Wednesday, August 18, 2010

MGH history book to commemorate bicentennial

THE MGH AND HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL CIRCA 1853: In the 1800s, the Charles River extended to the hospital, allowing patients and supplies to be dropped off at the MGH wharf.

AS PART OF the MGH's bicentennial celebrations, a commemorative book covering the hospital's unique beginnings and illustrious history will be published in 2011. "Something in the Ether, A Bicentennial History of Massachusetts General Hospital, 1811 to 2011," was written by author and publisher Webster Bull. Much of the content was drawn from interviews with longtime MGH staff and countless hours of research of historical records and archival material. The book is scheduled to be released in March and will be available at the MGH General Store and select booksellers.

 The following is an excerpt from chapter one, "'A Gentlemen's Agreement,' 1811--1845." The text describes the steps leading to the hospital's founding.

Boston needed a middle ground between the almshouse and expensive private medical care. In 1804, William Phillips bequeathed $5,000 for the creation of a general hospital, whenever someone would take up the task. Phillips's dream was realized ten years later.

On March 3, 1810, the Reverend John Bartlett, chaplain of the almshouse, held a meeting at Vila Hall on Court Street to discuss a Boston hospital. Bartlett enlisted doctors John Collins Warren and James Jackson to draw up a circular letter soliciting donations from potential hospital benefactors. In the circular letter, printed and distributed to many of the city's wealthiest citizens on August 20, 1810, Warren and Jackson answered two principal questions: whether a hospital would provide better care for the sick than any alternative, and whether there were enough poor Bostonians to warrant such an institution. They answered both in the affirmative, emphasizing that without a hospital, a deserving, industrious, but impecunious person would be deprived of proper care. Highest on the list of worthy sufferers were the mentally ill. The authors called upon the reader's sense of Christian stewardship, reminding them of the "obligation of succoring the poor in sickness." The creation of a hospital, and with it an asylum for the insane, was not just a civic duty, but a religious obligation.

For more information about the book and MGH Bicentennial, contact Lynn Dale, director of Bicentennial Programming, at

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