History of the AHA

To read Michael Lesparre's 1998 article "A Century of the AHA," please click here. With contributions from Gail Lovinger and Kathy Poole.

In September 1899, eight hospital superintendents met in Cleveland to discuss common concerns and interests. The result of this informal gathering was the establishment of the Association of Hospital Superintendents, an organization to facilitate discussion among hospital administrators. For approximately eight years, the Association served as a private club for hospital superintendents, excluding from membership assistant superintendents and others involved in running the hospital. In 1906, membership restrictions were changed to allow those executive officers next in authority below the superintendent to be associate members without vote, and the name was officially changed to the American Hospital Association. Personal membership remained the basis of the AHA until 1918 when the first institutional membership structure was adopted.

Goal:  These changes in name and membership base were part of a broader evolution in the thinking and perspective of early 20th century hospital administrators. In 1899, the goal of the superintendents' organization was: To facilitate the interchange of ideas, comparing and contrasting methods of management, the discussion of hospital economics, the inspection of hospitals,, suggestions of better plans for operating them, and such other matters as may affect the general interest of the membership.

In 1907, shortly after the name change, the goal was abbreviated to: The promotion of economy and efficiency in hospital management.

In 1917, the year prior to adopting institutional membership, the Association broadened its objective: To promote the welfare of the people so far as it may be done by the institution, care, and management of hospitals and dispensaries with efficiency and economy; to aid in procuring the cooperation of all organizations with aims and objects similar to those of this Association; and in general, to do all things that may best promote hospital efficiency.

In subsequent years, the language in the mission has been modified to reflect the social and health care climate of the times. In 1937, for example, the object specifically called for development of hospital and outpatient services and emphasized professional education and scientific research. In 195 1, the object was again changed to strengthen the Association's commitment to development of better hospital care for all the people. Revised in 1987, the mission stresses leadership in public policy, representation and advocacy, and services.

AHA Seal and Signature

The seal, which was adopted in 1927, is often used alone for podium signage, special certificates and awards. In the center of the seal is the blue Lorraine Cross, which has been the emblem of relief to the unfortunate since medieval times. The caduceus, or the Wand of Mercury and Serpent of Aesculapius, has symbolized the healing art for many thousands of years. The Maltese Cross has been the emblem of the Knights of Saint John of Jerusalem since 1092 A.D., and for several hundred years has also been used by the St. John Ambulance service. The international emblem for the relief of sick and wounded is the Geneva, or Greek, Cross. The urn lamp is universally accepted as symbolic of knowledge and is the official emblem of the Florence Nightingale Nurses. The American eagle symbolizes the United States of America; the maple leaves the Dominion of Canada; and the whole is supported by the Latin motto Nisi Dominus Frustra, "Without God we can do nothing."

Source: The Association of Hospital Superintendents.



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