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COLLECTION Identifier: BWH c006

Free Hospital for Women records


The records of the Free Hospital for Women are the product of the hospital staff’s administrative, publications, and public relations activities from 1875 through 1975.


  • 1875–1975.


Language of Materials

Records are in English.

Conditions Governing Access

Access requires advance notice. Access to unpublished administrative records is restricted for 50 years from creation date. Patient information is restricted indefinitely. Restricted records, except restricted patient photographs, are noted in the finding aid. Researchers may apply for access to restricted material. Consult the Director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Medical Library for further information. (email:

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from the collection should be directed to the Director of Brigham and Women’s Hospital Medical Library. (email: However, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital does not hold copyright on all the materials in this collection. Researchers who obtain permission to publish from the Director are responsible for identifying and contacting the persons or organizations that hold copyright.


1 collection (4 cubic feet in 3 record cartons, 1 flat document box, and 1 large document case.)

The Free Hospital for Women records include those that were created during the time period that FHW was a separate record keeping entity—before its merger with the Boston Lying-in Hospital in 1966. The collection includes annual reports from 1875–1965 as well as a variety of individual and group portraits of the staff, students, and hospital buildings. Most of the 19th and early 20th century images in the collection are modern photographic reprints. Also included are reprints of articles written by staff and a few newspaper clippings about hospital events.

See also the archival collection called the Free Hospital for Women Records, 1879–1969, [MC 915] at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine for an additional 31 cubic feet of hospital administration records and patient case files. It includes The Free Hospital for Women Scrapbook —a thorough visual history of the hospital—which has been made available online. Link to: to view the page images.

Historical Notes

The Free Hospital for Women (FHW) was founded in 1875 by Dr. William Henry Baker. Dr. Baker drew his inspiration for a hospital dedicated to teaching, researching, and caring for the diseases of women while serving as a surgical resident under Dr. James Marion Sims, founder of the New York Woman’s Hospital. With the support of clerics and philanthropists, as well as the donated services of the surgeons and other physicians, he established a hospital providing free medical care to poor women. The first patient, admitted to the 5 bed facility installed in rented rooms at 16 East Springfield Street in Boston, Massachusetts on November 2, 1875, marked the beginning of a century of success and rapid expansion for the Free Hospital for Women. In 1877, a larger space was found at 60 East Springfield Street to handle increasing requests for treatment. By 1882, the new 8 bed facility had also become inadequate. The adjoining property at number 58 East Springfield was leased allowing expansion to 20 beds and the establishment of one of the nation’s first cancer wards. The Board of Lady Visitors raised the funds for medical supplies as well as other essentials in order for the hospital to maintain its free medical services.

The institution quickly outgrew the rented Springfield street locations, however the funding, design, and construction of a new facility in Brookline Massachusetts took the next 13 years, opening in January of 1895. In the same year, a training school for gynecological nurses was established under the directorship of Superintendent of Nurses, Hannah Jane Ewin. Thanks to a large endowment in 1897, the Free Hospital for Women, always active in cancer treatment, became one of the leading institutions in that field. In 1900, the out-patient department, still housed on Springfield Street moved to 633 Massachusetts Avenue. In 1902, Dr. William P. Graves was employed to work at the hospital’s first pathology laboratory and by 1908 had replaced the retiring Dr. Baker as head of the hospital.

In 1918, at the request of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the hospital ceased normal operations and devoted all its resources to the care of victims of the Spanish influenza epidemic. That, and a shortage of medical personnel because of World War I, caused the closure of the Nurses School at the FHW. After resuming normal operations in 1919, the idea of admitting paying patients in addition to those receiving free care was approved and a new wing for paying patients was finished in 1922. The President of the Corporation, George R. Fearing, donated the funds to erect a modern research laboratory in 1928 and pioneering research in diseases of the female reproduction organs was conducted at the Fearing Laboratory by Dr. George Van Siclen Smith and Dr. Olive Watkins Smith for the next 50 years. In 1944, Dr. John Charles Rock, known for the development of the birth control pill, founded the Rock Reproductive Study Center at the Free Hospital for Women to study infertility and along with Harvard scientist Miriam F. Menkin, achieved the first fertilization of a human ovum in a test tube.

The Free Hospital for Women’s gynecology training program and the Boston Lying-in Hospital’s obstetrics training program, informally associated since 1922, were formally united in 1951. In 1966, the Free Hospital for Women merged with the Boston Lying-in Hospital in cooperation with Harvard Medical School, to form the Boston Hospital for Women (BHW). In 1975, BHW merged with the Peter Bent Brigham and the Robert B. Brigham Hospitals forming the Affiliated Hospitals Center. In 1980, at the time of the opening of a new state-of-the-art facility, the Affiliated Hospitals Center became known as the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a teaching affiliate of the Harvard Medical School.

Series and Subseries in the Collection

  1. Series I. Program Establishment, Development, and Review Records, 1922–1966.
  2. Series II. Photographs, Negatives, and Clippings, 1875–1975.
  3. Series III. Reference Material and Reprints, 1953–1967.
  4. Series IV. Memorabilia, 1891–1930.

Custodial History

Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) owns the records described in this finding aid. The Harvard Medical Library entered into a contract in 2001 to act as the repository for some of BWH’s archival records. Before the transfer to the Harvard Medical Library, many of the records were in storage at various locations within the BWH. In 2005, additions to the collection were assembled and transferred from a BWH storage facility at 850 Boylston Street, Boston, MA by Anne Fladger, Director of the BWH Medical Library.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Records of the Free Hospital for Women were placed on deposit with the Harvard Medical Library in 2001 by the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Some of the collection was transferred from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Medical Library to the Harvard Medical Library in 2005. Additional material was added as follows:

  1. Part of accession number 2008-049, was transferred from the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Medical Library to the Harvard Medical Library in March, 2008.


  • Free Hospital for Women. Annual report. Boston : Washington Press, Geo. E. Crosby & Co., printers.
  • Free Hospital for Women. A quarter of a century with the Free Hospital for Women. Brookline, 1900.
  • Cappers, Elmer Osgood. History of the Free Hospital for Women, 1875–1975. Boston: Boston Hospital for Women, 1975.

Processing Information

Gabriela Burgman created a preliminary box and folder list in 2005. Unprocessed parts of this collection and new acquisitions were processed and this finding aid was written by Catherine Pate at the Center for the History of Medicine. It was published in 2007. A revised version was published in 2016.

Processing staff in the Center for the History of Medicine started processing the archival records of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital under a service agreement with the BWH in 2001. The records, transferred in bulk from the BWH, were made up of records from all the individual hospitals that eventually merged to become the Affiliated Hospitals Center (AHC), which in turn became Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Processing staff made the decision to organize the records by their provenance, and processed and described each individual hospital’s records separately. Consequently, the original transfer yielded seven groups of records, one of which is the Free Hospital for Women records.

The records for each hospital were organized into series and described based on practices used at the Harvard Medical School Archives. Processing for this collection also involved primary preservation, arrangement, and the creation of this detailed finding aid to improve access. Duplicate records and records that did not meet the archival collection goals of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Medical Library were discarded.

Free Hospital for Women. Records, 1875–1975: Finding Aid.
Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine. Center for the History of Medicine.
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Center for the History of Medicine (Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine) Repository

The Center for the History of Medicine in the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine is one of the world's leading resources for the study of the history of health and medicine. Our mission is to enable the history of medicine and public health to inform healthcare, the health sciences, and the societies in which they are embedded.

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