Monday, October 10, 2011

The Boston Floating Hospital

Boston Floating Hospital, 1932 (landlubber version) BPL Flickr photo group.

Boston Floating Hospital ship postcard.

Once upon a time, the Boston Floating Hospital actually floated.

Nurses working on the first Floating Hospital ship.

Under the influence of minister/philanthropist/writer Edward Everett Hale and a similar facility in New York City, Reverend Rufus Tobey founded the Boston Floating Hospital in 1894. The facility began on a rented boat, with the intention of taking mothers and children from the tenements out of the city and into the fresh air of Boston harbor for medical exams and care. They also sought to teach poor mothers how to care for their children. This element - middle class WASPs concern with the ability of immigrants to raise their children properly - ran through late 19th Century and later Protestant philanthropy.

In 1906, the organization built their own dedicated boat/clinic for the treatment of children. They became known for their advances in the typical childhood diseases of the day, particularly gastroenteritis, which often came from unrefrigerated milk. During the 1920s, they expanded to an on-shore facility, and in 1927 when the ship burned, the decision was made to move permanently to land. In 1931, the Jackson Memorial building opened.

Floating Hospital, 1938 (click to enlarge).

My only connection to the Floating Hospital is shown above. As the Forest Hills elevated train went down into the tunnel portal on the way in town, the Floating Hospital could be seen to the right. Most of what you saw was the backs of brick buildings and weedy trees growing up through asphalt, so it was not an attractive sight.


  1. Mark, I while researching the Floating Hospital I found your blog and I was wondering if you would grant me permission to use the photographs in a short 2 min video that I am working on.


  2. Ed - I should have credited that photo. It comes from the Boston Public library Flickr photo group, and is available through the Creative Commons license.

  3. Just discovered your blog today and love it! As a child (in the 1960's) I used to go to the Floating Hospital every 6 months for checkups for a heart murmur that I eventually outgrew...always remember hearing the story that it really did float at one time, but never saw any pictures. Thanks for the pics!

  4. We're ALL Dolled up!April 21, 2013 at 2:49 PM
    Hi Everyone! As a child of ALL (Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia), I too, was here, as an inpatient for one year Boston Floating Hospital was my home, Then as an out patent in 1964 -1969. I remember the train going by my hospital room. I saw the Beatles (my favorite group) come to Boston on my small black and white t.v. in August of 1964. Here is a picture of me as the Rehabilitation Queen, at the Boston Rehab, back in 1966. I am in the middle with the tiara. Sorry for the bad picture. Boston Rehabilitation 1966 Photo by Genechick | Photobucket I am the oldest survivor of leukemia (50 years)as told by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee "The Emperor of All MaLadies", book that he wrote. I am known as "Ella" Also, I am in the documentary "The Enemy Within". Thank God for the Boston Floating Hospital and Doctor Donald Allen, my hematologist for curing me. God Bless, Karen Joanne Lord

  5. Karen

    In the email notice I got for your comment, I got the link to the photo, but the Photobucket account is set to 'private,' so I coudln't see it. And the link isn't active in the comment above. Could you make your Photobucket account public so we can see the photo?

    Mark B.

  6. I was born Nov. 25th 1960 at the Boston Floating Hospital

  7. My mother was a patient there shortly after she was born in June, 1925.

  8. My grandmother was nurse on the Floating Hospital about 1913. She traveled from Michigan for the summer job and it was the adventure of her life!

  9. My father was to have been born from a Doctor and Nurse working on board the hospital and then given for adoption shortly after birth sometime from 1927-1935? Its a big mystery as my father passed away when i was just 13years old and his adopted father 1yr later so i have no relatives who know much more than that. I am 43 years old now and after wondering for 30years about his story i wish someone out there knew something about my dads early life since he was taken from me so early in my life. :-(

  10. My Granduncle was the pilot on the original ship late 1800 early 1900 & in 1963, I worked at the landlocked hospital as a file clerk while earning money for nursing school.