The First Spokane Abortion Hospital



Rockwood Clinic Hospital - 1928

New Woman's Hospital Does Abortions

Rockwood Hospital Started With A Bitter Legal Fight.

The crowded courtroom suddenly quieted.   Dr Bill Robinson had just entered.

Young Dr Robinson was suing fifteen prominent doctors, all on the Sacred Heart Hospital staff.    They were denying him use of the hospital facilities.  It is a snowy Decembr 3rd in 1929 and the whole town has been waiting for this sensational trial.

Doctor Bill Robinson

This is a grudge match.  Dr Bill Robinson is suing the 15 doctors for $60,000 and has named Sacred Heart Hospital as an additional defendant.

A Little Background

His father is Dr Charles D Robinson, a very well-liked family doctor.  Dr Charles bought a new house built in 1900 at 303 E 17th, located in a very quiet south hill neighborhood. 

Doctor Charles Robinson

For the next 17 years he raised two sons, both getting high school degrees from South High.  Both sons, Gilbert and Bill, went on to study medicine.  Upon graduation, Gilbert followed his father in a very successful father-son practice. 

Bill, however, enrolled in Rush Memorial Hospital Medical School in Chicago and graduated in 1923.  He went on to practice medicine in a residency at the Chicago Presbyterian Hospital.  After two years he moved over to Cook County Hospital.  At this hospital he saw many distressed, povertous patients.  They were low income and had the need of this hospital.  Many required very special care. 

A Rocky Start in Spokane

When Bill came back to Spokane in November, 1926, he joined Dr Robert Stewart in a practice.   Dr Stewart had just graduated from the University of Oregon in 1923.  Then he practiced for the next two years at Deaconess Hospital in Spokane.  In 1925 Dr Robert spent a year back in New York doing social medicine for the needy.  

Doctor Robert Stewart

Both doctors saw first hand the poverty and needs in low-income areas of large eastern cities.

Dr Robinson and Dr Stewart in their new practice saw that some of their patients required procedures not done at the Sacred Heart Catholic Hospital.   Dr Bill Robinson started doing abortions and was promptly fired from Sacred Heart and had his hospital privileges rescinded.    

Many things special to women were barred in Spokane in 1926.    The older doctors were opposed to certain women’s medical treatments like abortion, hysterectomy, and D&C procedures.    Bill had received a much more liberal education.  After a year back in his hometown he felt like Spokane was backwards.

Rockwood Clinic Hospital Is Planned

In 1927 he had finally had enough. 

Bill approached a friend, well-known contractor John Anderson.  Anderson had built some of the most elegant houses in Spokane, including many on Rockwood Drive and Overbluff Road on the South Hill. 

Robinson wanted to build a Woman’s Hospital, totally dedicated to the treatment of female medical needs.   Anderson shared his view.   Anderson owned a lot at 12 E 9th Avenue.   His lot was just east and right next door to the Catholic Sacred Heart Hospital. 

Rockwood clinic hospital at 12 East 9th Avenue - front view

The design was the Spanish Mission style, complete with tile roofs.  The hospital copied the design used in the new house architect Archibald Rigg had recently built on Overbluff Road, near Rockwood Drive.   The building's beauty made the clinic a standout in the community.

On May 14th, 1928, Anderson applied for and was granted a city rezoning of his lot.  He was allowed to build a new hospital. 

rockwood clinic hospital at 12 East 9th Avenue - rear view

That was the first time anyone knew trouble was coming.    John Anderson put up $50,000 of his own money to build the Rockwood Clinic.    Dr Robert Stewart joined Bill Robinson and together they started the Rockwood Clinic. 

Ground was broken in August, 1929.  Newspaper stories and pictures were printed in the newspaper on August 18th, 1929.  The whole town was amazed at the building of a new Woman's Hospital. 

The building was 3 stories high and had stucco covering the exterior.  The architect was Noel Thompson, a very well-known designer who had drawn up the earlier plans for Deaconess Hospital.  The new Rockwood Clinic Hospital would do complete examinations and offer complete medical and surgical services to women.  

The building was spacious and comfy.  There was a first-floor reception room, consultation offices, and 12 surgical suites.  The 2nd floor held a modern maternity ward run by Dr Stewart.  The Robinson family and 6 nurses-in-training planned to live on the third floor.

An Eternal Building and an Eternal Fight

The new Rockwood Hospital Building was located at 12 East 9th Avenue, right next to Sacred Heart Hospital.   This building was built to last for a century, and it did just that and more. 

Whether by plan or by coincidence, the new Rockwood Clinic started a real division in the medical community.     While this particular hospital wasn’t really much different from local hospitals, the abortions surgeries were very controversial.     Sides were taken.   The Sacred Heart doctors promptly barred the younger Doctor Robinson from admitting patients to Sacred Heart Hospital.    He was denied the right to a hearing.

The Trail

On June 8, 1930 in the depths of the Great Depression, Dr Robinson sued head doctor Dr John Downes and 16 other doctors along with Sacred Heart Hospital. 

The trial started off facing a barrage of surgical questions.  Crowds jammed the courtroom, and they heard all the latest methods of treatment.  Experts for both sides were called.  Finally after a week, the judge dismissed 8 doctors from the suit as not really involved.   The judge kept the 9 ringleader doctors in the suit. 

The defense attorney asked:

"Is the new Woman's Hospital a radical, unique idea, Dr Robinson?"

Robinson answered:

"Larger cities already have women’s hospitals."

"Mayo Clinic has opened a woman’s hospital, as has the Coffey Clinic in Portland."   "Virginia Mason in Seattle also offers these services."

