Boston Medical Center History

The establishment of Boston City Hospital in 1864 was a major milestone and accomplishment for the City of Boston and for the history of health care in the United States. At its founding, Boston City Hospital was the first municipal hospital in the United States.

As a municipal institution, Boston City Hospital began to provide much needed health care to both the poor of Boston, which at that time was primarily made up the large number of Irish Immigrants coming to Boston during the mid-19th century. Boston Medical Center, which is the result of the 1996 merger of Boston City Hospital and University Hospital, exists on the same grounds of the original Boston City Hospital, and carries forward the singular mission of providing exceptional care without exception to the underserved communities in Boston with an overarching vision of health equity. 

In the first 50 years of its existence, Boston City Hospital did not have a Pediatric Service. Children were admitted to one of the four Medical or Surgical Services in wards that housed adults. In 1919 Boston City Hospital determined that two buildings, near the site of the current Menino Pavilion, would be dedicated to the care of children and this began the Pediatric Service at Boston City Hospital. With support from the City of Boston, funds were earmarked for a free standing Children’s Building, and in honor of the wife of Mayor Curley, the Mary E. Curley Pavilion for Children opened in 1932. This nine-story facility housed a Walk-In Clinic, an Ambulatory Clinic and a large inpatient Pediatric ward service, which occupied five stories of the Curley Pavilion. A number of the current faculty provided care in the Curley Pavilion.

Boston City Hospital, circa 1903


Early BCH Ambulance

Over the years, the Pediatric Service at Boston City Hospital has continued its long tradition of providing service and patient care to the children and families of Boston. The Department continues to be a national leader in areas of advocacy, public health and health services research. Since its inception under Dr. Martin J. English in 1923, and the continued leadership of the preeminent pediatricians of their time – Drs. Eli Friedman, Sydney Gellis, Horace Gezon, Joel Alpert, Barry Zuckerman and Bob Vinci – the mission of the department has continued to be integrated with the changing needs of our patient population. The Department of Pediatrics remains deeply committed to solving the health care challenges of the patients, families and communities it serves in Boston and focuses its clinical and research expertise in topics such as health equity; disparities in patient experience and health outcomes based on race, ethnicity, language and immigration status; substance use; violence prevention; economic and school programs; infectious diseases; childhood obesity; autism and medical informatics. While the landscape of Boston has seen many changes in the 150-year history of Boston City Hospital/Boston Medical Center, the consistent mission of the Department of Pediatrics remains embedded in the framework of the families and children they serve.  A review of the innovations pioneered by the Department has been published.