Tour an “ultramodern” hospital in the year 1900.

By , April 6, 2015

QuarterCwithFHW_picOnly_009A Quarter of a Century with the Free Hospital for Women is a small picture book published in 1900, not long after the hospital had finished construction of its grand, new facility by a pond in Brookline, Massachusetts. The volume, held in the rare books collection at Harvard Medical School, Center for the History of Medicine, was recently digitized by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Archives and made available online via the Medical Heritage Library https://archive.org/details/aQuarterCwithTheFHW.  It will be of special interest to students of the history of institutional architecture, and to those interested in the history of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The Free Hospital for Women is one of BWH’s organizational “grandmothers.”

QuarterCwithFHW_picOnly_002If you’ve ever wondered what a state-of-the-art hospital looked like a hundred plus years ago, flip through the photographs in this little book. See elegant arches and woodwork, gas lights, fireplaces, a grandfather clock, and Tiffany windows. There is a patient sitting room with a piano, a dining room with linen tablecloth and flowers, patient ward beds with gauzy white curtains, and a sitting porch with a view of Riverdale Park. All together the hospital seems more like a resort found in the Berkshires than anything resembling hospitals as we have come to know them in the 21st century.

QuarterCwithFHW_picOnly_011Amazingly, this beautiful facility was designed exclusively for poor women. From 1875 to 1919 those without means were taken care of by the FHW at no charge. By 1919 the hospital had become so successful at its core mission of treating the diseases of women that patients of all economic levels were eager to be admitted there and the by-laws were amended to allow some who could pay.

In 1966 the Free Hospital for Women and the Boston Lying-in, a local maternity hospital, merged to form the Boston Hospital for Women. In 1975, the Boston Hospital for Women merged with the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and the Robert B. Brigham Hospital. By 1980, all three hospitals had centralized operations and moved to one location in the Longwood area of Boston. The original FHW building was sold to a luxury condominium development company, but the enduring medical legacy of the Free Hospital for Women was reflected in the new name chosen for the combined institutions, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of Harvard Medical School.

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