St. Mary’s Infant Asylum, 90 Cushing Avenue

No. 11230 St. Mary Infant Asylum, 18902, image from Second Settlement

The City of Boston’s tax assessing records show that the owner of the former St. Margaret’s Hospital property, now S. Mary’s Center for Women and Children, is St. Mary’s Infant Asylum.

St. Mary’s Infant Asylum grew out of an effort of St. Vincent de Paul Society to care for foundlings and destitute infants.  At first, in 1867, they placed babies at the Home for Destitute Catholic Children, and the following year transferred the work to the old mansion of the Carney Hospital under the care of the Sisters of Charity, then in South Boston.  At first this effort was known as St. Ann’s Infant Asylum.  Needing larger quarters, in 1874 they purchased the old 13-acre Seaver estate on Bowdoin Street in Dorchester and in 1875 incorporated as St. Mary’s Infant Asylum and Lying-in Hospital.

Soon they found that the acquisition of an unnecessarily large estate with a mansion ill-adapted to their purposes, the Sisters decided to find a smaller and less expensive property.  In 1882 Father Peter Ronan of St. Peter’s Church, Patrick A. Collins and John C. Crowley purchased the former Green estate at Cushing and Everett Avenues on Jones Hill on behalf of the Asylum; then the following year they transferred ownership to the St. Mary’s Infant Asylum and Lying-in Hospital.  The renovation and addition of a new wing occurred soon thereafter, and today’s illustration shows the enlarged building with its new wing.  A new building was added in 1901.  In 1911 the St. Margaret’s Hospital was completed.

In 1866 Charles and Mary Green acquired the property on Jones Hill that would later become the Infant Asylum.  Charles was a builder, and the couple were extensive property owners.  The subject property included what is now Everett Avenue stretching from Stoughton Street up the hill to the location of the hospital.  Charles and Mary sub-divided the property, selling some lots along Everett Avenue and keeping some to build houses for later sale.  They built their own mansion at the top of the hill.  The 1869 tax valuation shows their brick house in process of construction valued at $15,000 as lot 6 with 99,987 square feet of land.   They were also taxed on other lots of  land along Everett Avenue, some of which had houses on them.  Some of these houses were also still in the process of construction. The houses at 15, 17, and 19 Everett Avenue, which were built by Green in the Second Empire style with mansard roofs, still exist.

Green developed heart disease and died in 1881.  Charles and Mary had lost the estate house and grounds to foreclosure in 1877, so it may have been Charles’ ill health that led to the foreclosure and the opportunity for the Infant Asylum to acquire the property from the lender who had foreclosed.

Notes on St. Margaret’s

typescript at the Dorchester Historical Society – notes taken from The Second Settlement by Douglass Tucci. 1974.

1870 Mr. John O’Brien and Mr. James O’Deally found a hungry and abandoned infant on the steps of old St. James Church on Harrison Avenue.  As ghastly as this may sound it was a commonplace occurrence at the time.  They tried to find shelter for the child and finally, because there was nowhere else, they took the child to the struggling Carney Hospital in south Boston where the Daughters of Charity took the infant in.

There were no facilities at the hospital so the infant was placed in a small room which the Superior called “St. Ann’s Ward.”

Soon other babies found their way to the Carney Hospital and to St. Ann’s Ward.  Because money was unavailable and conditions in the Ward crowded, plans to move these abandoned children were initiated.  For four years T. Ann’s ward harbored 1462 infants and 328 unwed mothers.

Ironically the presence of the ward for unwed mothers and children at Carney outraged Mrs. Carney who withdrew her financial support (and even moved the grave of her husband from the hospital grounds).

In 1874, the Sisters of Charity and the St. Vincent de Paul Society petitioned the Archbishop of Boston for a separate institution for foundlings and unwed mothers.  An estate was purchased on Bowdoin Street, Dorchester.  To this estate, the patients of St. Ann’s Ward were transferred, together with two sisters from the Carney Hospital to care for them.  The new home was called St. Mary’s Infant Asylum and Lying In Hospital.

Dr. Benjamin Cushing, one of Boston’s most distinguished Doctors, became their first physician.

From 1874 to 1883, while the asylum was in the old house on Bowdoin Street, despite the lack of equipment, 300 babes were delivered with not one maternal death.  This record was considered so remarkable in those days that the Chief of Staff reported to the Medical Society of Boston the extraordinary results of the Sisters’ care.

