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From the Deck to Downtown: Commemorating 120 Years of the Boston Floating Hospital
Posted on August 25, 2014 by Eliot Wilczek

DCA’s fall exhibit, From the Deck to Downtown: Commemorating 120 Years of the Boston Floating Hospital is now on display in Tisch Library (located near the entrance to Tower Café). The exhibit features photographs, publications and the original charter of incorporation from two recent DCA acquisitions: the Historic New England Medical Center archives (MS099) and NEMC Archives—The Boston Floating Hospital (MS213). The exhibit celebrates the 120th anniversary of what is now the Floating Hospital for Children, the pediatric unit of the Tufts Medical Center.

The New England Medical Center was established in 1930 by uniting the Tufts College School of Medicine, the Boston Dispensary, and the Boston Floating Hospital for Infants and Children (BFH). In fact, from the BFH’s founding, students of the School of Medicine served on board the medical ship. In 2008, NMEC was renamed the Tufts Medical Center, reflecting not only its close relationship to Tufts, but also its mission of being a community based, teaching and research hospital.

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The Boston Floating Hospital was founded in 1894 by Congregational minister Rufus Tobey. Tobey discovered from Boston Board of Health reports that children under the age of five were most vulnerable to illness and death during the summer. Moreover, he observed mothers and their children taking respite from the heat on his walks home from work each evening. Learning of a successful hospital boat in New York, Tobey set up a similar enterprise in Boston. It sailed around Boston Harbor every summer from 1894 until 1927, when, sadly, the boat burned. A partnership with medical organizations in Boston, including the Tufts College School of Medicine, revitalized the hospital as a land-based facility, located in the Jackson Memorial Building at 20 Ash Street. It was renamed the Floating Hospital for Children in 1965 and became NEMC’s official pediatric wing.

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Innovations on board the BFH were plentiful, including the establishment of a milk lab. Research by Alfred Bosworth contributed to the development of the first synthetic milk product, commonly known today as Similac.

This exhibit was designed and installed by Elizabeth Mc Gorty, Project Archivist for the Historical New England Medical Center archives. It will be on display through January 2015. To learn more about the New England Medical Center and its history, be sure to visit DCA on the Ground Floor of Tisch Library, or check out the T-NEMC portal on the Tufts Digital Library, which includes a timeline, historical resource guide, and some digitized photographs from these collections.

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