Hospital Founded by Women for Women

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 the many separate institutions founded by women in the last century. 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. The hospital continued to expand from its early beginnings and by 1930 had eight buildings on its nine-acre campus just outside Egleston Square. The beauty of the layout and the unity of the architecture lend a calming harmony to the area as one walks through the campus. Even today, all the main buildings have names affiliated with women. These buildings' names constitute a list of important Boston women from the last century.

The former surgery building, a Georgian Revival edifice from 1899 that has been recently restored, is named for Ednah Dow Cheney. She was a Jamaica Plain woman who lived at 117 Forest Hills Street from 1864 to 1904. As a young woman, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker and Bronson Alcott influenced her. Probably the leading reformer in Boston in the 1800's, she was a founder of the New England Women's Club in 1868. This Club became the pioneer of women's clubs in the U.S., along with New York City's Sorosis Club. She was a manager of the New England Female Medical College and the second president of the New England Hospital for Women and Children. 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 Lucy Goddard, George Goddard and Mrs. M. LeBaron Goddard. Lucy Goddard was the first president of the New England Hospital and led it for twenty-five years. She had been a manager of the New England Female Medical College and an avid supporter of women in medicine and nursing. George Goddard was the treasurer of the New England Hospital.

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 for Women and Children. It is a beautiful High Victorian structure with different colored slates on the magnificent roof, turrets, arches, porches and dormers. Dr. Marie Zakrzewska was one of America's first woman physicians and led 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 in Boston to provide women doctors the clinical training not open to them at the male medical establishments, to give women medical care from women doctors, and to train nurses.

The hospital attracted the top women physicians and nurses, and became a premier example of the "separate" women institution of the nineteenth century. Also, Dr. Zakrzewska helped found the New England Woman's Club and was active in the American Woman Suffrage Association. She was a friend of Lucy Stone, William Lloyd Garrison, Karl Heinzen, Julia Ward Howe and the Grimke sisters. She was connected to all the active reformers of her time and their mutual support helped sustain the movements.

The former children's building (1930), is named for Linda Richards. This Classical Revival building with its arcaded loggia and decorative details attracts all visitors. 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. Because of her work after 1873, every hospital wants to claim this graduate of the New England Hospital as its own. 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. This weekend's 75th anniversary of woman suffrage is a fitting time to celebrate their memory. A walk among their namesake buildings, at the institution to which they were so devoted, could renew us all.

Written by Michael Reiskind. Copyright 1995 © Jamaica Plain Historical Society Sources: Drachman, Virginia, Hospital with a Heart, Ithaca, 1984; Notable American Women; August Associates, Preservation, Stewardship, and Development of the Dimock Health Center Campus, November 1984.