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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 19  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 213-215

A gift in time

Department of Continuing Medical Education, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission30-Apr-2021
Date of Decision02-May-2021
Date of Acceptance06-May-2021
Date of Web Publication05-Jul-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Reena George
Christian Medical College, Vellore - 632 002, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/cmi.cmi_45_21

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How to cite this article:
George R. A gift in time. Curr Med Issues 2021;19:213-5

How to cite this URL:
George R. A gift in time. Curr Med Issues [serial online] 2021 [cited 2022 Dec 9];19:213-5. Available from: https://www.cmijournal.org/text.asp?2021/19/3/213/320656

The Mary Taber Schell Memorial Hospital is the birthplace of the Christian Medical College Vellore. The small 40-bedded hospital was a gift from New York banker Robert Schell, who died 121 years ago on May 8, 1900[1] [Figure 1]a and [Figure 1]b.
Figure 1: (a and b) “The giving of a Missionary Hospital in memory of his wife was one of the last of his numberless charities”

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The intersection of the lives of the donor Robert Schell, and the founder Ida Scudder was, in a sense, a passing of the torch from one generation to another, from one century to the next.[2] And as is often the case with many great endeavors of faith, the main protagonists did not foresee the impact or the scope of the work they had started.

Robert Schell was born in 1815 into an accomplished and affluent German-American family from Rhinebeck, New York.[3] He married Mary S. Taber in 1850.[4] In 1872, Robert Schell was invited to take up the post of the President of the Bank of the Metropolis, New York – a post he held until he was nearly eighty.[5] In his obituary we read:

”He did not seek offices or honors, but they were thrust upon him, because men knew him, and needed him, and trusted him. Long after he had reached the age at which most men have retired from active business, he was still at the head of one of our most respectable banks. Now this does not happen unless a man possesses two things: One is a vigorous mind, and the other is a trustworthy character; unless he is at once alert and sagacious and strictly honest. All this Mr. Schell certainly was… He was an exceptionally judicious counselor in practical matters, and no opinion carried greater weight than his in the various boards of which he was a member. And then he was a man of absolute integrity. He was far too noble and high-minded to stoop to anything that was – I will not say dishonorable, but even questionable. Men knew this, and therefore they respected him and confided in him.”[3]

Schell gave generously to individuals in need, to the church, to hospitals, universities, and societies:

”...to help every honest and wise endeavor to promote the welfare of his fellowmen. He gave not so much out of a large purse as out of a large heart; he gave joyfully as well as from a sense of duty.”[3]

”It would be quite impossible to make suitable mention of his beneficences, since he would allow no trumpet to be sounded before him. Not even his own left hand could have invoiced what was done by his right. The giving of a Missionary Hospital in memory of his wife was one of the last of his numberless charities.”[6]

”Mary Taber's death, in 1896 was like the putting out of the light of his eyes. To the last he gathered the flowers which she loved, and was heard sobbing for her in the middle of the night.”[6]

A few years after the death of Mary Taber Schell, Ida Scudder came to live in New York. Ida, then in her final year of her medical studies, had moved from the Woman's Medical College, Philadelphia to join the first co-educational class at Cornell.[7],[8] Since her parents were missionaries in India, Ida was offered a home in New York by Katherine van Nest who lived at 45, West Fifty-Sixth Street, not far from Robert Schell's residence on 33, West Fifty-Sixth Street.[1],[9],[10] Kathleen van Nest was a member of the Woman's Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America, the organization that funded the work of the church's women missionaries.

The Woman's Board planned for Ida to work with the zenana women in the town of Arni, south of Vellore. Ida completed her medical training, passed her final examinations, and prepared to leave for India in November 1899.[7],[9] Fresh out of medical school, Ida had not made any plans to build a hospital.

But just a few weeks before Ida was to sail, the Woman's Board received a letter from India:

”…last October a letter from our Arcot Mission was read, which stated that, in the opinion of the Mission, the time had come for a Woman's Hospital to be established at Vellore.”[11]

For over three decades, the senior physicians of the Scudder family had practiced medicine in old rented hospital buildings at Ranipet.[12] The suggestion had come Dr. Louisa Hart, the missionary doctor stationed at Ranipet.[13] But funds were scarce. The Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America had already cut jobs and canceled new projects.[11] The Woman's Board had continued funding their ongoing work for women and children, but a major new venture seemed humanly impossible:

”This would mean a large amount in excess of what we had ever raised, and we could not see our way clear for such an advance. At last it was decided to ask for Divine direction, and earnest prayer was offered that, if the work was of the Lord's appointing, it might be made very clear to us.”[11]

Having been asked by the Board to raise funds for Louisa Hart's proposal, Ida took the opportunity to meet Robert Schell and plead the cause of young women dying in childbirth. In honor of the woman whose death he still mourned, 84-year-old Robert Schell gave 29-year-old Ida all that she had asked for and more— a gift for the land, the building, and the equipment for a hospital to be named in memory of Mary Taber Schell.

