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Grizell Steevens

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Nationality  United Kingdom
Grizell Steevens httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediacommonsthu
Born  1653England
Died  1746, Dublin, Republic of Ireland

Griselda Steevens (also known as Grizel Steevens or Grizell Steevens) (1653 – 18 March 1746) was the creator and part-benefactor of Dr Steevens' Hospital in Dublin. For a time it was commonly known as "Madame Steevens' Hospital". Due to her shyness and her habit of wearing a veil there was a baseless rumour that she had the face of a pig. It is unclear when this rumour started.

Contents

Life

Steevens was born in 1653 in England. She was the twin sister of Dr Richard Steevens (1653–1710), a Dublin physician. As a youth Griselda had suffered a disorder of the eyes, and since then had worn a veil while in sunlight.

Her twin died in 1710, leaving lands in Westmeath and what is now County Offaly. These yielded an income of £606 (about £72,000 as of 2017) per year to Griselda. A clause in her brother's will stipulated that on Griselda's death, the income was to be used to provide a hospital for the poor of Dublin.

Griselda Steevens decided that she would begin work on the hospital in 1720. Reserving only £120 per year for her own use, she used the remaining funds to buy a plot of land near Kilmainham and to build the new hospital, with the sole condition being that she be granted a suite of apartments in the building.

Steevens was shy and reclusive. While conducting her charitable works in the Dublin slums she would remain in her carriage while servants gave out alms to the poor. By 1723 a sufficient portion of the new Dr Steevens' Hospital was completed to accommodate 40 patients, in addition to Griselda's apartments. The remainder of the hospital, with space for 200 patients, opened in 1733. The new hospital was known, erroneously, as "Madame Steeven's Hospital".

According to some accounts and dismayed by the belief that she had a pig's head, Griselda took to sitting on an open balcony to allow the public to see her face. Although others believe that the rumours did not circulate until after her death.

Bondeson says that she commissioned a portrait of herself to be hung in the main hall of the hospital, and that there was a portrait in a pub that showed Steevens with a pig's head. Steevens withdrew from public view completely before her death on 18 March 1746. Griselda lived in the hospital from 1723 until her death.

Rumour

It is unclear when the pig's face rumour arose. Robert Chambers and Irish Georgian Society founder Desmond Guinness claim that the rumour was current in her lifetime, but Thomas Kirkpatrick, author of History of Dr Steevens' Hospital Dublin, says that "There is absolutely no evidence of this story in contemporary records, nor indeed does it appear to have been connected with the good lady until the nineteenth century [...] It is not quite certain when this story first gained circulation. Croker-King, who wrote a history of the hospital in 1785, makes no mention of it, nor is there any suggestion of it in the newspaper accounts of the death of Madam Steevens, or the published account of the hospital in the eighteenth century."

The rumour was that Griselda Steevens' was veiled owing to her having been born with a pig's head. Chambers (1864) speculates that her unusual name and the common belief that she was named "Grisly" on account of her appearance.

Surgeon and historian William Wilde recollected that as a medical student at Dr Steevens' Hospital in 1832 he was shown a silver trough, alleged to have belonged to Griselda Steevens.

References

Grizell Steevens Wikipedia


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