The History of Hill Branch
We think of our nation as founded by men of will and determination. When it comes to healthcare for children in the East Bay, we can thank strong-willed mothers and sisters who launched Children's Hospital and then sustained it with relentless fundraising and volunteer hours.
In 1912, the Baby Hospital of Alameda County – now known as UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland – was opened in the former home of the McElrath family on the border of Oakland and Berkeley. The brainchild of Bertha Wright, a visiting nurse in Alameda County, the Baby Hospital grew from a good idea to an institution almost overnight, thanks in large part to broad support from women of the East Bay who sponsored the project.
Two years later, the Branches were formed. Modeled on the “Twigs” of community support for a New York hospital, the Branches organized volunteers who put together a variety of fundraising and philanthropic efforts – from country fairs to asking for beds and equipment for the new hospital. The all-female corps of volunteers hailed from across the East Bay, united by their support for a fledgling yet important resource.
While several of the branches formed in 1914 have ceased to exist, Hill Branch, with membership from throughout the East Bay, has been in continuous operation and is looking forward, embracing new ways of reaching the community of supporters. Always been about the kids: The women who formed the early Hill Branch came from across the East Bay, but shared a sense of social responsibility and, as women, cared for babies and young children. Their original organizing documents stress that the Baby Hospital of Alameda County was to care for “sick babies without regard to creed, nationality, or race.” But, running a hospital is an expensive proposition, and in its first year, the hospital served more than 6000 patients – and ran a deficit of $1,200 per month. The need was great, but so were the costs.
The branches’ fundraising enterprises started with a fair with a country store theme. Each branch offered items for sale, such as jams, aprons, or dolls. The early Hill Branch members sold “boudoir goods” at their table – hot water bottle covers and nightcaps. Raising money was not enough; the branches established a set of rules for members so that money would not be spent on branch operations needlessly. Somehow, the deficit was made up, and the Baby Hospital stayed open.
In 1957, Hill Branch again followed an East Coast model and started the Winter Ball, a black-tie debutante ball that raises money for the hospital through ticket sales and participant fees. During the bleak winter months, while most high school seniors are waiting to hear from colleges, Hill Branch asks young women and their families to put aside that anxious feeling for a bit, to focus on the coming December and the opportunity to celebrate the launch of these young adults while raising money for Children’s Hospital.