Children’s Mercy, Thanks to These Two Sisters

Alice Berry Graham and Katharine Berry Richardson to join Starr Women’s Hall of Fame

In any era, it would be quite an accomplishment to start a children’s hospital. But the story of sisters Alice Berry Graham and Katharine Berry Richardson, who were health care professionals in the 19th century, is even more extraordinary because of the time.

In 1897, Graham, a dentist, and Richardson, a surgeon, founded Children’s Mercy to help poor and sick children.

“The proof of their leadership and well-meaning is standing tall on Hospital Hill and all around Kansas City and the region, Children’s Mercy is now a crown jewel for Kansas City and recognized as one of the best children’s hospitals in the country,” wrote Thomas McCormally, director of archives at Children’s Mercy.

In recognition of the sisters’ lifetime achievements and contributions, they are two of nine exceptional women from the metropolitan Kansas City area included in the second class of honorees to be recognized in the new Starr Women’s Hall of FameStories of other inductees can be found online.

The new class will be inducted at a luncheon celebration at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, March 22 in Swinney Recreation Center on the UMKC campus. Actress and humanitarian Ashley Judd will be the keynote speaker. Information and tickets are available here.

The hall was created to honor women who have made Kansas City a better place, said Debby Ballard, co-chair of the hall of fame planning committee, and the nine women in the hall class of 2017 have clearly done so.

Once Graham and Richardson had their degrees, the sisters set sights on helping poor and sick children in Kansas City. It started with a crippled and abandoned girl that the sisters nursed back to health in a rented bed in a maternity hospital. The hospitals in the city did not allow female physicians on staff so they took it upon themselves to begin their own.

“They never accepted a salary for work at Children’s Mercy,” wrote Jane Knapp, associate chair of pediatrics at Children’s Mercy and professor at UMKC School of Medicine. “They supported themselves by seeing paying patients for an hour or two a day, once their other work was done.”

In 1901, the sisters established a training school for nurses. They fully appreciated and valued the contributions of nurses long before the importance of skilled nursing was recognized by others in the medical profession.

Graham was not only a dentist, but she also was a master fund raiser and community organizer, helping with hundreds of small groups and clubs that contributed to Children’s Mercy’s success. Richardson was an expert surgeon and convinced other doctors, including men, to donate their time to care for sick children. She also was an innovator and pursued alternative therapies including light, sun, water and play as early as the 1920s. She continued to push for research facilities until her death in 1933.

The Starr Women’s Hall of Fame is dedicated to recognizing extraordinary Kansas City women and preserving the history of their accomplishments. These women are social reformers, volunteers, philanthropists, civic leaders, activists and educators. They are neighborhood leaders and grassroots organizers, from yesterday and today, both famous and unsung. They are movers and shakers whose tireless commitment to community has made Kansas City a better place to live. The hall of fame is a repository for their legacies. By sharing their stories, the hall of fame encourages and inspires women everywhere.

A permanent display honoring Starr Women’s Hall of Fame members is now open to the public on the third floor of the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. The display currently includes memorabilia and information about the contributions of the inaugural class of inductees. The library is at 800 E. 51st St., Kansas City, Missouri.

The hall of fame is named in honor of Martha Jane Phillips Starr, a legendary activist and philanthropist who blazed a trail for family issues and women’s rights. The hall of fame is made possible through the Starr Education Committee, Martha Jane Starr’s family and the Starr Field of Interest Fund, which was established upon her death through the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation. The idea for the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame stemmed from Starr Education Committee members.

The civic organizations that advocate on behalf of women and family issues and have signed on in support of the Starr Women’s Hall of Fame include: American Association of University Women; American Business Women’s Association; Central Exchange; CBIZ Women’s Advantage; Girl Scouts of NE Kansas and NW Missouri; Greater Kansas City Chamber’s Executive Women’s Leadership Council; Greater Kansas City Women’s Political Caucus; Jackson County Missouri Chapter of the Links, Inc.; Junior League of Kansas City, Missouri; KC Metro Latinas; Kansas City Athenaeum; Kansas City Young Matrons; National Association of Collegiate Women Athletics Administrators; OneKC for Women; SkillBuilders Fund; Soroptimist International of Kansas City; Soroptimist Kansas City Foundation; UMKC; UMKC Women’s Center; UMKC Women’s Council; UMKC Women of Color Leadership Conference; WIN for KC; win|win; Women’s Foundation; Women’s Public Service Network; Zonta International District 7; and Zonta Club of KC II.



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