A simple card game of Whist led to the creation of the volunteer group that would spearhead what would become Sparrow Hospital.

Lansing was 40 years old in early 1896 and was just coming out of its second depression. Many businesses had been lost in the city of 15,000.

One afternoon, several women were playing Whist when one of them became ill and was taken to a doctor. That led to a discussion among the others about where people went who could not afford a physician.

The women organized a meeting at the downtown Downey Hotel. A sizable crowd of 114 paid $5 apiece and organized The Women’s Hospital Association. They elected an 11-member Board of Control, rented a house on West Ottawa, brought in their own bed linens and canned goods, and a hospital was born.

They would move the hospital twice before businessman Edward W. Sparrow donated money for land and a new building.

The Board of Control would change its name to the Women’s Board of Managers, which still exists today. The president and president-elect of the Women’s Board of Managers sit on the Sparrow Health System Board of Directors.

Volunteers have been integral in Sparrow’s history.

In 1902, the Sparrow Auxiliary was formed to sew and mend linens. In 1924, the Sparrow Guild was organized to help fund and run a free clinic. Both organizations continue today.

What’s now the Sparrow Women’s Hospital Association consists of both men and women. Dues are $1 per year to be used for nursing and educational scholarships, financial assistance for new volunteer groups, purchases of artwork for public areas in the hospital, and other activities. Life memberships are $100 per individual or $150 per couple.

The Association is governed by the Women’s Board of Managers, which has 21 members.