History of Floating Hospital for Children

A ship on the Boston Harbor

For more than a century, Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center has pioneered health care for pediatric patients. Floating Hospital was established in 1894 as a hospital ship, sailing in Boston Harbor. In those days, little was known about the care of sick children, but many thought that fresh air – especially ocean air – was beneficial. The Reverend Rufus B. Tobey was concerned about the plight of ill, impoverished children, and proposed taking them and their mothers for a day’s outing on Boston Harbor. Not only would they get the fresh ocean air, but they would have an opportunity to be seen (at no charge) by volunteer doctors and nurses.

Tobey and the other founders of this Boston “floating” hospital, received enough donations from generous members of the community to turn the idea into a reality. Day-long excursions began on July 25, 1894, and continued throughout the summer. Each day, hundreds of children received needed medical attention, mothers learned how to safely care for and feed their children, and everyone – patients, parents, doctors, nurses, volunteers and crew – enjoyed the “beneficial harbor breezes.” Floating Hospital would go on to provide medical care to sick children while cruising Boston Harbor for the next 33 years.

In 1905, due to the enormous success of the venture, Boston Floating Hospital was upgraded to a larger, 170-foot ship, expressly built to be a pediatric hospital. The larger ship enabled the creation of an inpatient unit, a pediatric nursing school and an onboard research facility. The hospital soon built a national reputation for making important contributions to the knowledge and treatment of childhood diseases. Many groundbreaking pediatric clinical, educational and research advances were made on the Floating Hospital ship as it sailed or docked in Boston Harbor.

A state-of-the-art facility – On land

In the 1920s, Floating Hospital created an on-shore facility for research and some clinical specialties. It also began an affiliation with Tufts University School of Medicine and Tufts Medical Center's predecessor, the Boston Dispensary. Unfortunately, the Floating Hospital ship was destroyed by fire in the spring of 1927, but luckily, no patients were on board. Instead of rebuilding the ship, the hospital’s trustees decided to expand the on-shore program. In 1931, the Jackson Memorial Building opened, and Floating Hospital became an expanded, year-round full service pediatric facility with ongoing research activities.

Floating Hospital officially merged with Tufts Medical Center in 1965, but still retains its own identity and rich, historic tradition. In 1982, the hospital moved into a state-of-the-art facility within the Tufts Medical Center complex. Today, Floating Hospital for Children is a major academic medical institution with innovative programs in clinical care, biomedical research, education, and health care delivery. It offers a full range of inpatient and outpatient services in every area of pediatric specialization and serves infants through young adults in a personalized environment. Floating Hospital is proud to be the principal pediatric teaching and research institution for Tufts University School of Medicine.

Providing patient-centered, specialized care

Despite its tremendous growth over the years and the complexities of services it provides, Floating Hospital for Children has remained true to its core founding principles of being a community based, low cost provider of world class medical services that still places a focus on caring for the “whole child.”