American Missionary Hospital

During the reign of Sheikh Mubarak al-Sabah (r. 1896 – 1915), “Kuwait underwent a wide-ranging process of social change. The first state school was founded, inaugurating modern education in the country, the first national welfare society was created, and the first hospital was established to provide healthcare for all.” Souad Al Sabah details this process in her work on Mubarak. At this time, American Christian missionaries were active in the country. According to the paper The Arabian Mission’s Effect on Kuwait Society by Khaled Albateni, a group of students from New Brunswick Seminary established the “Arabian Mission” in 1890. They published a magazine called Neglected Arabia (later Arabia Calling) and founded stations in Basra, Amarah, Muscat, Bahrain, and Kuwait. According to Mubarak Al Sabah: The Foundation of Kuwait, “in 1911, the first hospital was opened as part of the American Mission. The first doctor to work there was Dr Arthur Bennett and the first female doctor was Dr Eleanor Calverley, who was known in Kuwait as Khatun Halima. Sheikh Mubarak formally asked the American mission to set up a hospital, on the condition that its purpose would be entirely medical and it would not be involved in missionary activities.” The location of the hospital was on the possible site of the earlier kut. Beginning in the 1950s with the First Master Plan, much of “Old Kuwait” was destroyed, but the American hospital (which closed in 1967) was spared. In Mobilities of Architecture, Lukask Stanek writes that, “prefigured by some forewarnings by Saba George Shiber in the 1960s, calls abounded… to preserve the little that was left of the old Kuwait. The 1981 revision of the master plan declared the Behbehani compound, the American mission, the traditional suq and part of the Sharq frontage as conservation areas. The Al-Ghanim Dasman, the Naif Palace and all historical mosques were to be preserved.” Today, the building houses a wonderful museum. One of their educators, Maha Alessa, has one of my favorite social media accounts where she posts great content on the history of Kuwait.

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