French Hospital on Orleans Avenue

The French Hospital operated from 1861 to 1949.

Hey Blake,

During Chef Leah Chase’s memorial service, I heard Norman Francis mention a place I hadn’t heard of before: the French Hospital. Where was it and what years was it in operation?

Dear reader,

The French Hospital, which was located at 1821 Orleans Ave., was established by a local benevolent organization known as La Societe Francaise de Bienfaisance et d’Assistance Mutuelle. The group was established in 1843 to offer health care and other services to the local French community, but it had expanded its offerings to the general public by the time the hospital opened in 1861. It was built at a cost of $50,000.

The hospital was remodeled in 1913 and again in 1926. According to birth records published in The Times-Picayune, accused presidential assassin Lee Harvey Oswald was born there on Oct. 18, 1939. By the time the hospital closed in 1949, it had just 65 beds.

“The closing of the French Hospital … is as the loss of an old friend,” wrote The New Orleans States an October 1949 editorial. “In its 105 years, the hospital has served through war and epidemic, ministering not only to members of the French society but also to French immigrants, members of the French navy and merchant marine and the public.”

In 1951, the property was purchased by the Knights of Peter Claver, the largest historically African-American Catholic lay organization in the U.S. The group, which at the time had 3,000 members in New Orleans, demolished the old hospital to build its national headquarters at the site. Archbishop Francis Rummel helped dedicate the building in an Aug. 1951 ceremony. At the time, J. Roland Prejean served as supreme knight and lawyer and civil rights leader A.P. Tureaud served as national secretary. The Knights of Peter Claver remained headquartered there until 1974. That building was demolished in 1986, after a second building opened in 1976. The second building still is in operation at 1825 Orleans Ave.