Aneen Heller, right, longtime nurse director of the maternal newborn unit at Sutter Medical Center, Sacramento, unveiled the “Maternity” statue along with then-Chief Nurse Executive Sue Sherman, left, in 2016, after the statue returned to midtown.
Long known as “Sacramento’s baby hospital,” Sutter Medical Center in its 100-year history has birthed an entire city of cutie pies: 407,229 to be exact. That’s larger than the populations of such major U.S. cities as New Orleans and Cleveland. And one woman has presided over all but a relative handful of those births.
An 1887 Roman-Greco-style statue named “Maternity” by Belgian sculptor Alphonse Van Beurden Sr. has stood in Sutter Medical Center’s maternity wards since 1925, when one of the hospital’s founding physicians purchased it from the famed Spreckels art collection. Through all the many changes at Sutter over its 100-year history, “Maternity” has been there to provide peace, comfort and stability.
Sutter Medical Center is celebrating its 100th anniversary from noon-5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 14, with a Fall Festival held on the portion of Capitol Avenue between 27th and 28th streets. There will be lots of fun activities for families and individuals of all ages and a stage set up with continuous entertainment. (For event information, click here.)
And through all the celebratory hoopla, the elegant mother and her two children who make up “Maternity” will be quietly welcoming mothers who are giving the miracle of life to Sacramento’s next generation.
A miniature version of the statue sold at auction for $15,000 in 2007, but, for the Sutter Medical Center staff and 400,000 mothers, this near-life-size statue is priceless.
“It’s a symbol of life with their new kids, their new families, welcoming them into our Sutter world,“ said Julie Poerio, a Labor & Delivery registered nurse who has worked with “Maternity” for 27 years. “And, she’s a symbol of our Sutter spirit.”
Said Anne Heller, a longtime Sutter Medical Center postpartum nurse director who has since retired, “You see in the sculpture what all mothers feel: She is holding one baby and the other is needing her at the same time. It represents the true life of a mother.”
A 1981 story by Dr. Dave Dozier Sr., a prominent Sutter physician, tells the history of how “Maternity” came to the original hospital. Soon after Sutter Hospital opened in 1923, Dr. Junius “June” Harris discovered the statue for sale in a San Francisco auction house. The statue had been the property of the Spreckels family, and, in the process of settling the estate after Adolf Spreckels’ passing in June 1924, it was up for sale. There is no authentic record of what Dr. Harris paid for the statue, but members of the family believe that it was $75 to $100.
The Spreckels’ art collection is world-renowned. Alma Spreckels and her husband, Adolf, built the California Palace of the Legion of Honor. Among its most famous pieces of art is Rodin’s “The Thinker,” one of more than 70 Rodin sculptures Alma Spreckles donated to the Legion of Honor. However, the “Maternity” statue wouldn’t end up in the Legion of Honor, but in Sacramento’s newest hospital.
Soon after purchasing the statue, Dr. Harris and another founding physician, Dr. Roy A. Green, hired a truck and brought the statue to Sacramento, where the two restored the piece on their weekends. After being cleaned up, it was placed in the main hall of the original Sutter Hospital, which was located on the same midtown site as the current Sutter Medical Center campus.
In 1937, Sutter opened one of the nation’s first satellite hospitals two miles away in East Sacramento specifically as a birthing center, then called Sutter Maternity Hospital and later renamed Sutter Memorial Hospital. The statue was placed in a prominent location in the lobby of the new hospital and then on the third floor unit where mothers and babies rested after birth.
When Sutter Memorial Hospital closed in 2016, after overseeing the births of 348,089 babies, the statue headed back to midtown and was placed inside the Anderson Lucchetti Women’s and Children’s Center. Today, as laboring mothers arrive to deliver their babies on the sixth floor, they are greeted by “Maternity.”
As Dr. Dozier wrote in his story, “Many thousands of little ones have entered the world at Sutter … and all were presided over by a blessed marble statue whose legend is ‘Maternity.’ ”
More to read on the 100-year milestone: Click here to find out how a global pandemic launched a Northern California health system.