There is some wistfulness in Helen E. Samuel's voice when she talks about opportunities now open to women, but it's hard to see how the 77-year-old former president of the Arlington Hospital Association and the Hospital Council of the National Capital Area could have done much more so full of accomplishment is her life.
She has been an educator, administrator, lobbyist, hospital organizer and service organization activist. "She was a real woman ahead of her time," said one hospital official.
For the past 43 years, a major part of Samuel's time has been consumed by the creation and expansion of Arlington Hospital, an institution that grew up on the pastures of a rural county into a modern, 350-bed hospital complete with units for treating alcoholism and psychological problems and a cobalt unit for treating cancer.
"I'm very proud of that building," said Samuel, former president of the board of trustees of the nonprofit hospital and the first woman to serve as head of the board and of the Hospital Council of the National Capital Area.
Earlier this year Samuel retired from the hospital board, the last of the original trustees to retire. A relatively new rule of the board, which Samuel supported, limits trustees to three terms of three years each. "I'm the last of the antiques," she said. Now that she is off the board, she said, she will channel her energy into the hospital's auxiliary.
The building of the hospital was proposed in the early 1930s by a former Arlington County superintendent of welfare, Mae E. Jacobs, a friend of Samuel's. The only other hospital in Northern Virginia then was in Alexandria. Arlington residents who needed a hospital, including Arlington indigents, crossed the bridge into Washington for help, Samuel said. With a great deal of illness in her family, she saw the need clearly, she said.
In 1934, a member of the board of public welfare called together a group that incorporated and won a state charter for the hospital. Then the problem was raising money in the Depression years. "It was 10 years before we could afford to build the hospital," said Samuel, whose chief activity on behalf of the hospital in the early years was raising money.
The group bought 15.5 acres in the center of the county for $15,000 in 1935, making the final payment by 1941. After some contending back and forth with District and federal officials over funding, the Federal Works Agency agreed in 1942 to build a 100-bed hospital, with an additional 50-bed area for nurses on the second floor, Samuel said.
Because of the war, "it had to be built with nondefense materials, which meant no steel," she said. The hospital opened on March 15, 1944.
Four years later, "it had to be built with nondefense materials, which meant no steel," she said. The hospital opened on March 15, 1944.
Four years later, the trustees offered to buy the hospital from the government for $100,000. "It was quite nervy because it had cost the federal government more than $600,000 to build it," said Samuel. The federal government ultimately settled for $125,000.
Over the years there was more fundraising and more building, with a new wing opened in 1972. Samuel was there for all of it, serving as president of the board of trustees from 1966 to 1974. During the same years she was pursuing her profession - teaching - and piling up accomplishments in other areas.
She was born in Nanticoke, Pa., and graduated with a bachelors degree in English from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. She moved 52 years ago into her house in Arlington with her parents. "I was living on old Georgetown Road and couldn't afford to buy there. My father wanted a place to raise chickens. They moved into the Arlington house when it was surrounded by woods and farmland.
Samuel earned a masters degree from George Washington University and did graduate work at Harvard and American University. "I never had time to finish work on my doctorate," she said.
She taught English and commercial mathematics at Columbia Junior High School, Gordon Junior High School, McKinely Night School and Roosevelt Night High School. She also wrote the first course in business fundamentals for the D.C. school system and served as principal of Western Night High School and assistant principal of Gordon.
There is something from those days that still rankles. "In my days when I was coming up, women were considered excellent teachers," she said. "Women had to be twice as qualified as men for administration jobs and then they still didn't get them," she said.
Award of the discrimination women have faced, Samuel said she fought for women in administrative jobs in the hospital, although she has been disappointed that relatively few have applied for some positions.
"I don't think I'll see the revolution come full circle," she said.
Besides teaching, Samuel used her spare time to lobby for teachers' interests, she said. In 1960, she retired from teaching to become executive secretary for the D.C. Education Association, a chapter of the National Education Association. In 1965, she gave up that job but continued to serve as a legislative consultant.
More recently, said Samuel, who was named 1970 Woman of the Year by the Inter-Service Club Council of Arlington, "the hospital has taken so much of my time that I've given up almost everything but the D.C. Retired Teachers Association, the Business and Professional Womens Club and Delta Kappa Gamma (an honorary society for women educators)."
She is effusive about the hospital. "It's a splendid building," she said, but matter-of-fact about what she has done. "Everybody should make some kind of contribution to the community," she said.