Now the experts started explaining positions for both sides. 

The testimony was bitterly opposed by both sides. 

"Are you running at a profit" asked the defense attorney, "or are you simply making it a problem for Spokane".

Robinson answered:  The hospital has been full since we opened and there is a terrific demand for what we offer."  We are running at a profit".

There were a few humorous moments during the trial. 

Like on December 14th, when a surgeon testifying:

"What do you do when you see a pregnant woman wanting to terminate her pregnancy?"

"Well we just send them off to Virginia Mason Hospital in Seattle."

His answer made everyone laugh. 

As the trial advanced, there were accusations from the defendants. 

"Aren't you inviting becoming an irritant, locating right next door to Sacred Heart Hospital?

His answer was:  "The property is not mine."   "It was offered by John Anderson for a lot to build the hospital."   "The location is coincidental, but it is central in town and near the medical community."

After two more days, the experts had run out of questions. 

On December 19th, 1930, the jury was given the case.  It took them a week of discussion.  There were some clarifying events needing explanation during that week.   They broke for Christmas and came back shortly thereafter.  .

On New Year's day, 1930 - the jury was still undecided and deadlocked. 

On January 4th, 1931, after 23 days of trial, the jury decided.  The delay had been about how much to compensate Dr Robinson.  They awarded $30,000 to Dr Robinson.   In addition, Dr Downes and his associates (the 8 remaining defendants) were ordered to personally pay Dr. Robinson $19,000 more. 

The drama did not end....

The next week Dr Robinson complained that a juror had talked and the delay was because they had been swayed.  That juror denied the claim.  The claim didn’t change anything, but a week later that juror sued Dr Robinson.  The case never went anywhere and was eventually dropped.

The bitterness of all parties involved in the suit dragged on until May 31, 1931.  Sacred Heart and the doctors appealed the decision.

A new trial was ordered.  The publicity was terrible for Sacred Heart and the 8 doctors. 

Before the appeal trial could go ahead, in early summer the suit was settled for $60,000.   

There were still some that did not agree and a small group of doctors wanted to keep fighting.

Once again, the case was appealed, but the higher court refused to hear the appeal.



December 14,  1924


Dr Gilbert Robinson's mother dies

June 28, 1925


Dr CD Robinson, son Gil joins his family practice

January 1, 1925


Mrs W Robinson/children/picture, Dr WW Robinson

November 29, 1925


Dr WW Robinson returns to Spokane

November 29, 1925


Dr WW Robinson has graduated University of Chicago

May 14, 1929


12 E 9th zoned commercial for Rockwood Clinic

August 4, 1929


Dr WW Robinsopn erects Rockwood Clinic bldg/$50,000

August 8, 1929


John Anderson funds, builds Rockwood Clinic/$50,000

August 17, 1929


Rockwood Clinic drawing of new women's hospital

June 18, 1930


Dr WW Robinson sues for $60,000, Rockwood Clinic

December 4, 1930


sensation in Dr WW Robinson Rockwood Clinic trial

December 5, 1930


alleged Dr WW Robinson fired after hasty probe

December 6, 193


alleged Dr WW Robinson denied right to hearing

December 9, 1930


alleged Dr WW Robinson faces quiz on surgery

December 9, 1930


crowd fills courtroom, first testimony of Dr WW Robinson

December 10, 1930


crowd fills courtroom, more testimony of Dr WW Robinson

December 11, 1930


judge dismisses 8 doctors - 9 left in Dr WW Robinson suit

December 13, 1930


experts vary in testimonyof  Dr WW Robinson

December 14, 1930


surgeon makes court laugh a lot

December 14, 1930


Robinson says he earns profit in his practice

December 16, 1930


Robinson still testifying about the profit in practice

December 17, 1930


Robinson explains clinic occupancy/profit

December 17, 1930


testimony on doctors committee review

December 18, 1930


doctors committee reviewed recommended expelling

December 18, 1930


Robinson's work satisfies experts

December 19, 1930


Rockwood Clinic records go before jury

December 20, 1930


lawyers put more Rockwood clinic records before jury

December 23, 1930


Rockwood Clinic trial nears end

December 24, 1930


Xmas halts Rockwood Clinic trial

December 28, 1930


Rockwood Clinic in final phase, going to jury

December 29, 1930


last Rockwood Clinic trial testimony today

December 30, 1930


Jury hear more Rockwood trial

December 31, 1930


Jury still hearing more Rockwood Clinic trial



January 1, 1931


Jury locked up for holiday

January 1, 1931


Jury enjoys New Year's day

January 3, 1931


23 day trial almost ended

January 4, 1931


23 day trial ends

January 5, 1931


$30,000 win - verdict for Robinson

January 7, 1931


retrial of unjust verdict in case asked

January 14, 1931


find juror claimed was tainted

January 15, 1931


judge finds juror who was swayed

January 16, 1931


juror denies witness talked to her

January 19, 1931


Dr Robinson now is sued by witness

May 31, 1931


new trial will be ordered in Dr Robinson case

June 1, 1931


new trial ordered in Dr Robinson Rockwood clinic case

August 9, 1931


Rockwood Clinic suit almost settled

August 11, 1931


Rockwood Clinic suit is now settled

September 10, 1931


Dr Downes loses in the Rockwood Clinic suit

September 11, 1931


Dr Downes loss great in Rockwood Clinic suit

October 18, 1931


surgeon about to settle Rockwood Clinic suit

October 19, 1931


surgeon settles Rockwood Clinic suit for 19k

December 3, 1931


appeals to medical board - decides not reinstate Robinson

December 9, 1931


medical appeals final denial reinstate Dr WW Robinson









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