The Church opened Cottonwood Hospital (currently The Orthopedic Specialty Hospital) adjacent to it and closed down the maternity home. 

Bagley passed away in 1945, but the fruits of her efforts have been well documented. On the hospital’s 20th birthday, it claimed “that of 7,837 births, only two mothers had died from causes related to childbirth.”

At Bagley’s funeral, Dr. Adam Bennion spoke on behalf of the staff of the hospital she helped found: “One of the finest tributes paid her was by a nurse in the hospital. As this nurse said as this good woman left the institution, ‘There is gone from this hospital one of the grandest women that was ever been here.’ We might gather together and say in one breath as this woman leaves mortality, ‘There has gone from the earth one of the grandest women who has ever lived here.’”