Historical Bits & Pieces: Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center Makes 30 Years


Dr. Roy M. Schneider, Commissioner of Health and our beloved Miss Myrah Keating-Smith at the Clinic dedication ceremony 30 years ago. Notice who’s holding on to the chair. Photo Courtesy of Andromeada Childs

On Thursday, May 16, Myrah Keating Smith Community Health Center on St. John will celebrate 30 years!

This is a real milestone for St. John because of the clinic’s professionalism and medical service to all St. John residents. More so, MKSCHC is now affectionately called “The Clinic.”

Health care here had always been a major concern on the island. Historically cholera and typhoid fever epidemics raged in the 1800s. Dr. Hans Hornbeck spent seven years as District Physician of St. John (1825 – 1832). He was then appointed as the King’s Physician for St. Thomas.

Intermittent medical services were offered after that until the government instituted the island Administrator-Physician position which was adopted in 1909. Unfortunately, the official government involvement didn’t solve all the problems.

A long-time Cruz Bay resident, Benjamin T. Rhoades, wrote a letter to his daughter on October 20, 1935 stating “but the Commissioner (Dr. Arthur I Edison) here made some kind of break nearly causing a riot so has got himself disliked by some of the natives. The people in Cruz Bay held a party and dance the other night; of course they made considerable noise and they kept such affairs up until daybreak. The Commissioner sat up with this gun handy. I believe your brother lives in Maywood; the Commissioner and wife came from there. Wonder if he (your brother) is acquainted with him. A.I. Edison, M.D. also kept a drugstore. Don’t think if there should be an uprising, we would be disturbed.”

Interesting times but not for doctoring. Dr. Edison did establish a seven bed emergency room. Also, the old Customs House became a maternity clinic.

Shortly arrived on the medical scene was Miss Myrah Keating-Smith. She was professionally trained at Tuskegee Institute and the John Albion Andrew Memorial Hospital, School of Nursing in the United States and after a two year orientation with Dr. Knud-Hansen of St. Thomas, began her long and successful medical career on St. John.

Nurse Myrah successfully delivered more than 500 children in her midwifery career. She was well-received island-wide by everyone who appreciated her medical skills and the peace and solace that she displayed. They often commented, “If Miss Myrah is here all will be well.”

She was humble and knew to “give God the praise and glory.” Nurse Myrah and her twin sister, Meada, worked in tandem with God’s help to maintain the health of all St. Johnians. Miss Myrah would tend their ills while Miss Meada would make sure that they had nourishing food and a healthy lifestyle.

Nineteen years ago Miss Myrah went to her just reward and her monument on the hill continues to grow in the level and quality of medical services offered; a fitting memorial for a true St. John medical pioneer.