By Rebecca Pou, Archivist
A slim volume from our collections provides a glimpse of the holiday festivities at a public American hospital more than 100 years ago. In Boston City Hospital, Christmas 1912 we find eight photographs documenting the hospital’s holiday adornments and celebrations. The stark black and white photos of vaulted ceilings and nearly empty rooms don’t paint the cheeriest picture of the holidays, but clearly the staff put a great deal of effort into the celebrations.
These are pictures of the spaces more than the people in them. We see patients in their beds and the kitchen staff waiting for their holiday meal, but the people seem almost incidental. Some of the shots focus on the feasts on the table and the Christmas tree, while others capture the entire ward with garlands hanging from the ceiling and wreaths on the walls. These images are striking in part because the hospital’s large, communal wards look so different from patient settings in hospitals today.
In A History of the Boston City Hospital from its Foundation until 1904, we find out a bit more about Christmas at the hospital. “Christmas trees lighted by electric bulbs” and decorated with gifts for every patient spruced up the convalescent wards.1 If you look closely at the Christmas tree above, there appear to be several small dolls in its branches.
Boston City Hospital opened in 1864. From February 1, 1912, through January 31, 1913, the hospital treated almost 13,000 people with an average of 550 residents per day. About one third of the patients were natives of Massachusetts, but patients born in 61 other countries spent time in the hospital over the course of the year. The largest number of those came from Ireland, but the annual report lists patients born in Syria (25), Barbados (5), the Fiji Islands (1), and New Zealand (2), as well as many other locations.2 The hospital merged with the Boston University Medical Center in 1996, forming the Boston Medical Center.3
Click through the gallery below for the rest of the photos from Boston City Hospital, Christmas 1912.
1. A History of the Boston City Hospital from its Foundation until 1904. Boston: Municipal Printing Office, 1906.
2. Forty-ninth Annual Report of the Boston City Hospital, 1912-1913. Boston: City of Boston Printing Department, 1913.
3. History. Boston University, School of Medicine, Department of Medicine. Retrieved December 17, 2013. http://www.bumc.bu.edu/medicine/dom-introduction/history/