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The Helen Newberry Nurses Home was built in 1898 to provide housing for student nurses attending the Grace Hospital Training School for Nurses in Detroit, Michigan at a time when the concept of trained nurses was just emerging internationally. The building is significant for its association with an early nursing school in Detroit and as the last building left to represent the early generation of hospital and related buildings in the Medical Center area that began to develop in the late nineteenth century. The Helen Newberry Nurses Home is also notable in the area of architecture. Built appropriately in a domestic style to house a domestic use, the Home is a fine example of the Jacobean Revival. The prominent architect Elijah E. Myers, especially known for his work on government buildings, designed the Home.

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The funds to construct the Nurses Home were donated by Helen H. Newberry, the widow of John S. Newberry, one of Detroit’s most significant businessmen and philanthropists of the late nineteenth century. Born Helen P. Handy in 1835 in Cleveland, Ohio, she moved to Detroit in 1859 when she married John S. Newberry. Together they had three children: Truman H., John S., and Helen H. Newberry. Many of the buildings erected in Helen Newberry’s name were donated by one or more of her children after she died. This includes the Helen H. Newberry Memorial Home and the Helen Newberry Dormitory in Ann Arbor. 

Helen Newberry’s obituary in 1912 indicates that the extent of her philanthropic undertakings is unknown due to many anonymous gifts. According to a biographical sketch in the Detroit Free Press, Helen Newberry’s main endeavor was higher education for young women. She established large scholarships for young people from the Detroit area to attend prestigious universities all over the country. Helen Newberry also founded and presided over the Thompson Home for Old Ladies in Detroit. 

John Stoughton Newberry’s professional career and commitment to public service exemplifies the dual role played by many of Detroit’s early industrialists. He believed that the development of his city and his own business successes were directly linked. Born November 18, 1826, in Waterville, New York, Newberry was graduated from the University of Michigan in 1845. He worked for two years as a civil engineer on the Michigan Central Railroad. He left this position to study law and was admitted to the bar in 1853. Nine years later, in 1862, he was appointed Provost Marshal for Michigan by President Lincoln and served that position for two years. 

Newberry soon brought in his close friend, James McMillan, as a major investor in the Michigan Car Company firm that was founded by Newberry in 1862-1863. In 1864 Newberry and McMillan reorganized the railroad car firm in an effort to widen the business’s operation. Newberry and McMillan also collaborated on philanthropic endeavors. In 1886, James McMillan committed to sponsoring the construction of Grace Hospital, named after his late daughter, with a $100,000 gift. Soon after, John S. Newberry offered a gift of $50,000 as an endowment for operating costs. Additional donors to the hospital consisted largely of other prominent businessmen. The hospital was built directly across John R. Street from the future site of the Newberry Nurses Home. 

John S. Newberry died in 1887, before the Grace Hospital was complete. His widow, Helen H. Newberry, played an integral part in the hospital’s financing and governance for the next twenty years. She served as the first president of Grace Hospital’s Board of Lady Managers, established in 1888 to act with the Board of Trustees in administering the hospital. A unique body for its time, the Board of Lady Managers audited all hospital accounts, supervised the purchase of supplies, sponsored social functions, assisted in fundraising, inspected all parts of the hospital at least once a week and reported their findings and recommendations to the Board of Trustees monthly. She was also instrumental in the development of the Grace Hospital Training School for Nurses, founded in 1889. In 1898, she donated the funds for the construction of the Helen Newberry Nurses Home.  

Helen Newberry Nurses Home, National Register of Historic Places. Accessed December 31st 2020.

Helen Newberry Nurses Home, National Register of Historic Places. Accessed January 22nd 2021.