Children's Hospital Colorado

Our History

That healing Colorado air and sunshine

The Children's Hospital 1910

In the late 1800s, parents of kids with medical needs flocked to Colorado hoping to find a cure in the fresh air and sunshine that were plentiful in our state. To accommodate that need, a group of volunteers established the Babies Summer Hospital in City Park in 1897, which really was only several tents that housed patients who were treated by six medical staff and volunteer nurses. 

As demand for the fledgling hospital’s services increased, the volunteers recognized that there was a need for a "permanent" hospital that would "care for sick, injured and crippled children from birth to 16 years of age, irrespective of sex, creed, color, nationality or place of birth" that would be supported mainly by volunteer contributions. With that lofty goal to guide them, Children's Hospital Colorado officially incorporated on May 9, 1908.

In 1909, Children's Colorado converted a former residence at 2221 Downing Street into a "well equipped institution with a capacity of 30 beds," admitting its first patients on Feb. 17, 1910.

Upgrading from canvas tents to bricks and mortar

As the demand for child healthcare services increased throughout the region, the hospital quickly outgrew its original location and raised more than $200,000 to build a new and improved facility, which opened in 1917 at 19th Avenue and Downing Street in downtown Denver. The "beautiful, new, green and white" building opened with 100 beds and with what The Denver Post described at the time as "every article of equipment known to science.”

Times change but our caring for children remains constant

Medicine in the 20th century represented a "golden age" of unprecedented innovation. From the use of X-rays for medical diagnosis to the advent of antibiotics and polio vaccine, medical research helped reduce the rate of mortality from childhood diseases dramatically.

In 1900, life expectancy in the United States was 48 years. By 2004, it had increased to nearly 78 years thanks to new drugs, surgical procedures and treatments for diseases once thought to be incurable.

Our medical staff has grown from a handful of volunteers to more than 1,000 expert caregivers.

Against this backdrop and throughout each decade of its 100 years of service, Children's Colorado has drawn upon its legacy of providing outstanding pediatric healthcare. A legacy that began in 1908 when volunteers pulled back the canvas flaps on their first tent hospitals to admit a child in need and continued with the opening of Children's Colorado's doors in 1910 and 1917 endures to this day as Children's Colorado researchers, clinicians and teachers open the doors to exciting advancements in pediatric care.

Children's Colorado has long been on the forefront of medical research, establishing a Research Foundation in 1953. The hospital and its affiliates at the University of Colorado School of Medicine are responsible for virtually all of the pediatric research published in the Rocky Mountain region in the past decade, as well as several internationally recognized medical milestones, including the discovery of toxic shock syndrome and development of new pediatric heart surgery techniques now used around the world.

A new hospital – and a new century of expert care

After numerous expansions over the years, at our downtown Denver location, Children's Colorado opened the new healing hospital on Sept. 29, 2007, at the juncture of I-225 and East Colfax Avenue. The 1.79 million square-feet hospital includes 300+ beds and advanced medical equipment specially designed for children. Adjacent to the University of Colorado Hospital and the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Children's Colorado remains at the center of medical research in the Rocky Mountain region, and promises continued advances in patient care in the years to come.

Faces behind the accomplishments

Black and white photo of four women gathered around a photo of a woman on a wall.
Oca Cushman, RN, Children's Colorado's superintendent for its first 45 years, at her retirement in 1955.

Throughout our history, it has been the people who dedicated themselves to improving the lives of children who made and make Children's Colorado what it is today.

From philanthropists like Harry and Agnes Reid Tammen; to thousands of nurses like Oca Cushman, RN, the hospital's superintendent for its first 45 years; to Franklin Gengenbach, MD, the first doctor in Colorado to exclusively practice pediatric medicine; our history is our people.

The community at-large deserves a huge share of the credit for our continued success. Beginning with "penny marches" at Denver elementary schools to support early fund drives, and culminating in the campaign for our new state-of-the-art hospital, our progress has been made possible by the collective generosity of the communities we are privileged to serve.

Using the strength of our community support, we look forward to another 100 years of continuing the high standards our history has established for us at Children's Colorado.

The Tammen Trust

The Agnes Reid Tammen Wing, 1940s.

In the early 1920s, Denver philanthropist Agnes Reid Tammen received a $100,000 check from her husband, Denver Post publisher Harry H. Tammen, to buy a new string of pearls for Christmas.

Children's Colorado was engaged in a $50,000 fundraising drive for a new wing, and Mrs. Tammen had been asked to donate $1,000. According to one source, she told her husband that it would be sinful to spend twice as much for personal pleasure than the entire wing would cost and asked if she could donate $50,000 for the proposed addition.

"You never cease to amaze me," Harry Tammen is said to have replied. "We will give the entire $100,000."

When Harry Tammen died in 1924, he bequeathed half of his estate – $2 million – to the hospital. Mrs. Tammen continued her philanthropic efforts on behalf of Children’s Colorado until her death in 1942.

The Tammen Trust continues to provide annual income that helps provide essential healthcare for children whose families cannot afford to pay.


