Today I want to focus on someone who made a tremendous difference to thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of people in and around Ossining – Margaret “Marge” Griesmer.

Too often I feel these theme months concentrate on folks who are already famous and top of mind for the average person (Harriet Tubman, Susan B. Anthony, Sally Ride just to name a few.)  While these women of course are extremely influential and deserve our attention, what about those women who work in the shadows, effecting crucial change, but aren’t affiliated with a great cause like abolition, women’s suffrage, or the space program?  What about someone who quietly and methodically labored to bring excellent, low-cost health care to the working poor and marginalized community members?

Now, those of you who live in Ossining are no doubt familiar with the Open Door Medical Center.  Located on Main Street, it’s the original site of what has become a multi-million-dollar chain of Federally-qualified health centers that primarily serve the un- and underinsured throughout Westchester.

Well, the subject of today’s post, Margaret Griesmer, was the driving force behind the founding and development of local, low-cost medical centers that started in an Ossining basement in 1972.

Born in 1934, Griesmer graduated from the Mercy School of Nursing in Detroit, Michigan.  Marrying soon after graduating, she moved to Ossining with her husband and had four children.

In 1970, the family relocated to Berkeley, California for a year when her husband, an IBM mathematician and researcher was granted a sabbatical.

While there, Griesmer volunteered at the Berkeley Free Clinic – a self-determined “radical volunteer health collective . . . that believes that health care is a fundamental human right.”[1]  Griesmer was inspired by what she saw and was determined to replicate the concept in Ossining.

Free health clinics were actually growing in popularity in the 1960s and early 1970s, thanks in part to the civil rights movement and the War on Poverty.   But when New York State decided that maybe such clinics should have some sort of oversight and licensing requirements, many clinics shuttered.  It’s here that Open Door found its niche.  As a registered nurse herself, Griesmer was uniquely positioned to work with local medical professionals and get the needed licensing to operate.

The first Open Door clinic was located in the basement of the First Baptist Church, Ossining.[2]  With an all-volunteer staff (doctors, nurses, technicians) it was only open Tuesday/Thursday nights and Saturday mornings. Still, that first year, the clinic saw over 1,000 patients.[3] Griesmer was also skilled in creating partnerships, and reached out to businesses in the community for support. Just a few of the organizations that contributed in various ways to help fit out that first clinic include IBM, the Ossining Chamber of Commerce, A.L. Myers furniture store, and the Junior League of Westchester [4]

Here’s are a few pages from an early pamphlet that outlines Open Door’s mission and services, printed just as they were moving from the basement of the First Baptist Church to their larger home at 165 Main Street:

1976 Open Door pamphlet
Courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society

Their goals were wide-ranging and egalitarian:

1976 Open Door pamphlet
Courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society

The speed at which Marge Griesmer and her volunteers were able to facilitate their move to 165 Main Street, all while continuing to serve patients at their old location, is astonishing.

1976 Open Door pamphlet
Courtesy of the Ossining Historical Society

In 1988, Open Door took over the adjacent building at 163 Main Street.  Since then, they’ve hired full time physicians, nurses, technicians, dentists, specialists, social workers, psychologists, started a pre-natal program in collaboration with Phelps Hospital, opened centers in Mt. Kisco, Brewster, Mamaroneck, Port Chester, Sleepy Hollow and pioneered school-based health centers in Ossining, Port Chester, and Webutuck.

Open Door in 1987 expanding into 163 Main Street
Photo from Open Door Family Medical Center website

Today Open Door serves over 60,000 patients a year throughout Westchester. And, as has always been the case, their medical centers are open to anyone — fees are on a sliding scale.

In a 1994 New York Times article, Griesmer articulated her goals: “Our mission is to ensure that those who are least able to pay have maximum access to health care. It could be anybody from the small business employee to the immigrant laborer to the part-time worker.”  

In 1998, Griesmer tapped Lindsay Farrell as her successor, a former volunteer who started helping out in 1986.  Farrell continues in the CEO position today, carrying on Marge Griesmer’s vision to make quality health care available to all.

Lindsay Farrell and Marge Griesmer Photo
Photo from Open Door Family Medical Center website


[2] The Gazette, November 2022

[3] The Citizen Register, 2/6/1974

[4] The Citizen Register, 12/19/1972

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