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History time: The New England Hospital for Women and Children

Posted by Matt Rocheleau  January 1, 2011 09:00 AM

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The New England Hospital for Women and Children.jpg

(Courtesy: Library of Congress)

The hospital in Egleston Square was founded in 1862.

Part of an occasional series highlighting a piece of neighborhood history.

The New England Hospital for Women and Children was founded in 1862 as an "all-women's hospital". Now called Dimock Community Health Center, women doctors started the institution at 55 Dimock Street in Egleston Square for the exclusive use of women and children patients. Only women physicians were allowed on the full-time staff. It was one example of how the woman's movement in the nineteenth century responded to the discrimination against them in American life by forming their own organizations, segregated by sex, and managed in all aspects by women.

In Boston health care during the 1800's, women were prevented from joining hospital staff, medical schools, and professional societies. By starting the New England Hospital for Women and Children, women could receive clinical training at a par with that available for men. The New England Hospital, in fact, became a leader in American health care. It was the only hospital in New England that combined medical, surgical, obstetrical, and pediatric services in a single institution. It was the first hospital in the country to have a school for nurses. The New England Hospital graduated America's first trained nurse (1873) and first African-American trained nurse (1879). By the superiority of the doctors' training and care, this hospital reduced the deaths from childbed fever. In fact its competitor, the Boston Lying-In Hospital closed from 1856 to 1872 because of its inability to contain this disease.

The generations of women physicians that were trained at the New England Hospital spread throughout the world on their careers. Mary Putnam Jacobi in America and Sophia Jex-Blake in Great Britain were the leading doctors of their era. Even today, all the main buildings have names affiliated with women.

The most imposing building on campus is the original medical and administration building (1873), named the Zakrzewska building after the founder of the New England Hospital.

Dr. Marie Zakrzewska was one of America's first woman physicians and a leader in women's medicine for almost fifty years. After helping start the first woman's hospital in New York with Emily and Elizabeth Blackwell, she founded the New England Hospital.

The former surgery building is named for Ednah Dow Cheney. She was a Jamaica Plain woman who lived at 117 Forest Hills Street from 1864 to 1904. She was a manager of the New England Female Medical College and the second president of the New England Hospital. Probably the leading reformer in Boston in the 1800's, she was a founder of the New England Women's Club in 1868. She wrote several memoirs and children's books, and through the Club founded a horticultural school for women, founded Girls' Latin School in Boston, and organized the Massachusetts School Suffrage Association.

The Goddard Home for Nurses (1909) was named after the Goddard family. Lucy Goddard was the first president of the New England Hospital and led it for twenty-five years. She also had been a manager of the New England Female Medical College.

The former children's building (1930), is named for Linda Richards. Linda Richard was America's first trained nurse, and after having studied and graduated from the New England Hospital Nursing School in 1873, she went on to found other formal nursing schools and become a leader in nursing in the United States. In 1892, she became the New England Hospital's first superintendent of nursing.

The spirit of these eminent leaders of the nineteenth century woman's movement lives on among these buildings in our town. A walk among their namesake buildings, at the institution to which they were so devoted, could renew us all.

Michael Reiskind is a member of the Jamaica Plain Historical Society.

To read more about the rich history of Jamaica Plain, visit the Jamaica Plain Historical Society website at: http://www.jphs.org/.

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