The first 100 years of Children's Colorado's history have included numerous accomplishments, honors and stories of committed caregivers improving the lives of children. Learn more about our achievements through the years in the timeline below.

1980-2008: Innovation and Expansion

Children's Colorado grew rapidly during the last quarter century, both into new locations across Colorado and new areas of expertise. Significant advancements in scientific knowledge and technology changed the face of medicine in ways previously unimaginable. During this time, Children's Colorado:

  • Pioneered the use of inhaled nitric oxide in newborns for the treatment of pulmonary disease.
  • Affiliated with the University of Colorado School of Medicine.
  • Expanded to include a network of care for pediatric services throughout the region. Currently our Children's Colorado locations provide high quality pediatric services throughout the metro area and all along Colorado's front range.
  • Achieved and maintained the prestigious Magnet Status designation for nursing excellence.
  • Transitioned to a fully integrated Electronic Medical Record system, the first freestanding pediatric facility in the nation to do so.
  • Moved to a state-of-the-art, 1.44 million square-foot hospital on Anschutz Medical Campus at I-225 and East Colfax Avenue.
  • Celebrated a century of commitment to pediatric healthcare.

1945-1980: Emergence of a Modern Institution

The postwar years brought dramatic advances in medical technology and increasing demand for healthcare services, positioning Children's Colorado as a national leader in pediatric treatment and research:

  • The introduction of antibiotics dramatically reduced childhood mortality and debilitating injuries due to bacterial infection.
  • The Junior League opened the hospital's first snack and gift shop in 1950.
  • Children's Hospital Colorado Research Foundation was founded in 1953.
  • Polio epidemics ravaged American childhood in the early 1950s, but the Salk and Sabin vaccines begin to wipe out the disease's effects as early as 1954.
  • Dr. John Grow performed the first open-heart surgery at Children's Colorado in 1953. The hospital became regionally known for specialties such as cardiac surgery and critical care for newborns.
  • The Oca Cushman Wing – named after the hospital's first superintendent – opened in 1958, adding 72,000 square-feet of modern medical facilities including operating and recovery rooms.
  • One of the country's first child-abuse identification, prevention and treatment programs began in 1958 with the Child Protection Team, under the direction of Dr. C. Henry Kempe.
  • Children's Colorado sponsored Colorado's first amputee ski school at Arapahoe Basin in 1968. Adaptive Recreation for Childhood Health (ARCH) program for children with disabilities have become a national model.
  • The first Burn Program in Colorado began treating pediatric patients in 1974.
  • Founded in 1965 under the direction of Dr. L. Joseph Butterfield, Children's Hospital Colorado Newborn Center became an internationally-recognized leader in the prevention and treatment of birth defects, low-birth weight babies and premature births, treating nearly 1,000 babies per year by 1975.
  • Children's Hospital Colorado Foundation was formally established.
  • Street clothes were written into the nurses' dress code – no more white uniforms.
  • Dr. James Todd garnered international attention in 1978 when he discovered and named toxic shock syndrome.

1908-1945: A Hospital is Born

During its early years, Children's Colorado operated on tiny budgets, and donations consisted mainly of food, clothing and supplies. The hospital grew from a 30-bed facility in a converted residence to a specialized pediatric healthcare center that battled polio epidemics and weathered shortages of nurses and supplies during World War II.

  • Children's Colorado Association was incorporated on May 9, 1908.
  • The hospital opened in a converted residence on Feb. 17, 1910, treating 290 patients in its first year.
  • The hospital's first class of nursing students graduated in 1912.
  • Our expanded main hospital opened in 1917 at 19th Avenue and Downing Street in downtown Denver.
  • Doctors and nurses battled infectious diseases like smallpox, diphtheria, pertussis and typhoid – the chief causes of infant and childhood illness at the time.
  • Dr. George B. Packard Jr. performed the first pyloromyotomy – a type of stomach surgery – in Denver in the 1920s.
  • Harry and Agnes Reid Tammen endowed the Tammen Trust Fund to guarantee care for all children. The Tammens funded innovative advances in pediatric rehabilitative services for tuberculosis and polio patients.
  • The Agnes Reid Tammen Wing of the hospital opened in 1924, providing new facilities for orthopedic care. Tammen Hall Nursing School soon followed.
  • The hospital hired its first physical therapist in 1932. The X-Ray Department opened the same year.
  • A Hydro-Physio-Therapy unit opened in 1936 and was acknowledged as the finest of its kind in the United States.
  • Agnes Reid Tammen donated the hospital's first "iron lung" machine in 1937, providing treatment for children with trouble breathing.
  • The hospital logged its first medical record in 1939.
  • The hospital established a Blood Donor Center in May 1942.
  • Children's Colorado Infant Surgery Ward opened in 1948, headed by Dr. George B. Packard, Jr. Surgical treatment for disorders such as cleft palate greatly improved quality of life for many patients.
  • Tonsillectomy was the hospital's most common surgical procedure in the 1940s.
  • While World War II caused serious shortages of medical and nursing staff on the home front, Children's Colorado put the medical knowledge gained by field physicians to work in treating its trauma patients.