”Before the month passed a gift of ten thousand dollars was given, and the “Mary Taber Schell Hospital” seemed to come fresh from the Father's hand. This gift is to hold in loving remembrance a dear, gentle Christian woman, whose husband raises this monument as a tribute to her memory.”[11]

It was one of the last philanthropic acts of his life. Six months later, when the Woman's Board met on May 8, 1900 for their 26th Anniversary celebrations, they learned that Robert Schell had died that morning.

”Mr. Robert Schell, the forwarder of every good work, the friend whose generosity has made possible the realization of our dreams of a hospital at Vellore, had gone to his eternal rest. We could have wished that his life might have been spared to see the completion of this crowning benefaction, but there is One whose judgment is higher than ours, and to His will we bow in humble submission, believing that “He doeth all things well.”[11]

Robert Schell died before foundation stone for the Mary Taber Schell Memorial Hospital was laid. [Figure 2] However, it was a gift at the right time to the right person – a gift that became the foundation on which the Christian Medical College was built. Schell Hospital was the first teaching hospital of Vellore's nursing and medical schools.[7],[8] [Figure 3], [Figure 4] In 1932, when the long-awaited medical school buildings were inaugurated, Ida recalled how one gift, and one step, had led to the next:
Figure 2: The laying of the foundation stone for the Mary Taber Schell Memorial Hospital. September 9, 1901

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Figure 3: Pharmacy and Nursing students with Nurse Tutor Delia Houghton and Dr. Ida Scudder at Schell Hospital around 1910

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Figure 4: Medical students have clinics with Dr. Ida Scudder on the verandah of Schell Hospital around 1920

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”As we meet here today to open these buildings and consider the growth of the medical work our thoughts turn back to the birthplace of the Vellore Medical School and we must visualize the Mary Taber Schell Hospital erected in 1901 by a New York Banker in memory of his wife. Those who were in charge there, began to realize more and more, as the exigencies of the work increased, the tremendous need of India's womanhood for medical treatment— a need that could only be met by the training of her young women to go out into the cities and mofussil as doctors.”[14]

Ida Scudder might not have experienced the pressing need to train Indian women doctors if she did not have to run the busy short-staffed Mary Taber Schell Memorial Hospital. But not everyone who recognizes a need has the vision, faith, and perseverance to devote 50 years to finding a lasting solution. Ida was 80 years old when her medical college finally received full university accreditation.[7],[8] Today the 3000-bedded Christian Medical College Vellore stands among the top three medical colleges in India.[15]

Robert Schell, the wise banker who recognized a worthy cause and saw potential in a newly minted “Dr. Ida,” would have rejoiced in the remarkable returns of his investment of love.[10]

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

  References Top

Kelby R. In: Memoriam: Robert Schell. New York: New York Historical Society; 1901.  Back to cited text no. 1
Funkhouser N. Find a Grave Memorial. Available from: https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/167425030/mary-s_-schell. [last accessed 2021 30].  Back to cited text no. 2
Coe EB. Address at the funeral of Robert Schell. In: Memoriam: Robert Schell. New York: New York Historical Society; 1901.  Back to cited text no. 3
King J. In: Memoriam: Robert Schell. New York: New York Historical Society; 1901.  Back to cited text no. 4
Rogers T, Evans E. In: Memoriam: Robert Schell. In New York: New York Historical Society; 1901.  Back to cited text no. 5
Burrel DJ. Obituary. The Christian Intelligencer. William A. Mercein, (New-York [N.Y.]) 1830-920.  Back to cited text no. 6
George R. One Step at a Time: The Birth of the Christian Medical College, Vellore. New Delhi: Roli Books; 2018.  Back to cited text no. 7
Wilson DC. Dr. Ida: The Story of Dr Ida Scudder of Vellore (India). New York: McGraw- Hill; 1959.  Back to cited text no. 8
County Clerk's Office, County of New York. Ida Sophia Scudder Medical Registration. New York: Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University; 1900.  Back to cited text no. 9
George R. A Legacy of Love. Vellore, Tamil Nadu: CMC Newsline Christian Medical College Vellore; 2020.  Back to cited text no. 10
Sturges J. The Twenty Sixth Annual Report of the Woman's Board of Foreign Missions of the Reformed Church in America. 26, Reade street, New York; 1900.  Back to cited text no. 11
Scudder D. A Thousand Years in They Sight: The Story of the Scudder Missionaries in India. New York: Vanatage Press; 1984.  Back to cited text no. 12
Hart L. A History of Woman's Medical Work in the Arcot Mission. New York: Woman's Board of Foreign Missions; 1910.  Back to cited text no. 13
Scudder I. Principal's Statement on the Formal Opening of the Missionary Medical School for Women. Vellore. Vellore: Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, Harvard University; 1932.  Back to cited text no. 14
Ministry of Human Resources, Government of India. National Institutional Ranking Framework; 2020. Available from: https://www.nirfindia.org/2020/MedicalRanking.html. [Last accessed on 2021 Apr 13].  Back to cited text no. 15


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2], [Figure 3], [Figure 4]


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