Many of America’s medical firsts occurred in Boston. From 1731, when the first public smallpox inoculations were given in Boston and 1799, when America’s first Board of Health was established, the city has consistently been a major contributor to and at the forefront of the health care and medical research industry.
The West End was early on the center of Boston’s health care industry and still remains home to Massachusetts General Hospital (cir. 1811), Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary (cir.1824) and Spaulding Rehab (cir. 1971), all associated with Harvard Medical School which was also part of the community from 1847-1883.
Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) was founded by John Warren, Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at Harvard Medical School, along with his son, Dr. John C. Warren and Dr. James Jackson; it is the third-oldest general hospital in the United States.
Prior to MGH those with ample finances were cared for at home by their doctors. The poor were cared for at the Marine Hospital in Charlestown, or the Almshouse which was relocated to the West End in 1801, from Park and Beacon Streets, to make way for the development of Park Row. However, conditions at the Almshouse were less than adequate.
Like most hospitals that were founded in the 19th century, MGH was intended to care for the poor. It wasn’t until enough funds were raised in 1817 that trustees purchased 4-acres of land on North Allen Street and secured the services of Charles Bulfinch to design the facility.
The Boston Lying-In Hospital for Women on McLean Street (cir.1832) was one of America’s first maternity hospitals; it eventually became incorporated as part of Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
By 1892 there were a number of inpatient and outpatient medical facilities operating in the West End to service the growing population: West End Nursery and Hospital for Infants on Blossom Street, Vincent Memorial Hospital on Chambers Street, the Boston Dental School and Clinic on North Grove Street, the House of the Good Samaritan on McLean Street and the Staniford Street Clinic.
As the immigrant population grew in Boston, so did the need for healthcare. From 1902 to 1916 Mount Sinai Hospital, a predecessor of Beth Israel Hospital operated at a number of storefronts in the West End, one at 130 Chambers Street and another at 17 Staniford Street.