First Rehabilitation Hospitals for Veterans Concentrated in NJ

As a way of curbing costs associated with the generous pensions given to veterans of the Civil War, one idea from progressives was to rehabilitate wounded veterans from World War I to return them as productive members of society, in other words, employable. Of the five rehabilitation hospitals established, three were located in NJ: Colonia, for amputees and prosthetics; Cape May for blindness; and Lakewood, for cardio-vascular and other maladies.

On April 25, Nicholas Wood, historian and presenter of Lakewood’s General Hospital #9: Vocational Rehabilitation of Soldiers for the Public Good, discussed the background of and reasons for the establishment of rehabilitation hospitals.

The million dollar, luxury Lakewood Hotel was too large  to be financially sustainable, so the army rented it for $50,000 and opened it up as a hospital on Feb. 14, 1918, with 139 patients who had scarlet fever. The hotel’s social spaces became hospital wards. After their quarantine period was over, vocational rehabilitation (called curative workshops, rather than school because the vets were not interested going back to school), began on April 30, 1918. Rehabilitation therapy was a new discipline, but proved somewhat successful in training the veterans in various occupations, such as linotyping, art, lettering. woodworking, auto repair, chair caning, tool sharpening, toy making and music, making them employable and off the government pension payroll.

Landmarks during the hospital’s brief existence was the training of doctors in July 1918 and over 1000 nurses going from just comfort givers to health care professionals.

On May 28, 1919, patients were transferred to Camp Stewart, VA and General Hospital #9 closed.

Wood, a graduate of the University of Maine and the Coopertown Graduate Program, is a program development specialist at the Ocean County Cultural and Heritage Commission. He is responsible for administering the re-grant programs, database management, assisting with the Teen Arts Festival and other programs, and providing direct technical assistance. Prior to his appointment with the commission, Wood worked for the Jersey Shore Folklife Center at Tuckerton Seaport.