January 7, 1950 - A massive fire destroys St. Elizabeth’s. Forty-one women die. - GenesisHealth
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January 7 - Massive, Deadly Fire Engulfs St. Elizabeth's (Click To Watch Video)
A massive fire destroys St. Elizabeth’s. Forty-one women die.

In the early morning of January 7, 1950, the 47 Sisters of Mercy are awakened by the cries of “Help, we’re on fire!” Nearby, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital for women with mental illness is engulfed in flames.

St. Elizabeth’s residents are trapped behind barred windows in the rapidly spreading inferno. Exits are inaccessible. Structural flaws and the residents’ own physical and mental disabilities make escape nearly impossible. There is no sprinkler system, and only one exterior fire escape, but locked doors block the route out of the building. Firefighters save 25 women by breaking through walls and barred windows. Forty-one women die.

After the fire, both St. Elizabeth’s and St. John’s Hospital for men with mental illness are closed. The event, one of the deadliest tragedies in Iowa history, leads to improved building codes at the state and national levels. Decades later, Genesis continues to remember the victims with a focus on safety for patients and employees.