Orpha Speicher and Reynolds Memorial Hospital

Written by Stan Ingersol
From his column Past to Present

Dr. Orpha Speicher
in later years.

Nazarenes constructed and operated hospitals on two continents (Africa and Asia) by 1930. They also supported a training hospital for nurses on a third (North America).

Created in the 1930s, the fourth Nazarene hospital was Reynolds Memorial Hospital in Basim (known also as Washim), India. The church achieved this goal despite financial hardships, including the North Dakota Land Deal of the 1920s (which tied up church monies) and the Great Depression.

India was the Church of the Nazarene’s first mission field, opened in 1898. Missionaries there had discussed the prospects of a hospital for many years. In 1935, the Methodist Episcopal Church transferred its property and ministries in Basim to the Nazarenes, who, in turn, quickly adapted two of the buildings to meet the needs of medical and ministerial education. A female physician, Dr. Orpha Speicher, arrived at Basim in 1936 to head up the medical work.

Speicher was born in Los Angeles in 1907. When she was seven years old, her parents took her to hear Dr. Phineas F. Bresee preach. She never forgot that moment. Later, at 15, she joined Bresee Avenue Church of the Nazarene.

Dr. Bower, Dr. Speicher, and Mrs. Blackman at the return
of Dr. Speicher to Reynolds Memorial in 1944.

Her father died when Orpha was 10. Still, she and her sisters received good educations. She obtained her medical degree from Loma Linda College in California, and then studied surgery in Edinburgh, Scotland. By the time she left the United Kingdom, she had qualified to practice medicine in the British Empire.

In India, she discovered that the building designated for the hospital was insufficient for her purposes. It had mud walls, dirt floors, no beds, and no medical equipment. She spent months adapting it to be more suitable for medical treatment.

Meanwhile, she began an intensive study of the local language, conducted mobile clinics in nearby areas, and served as the on-call doctor, seeing patients at the compound and making house visits.

Over her years of service, Speicher examined nursing students for the Mid-India Board of Nurses and revised obstetrics and midwifery workbooks in the local language.

A hospital for women and children opened in 1938. As the number of patients increased, so did the demand for more space. Speicher oversaw the hospital’s physical expansion. Like earlier missionaries C. J. Kinne in China and Dr. David Hynd in Swaziland, she became both architect and construction manager of the new additions, supervising each stage of development.

The Japanese incursion into Burma created new problems for the British and American missionaries in adjacent India. The India Mission Council decided that only a handful of Nazarene missionaries would remain. Speicher and others returned to their native countries in 1942. For two years, the hospital operated at reduced capacity under the direction of Dr. Bower, a female Indian physician.

Speicher returned to Basim in 1944.

Other medical personnel joined the staff. These included Dr. Evelyn Witthoff and Geraldine Chappell, R.N. The Nazarene mission board first sent them in 1942, but the ladies were intercepted en route and interred by the Japanese in a prison camp in the Philippines for the war’s duration. After their liberation, they returned to America for physical rehabilitation before heading once again to Asia. They arrived at Reynolds Memorial Hospital in 1946—four years after first setting out.

Jean Darling was another addition to the staff. Darling studied nursing at Canadian Nazarene College. At Basim, she instituted a nurses’ training program.

A plaque placed at Reynolds Memorial Hospital in 2019.

Bubonic plague struck the area in 1947. Speicher and the staff worked tirelessly to save lives and alleviate suffering.

Dr. Speicher subsequently directed the construction of new hospital additions, including a men’s wing and a surgical wing. Like Nazarene hospitals in China and Swaziland, Reynolds Memorial Hospital developed into a hub for a wider-reaching medical ministry. Witthoff supervised the extension program, which established medical dispensaries in three other cities. Reynolds Memorial personnel also staffed rotating clinics at numerous villages and towns.

Over her years of service, Speicher examined nursing students for the Mid-India Board of Nurses and revised obstetrics and midwifery workbooks in the local language.

Dr. Orpha Speicher remained in India until 1976. She was succeeded as the hospital’s chief administrator by Dr. Meshramkar.[1]

After returning to the United States, she taught at Trevecca Nazarene College before retiring to the Casa Robles Missionary Center in California. She received many awards, including Alumnus of the Year from Loma Linda University. She died in 1999, and her remains were placed in Mountain View Cemetery, Altadena, Calif.

General Superintendent Eugénio Duarte participated in a special celebration in January 2019 to relaunch the ministry of Reynolds Memorial Hospital and Affiliated Clinics in partnership with Christian Medical College, Vellore, and Emmanuel Hospital Association. At that event, the cornerstone of the New Operation Theatre of the facility was laid in memory of Dr. Speicher.

Stan Ingersol is manager of archives for the Church of the Nazarene.

[1]Parker, Mission to the World, pp. 232, 237-238. And India Nazarene Mission Council, New India and the Gospel (Kansas City: Nazarene Publishing House, 1954), pp. 79-85.