One crisp October day in 1887, Lois Whitney, a member of the Rochester City Hospital (renamed in 1911 as Rochester General Hospital) Board of Lady Managers, invited four
friends for lunch. Afterward, she drew from her workbasket some hospital table napkins which needed hemming. Her friends offered to help, and they spent the afternoon chatting and sewing. Two weeks later, the group expanded to include eight friends who enjoyed meeting together while they accomplished a worthwhile project for the hospital. The new circle of friends decided they were not really big enough to be called a branch of anything, so they called themselves a ‘twig’. This first Twig later named themselves the Parent Stem. Two and one half years after that first luncheon meeting, Lois Whitney died, but before her death she said to a friend, “Do not lose sight of the Twigs, for they may grow to be a power for good.”
By the 1890s, other Twigs had formed. They met in their homes on alternate Fridays for lunch and a pleasant afternoon of conversation while they sewed sheets, pillowcases, towels, washcloths, and nightshirts. The tradition of sewing for the hospital, which was to continue for more than 70 years and provide thousands of needed items, was now established. Individual Twigs also became involved in other special projects. They gave incubators, refrigerators, and books for the library. They also endowed beds for the Children’s Pavilion and gave a wide variety of memorial gifts. Physically, the women laid floors, and painted and redecorated rooms, wards, halls, and porches.
The Twigs also took an active part in the Donations, an annual benefit for the hospital, which was held on the first Friday and Saturday in December and involved almost everyone in the city. A wide variety of items were sold, from articles of clothing and knitted goods to popcorn, baked goods, jellies, preserves, and even garden produce. The Donations also provided entertainment over the years with plays, booths, dances, song recitals, and concerts. In 1901, the Twigs managed the Donation for the first time, and realized a profit of $2,500 for two days of hard work. The Donation, later becoming the Twig Sale, became the oldest sale of its kind in the community. The sale was held at Convention Hall until 1916 when it moved to the First Presbyterian Church, the first of many moves, which included private homes, Cutler Union, the MasonicTemple, the Dome Arena, the Eisenhart Auditorium and even George Eastman’s home in 1902. In 1977, a Twig Mini-Sale was held on the Concourse of the hospital the week after the Twig Sale. It was so well received that it became an annual event. The last sale was chaired by Satinwood Twig in 2010.
During the early years, Twig profits primarily funded furnishings for the hospital. As medical technology expanded, fund raising efforts increased, and the Twigs were able to provide the hospital with equipment, which included such items as a laser surgery instrument, mammography units, and cardiology monitoring systems. In 1977 and 1978, the Twigs gave more than 4000 volunteer hours to the Bankers Trust LPGA Tournament and received $43,000 for their efforts. Added to monies from all sources, these funds helped to establish the Pulmonary Unit. A great increase occurred in individual Twig fund raisers following 1980 when, through incorporation, the Twigs became “The Twigs of Rochester General Hospital Association.” From golf and tennis matches, road rallies, country fairs, and garden tours, to dances, picnics, gourmet dinners, and pool parties, the Twigs have showed great ingenuity in their efforts for the hospital. The proceeds combined with profits from the Twig Gift Shop, the Twig Sale, and the vending operation made it possible for the Twigs to make a five-year pledge of $700,000 for the construction of the TwigBirthing Center. In addition, monies are allocated each year for the Patient-Staff Library, Social Services, Nursing scholarships and education, and Pediatrics. The Twigs also give a poinsettia plant to each patient in the hospital at Christmas time.
In 2003, volunteers from RGHA Twigs, the Hospital and friends in the community gave 4,418 volunteer hours to the prestigious PGA championship golf tournament held at Oak Hill Country Club for which the hospital recieved a donation of $63,136. This enabled RGHA to complete its pledge for 2 surgical units and to make a new pledge in the amount of $750,000 for renovations to the AmbulatorySurgeryCenter.
From 1993 through 2016, the Twigs hosted the popular American Girl Fashion Show, featuring the American Girl fashions, dolls, books and accessories. During that time , the Twigs donated over $150,000 to Pediatric Social Work Services from the proceeds of this show.
Although Twig membership has declined in recent years, there are still 17 active Twigs with over 200 members in Rochester. In addition Twig members who moved from the area established new Twigs throughout the country. In New York State alone, Twigs were formed in Buffalo, Cooperstown, Amsterdam, Brockport, Portchester, Medina, Newark, Sodus and Canandaigua. Nationally, Twigs were established in Summit, New Jersey; Memphis, Tennessee; St.Louis, Missouri; Dayton, Ohio; Cleveland, Ohio; and Columbus, Ohio to name a few. The first National Twig Conference was held in St. Louis in 1984. Seminars on all topics concerning the Twigs were featured.
The legacy of Lois Whitney continues today. Each Twig comprises a group of friends who enjoy meeting together while they work for the hospital. The Twigs have indeed, grown to be a “power for good.”