Brookline, October 2014

free hospital for women

former site of the free hospital for women, brookline (sonya kovacic)

former site of the free hospital for women, brookline (sonya kovacic)

The Free Hospital for Women (FHW), a predecessor to Brigham and Women's Hospital, was founded in 1875 by Dr. William Henry Baker. Baker wanted a hospital dedicated to treating diseases that inflicted women after serving as a surgical resident under Dr. James Marion Sims (founder of the New York Hospital for Women). With help from physicians and various philanthropists, FHW offered free medical care to poor women and served as a teaching hospital to Harvard Medical School.

In the beginning, the hospital sat on East Springfield Street in the South End and was home to one of the first cancer wards in the country. Due to increased demand, it moved to a larger facility in Brookline in 1895. In 1966, FHW merged with the Boston-Lying-in Hospital to form the Boston Hospital for Women (BHW).

The Boston Lying-In Hospital was founded in 1832 and has an interesting history of its own. According to Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine, "many advances in the practice of obstetrics in the United States were pioneered by staff at the Boston Lying-in Hospital, including the use of anesthesia for labor pain, using rubber gloves and washing hands to prevent infection, outpatient services, heated bassinets for premature infants, and a nurse training school. The hospital also established pre-natal care clinics, standards for cesarean section procedures, cardiac care for pregnant women, and preventative medicine for newborns. The first RH factor in blood was also identified at BLI. These advances produced a steady, and often dramatic, drop in both maternal and fetal mortality rates over the course of its 134 years of independent operation."

In 1980, Boston Hospital for Women merged with Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and Robert Breck Brigham Hospital to form Brigham and Women's Hospital. The former site of the FHW in Brookline was converted into luxury condos in 1989. 


There is a scrapbook from the Free Hospital for Women Papers (1879-1969), that consists of newspaper clippings, publications, photographs, ration cards, posters, and other archival goodies.