One crisp October day in 1887, Lois Whitney, a member of the Rochester City Hospital (renamed in 1911 as Rochester General Hospital) Board of 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 humorously called themselves a 'twig'. This first Twig later names 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 were 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 $2,500.00 for two days of hard work. From that time on, each Donation was the Twig's responsibility. The Donation was held at Convention Hall until 1916 when the Twig Sale moved to the First Presbyterian Church, the first of many moves, which included private homes, Cutler Union, the Masonic Temple, the Dome Arena, and the Eisenhart Auditorium. 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 has become an annual event. The Twig Sale continues to offer quality handmade items. It is the oldest sale of its kind in the community.
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 $70,000.00 for the construction of the Twig Birthing 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.
Through the years, Twig membership has continued to grow and there are now 96 active and Emeritis Twigs with 1100 members in Rochester. In addition Twig member’s who moved from the area established new Twigs throughout the country. In New York State alone, there are Twigs in Buffalo, Cooperstown, Amsterdam, Brockport, Portchester, Medina, Newark, Sodus and Canandaigua. Nationally, there are Twigs 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. Twigs from around the nation hope to meet regularly to exchange valuable ideas and information.
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."