By July 1875, $70,000 of debt had accumulated.  Not wanting to become entangle, the original board (having previously elected the sisters), resigned in mass, leaving the entire debt at the sisters’ door.  Only the involvement of John O’Brien waved the asylum from bankruptcy and foreclosure.  He personally fundraised $11,500, much of which was paid to at least one disgruntled former trustee.

O’Brien appealed to the Archbishop, a new board was established, and a vote promptly taken to abandon the project.  O’Brien was the lone dissenter, and, on his own (presumably with his own money), purchased the Green Estate on Jone’s Hill in 1883 where the hospital is today.  In spite of opposition, the Sisters moved to the new estate.  Others were not supportive of the new location as they felt that the top of Jone’s Hill was not centrally located enough and that it would be hardship for the women and children to climb.

By 1892 the twenty years of unpaid bills had been tossed back and forth between one group and another with the sisters caught in between.  Through uncomplaining begging, they had paid back $100,000 but this was not enough.  Because of the overwhelming debt the Sisters were once again notified to close the facility, which they did.  When the Sisters left, rather than allow the institution to close, O’Brien himself moved to St. Mary’s and along his wife cared for the fifty children.  After several months of pleading, the Sisters were allowed to return.

In 1901, it became necessary to erect a larger and more modern brick structure.  The local pastor offered to raise the money for the new edifice.  This new building, which is still standing, cost $45,000.  It was ready for occupancy July 27, 1901, and that day inaugurated a new era in child care in Boston.

In 1911, a private pavilion connected with St. Mary’s was opened for maternity patients and was named St. Margaret’s Hospital.  Another building was erected in 1922 for the price of $100,000.

From 1922 to 1943, the physical structure of the hospital remained in status quo.  In 1927, St. Margaret’s, answering a need strongly emphasized by the doctors and laity, was officially transformed into a general hospital.

In 1943, a new wing was constructed, connecting St. Mary’s  building to St. Margaret’s.  This structure provided new labor and delivery rooms and beds for post-partum patients.

The needs of a community help determine the service needed.  To meet the evolving needs, St. Margaret’s changed its Charter in 1943 to become incorporated as a general hospital.  Although legally incorporated as general hospital from 1943 to 1969, only obstetrical and gynecological patients were admitted since 1963.  At that time, Carney Hospital, the Catholic general hospital in South Boston relocated to South Dorchester as a general hospital without maternity.  Regional health planning in the early 50’s was a phrase yet to be conceived, but the trustees of both institutions had courage and foresight to jointly plan services so that excellence in medical care would be available to the patients they served.  By segregating maternity and gynecology at one institution, St. Margaret’s excelled in maternity care.

Since St. Margaret’s had reverted back to its original purpose as a hospital devoted exclusively to maternity and gynecological care, the census had increased rapidly during the 50’s and 60’s.

The hospital clinic continued to expand its services to mothers and children and relocated to new facilities which were modern and more attractive for that period of time.  The hospital “satellite” clinic opened in South Boston in 1953 in order to insure its residents of adequate care.  This continues to flourish.  Because of the high risk population and high infant mortality in South Boston, a Maternal-Infant Care Project was funded in 1968.  At this clinic multi-services are available to the mother and her family.  All back up in-patient and diagnostic services are provided by the hospital.

As St. Margaret’s Hospital expanded physically, so too did it expand educationally.  In 1899, a program was inaugurated whereby fourth year medical students were selected to live a the hospital for a year and to help with the medical care in return for their board and room.  These first students were from Harvard College.  As far as can be ascertained, this was the first instance in any hospital of students acting as interns and assuming the responsibilities usually relegated to graduates.  These students did lab work, watched mothers in labor, and assisted at deliveries.

Because nursing care was so important for the welfare of the mothers and babies, an informal training school for nurses was begun, offering a six-months post-graduate course in obstetrics for which a diploma was awarded.  From 1907 to 1920, nurses from five schools of nursing received their obstetrical training at S. Mary’s.  In 1911, when St. Margaret’s Hospital was completed, a two and a half year training school for nurses was begun.  In 1914, it was increased to three years.  From 1911 to 1953 the school of nursing graduated more than 10000 nurses  To meet changing trends in education, the hospital school closed in 1953 and became incorporated in the new central school of nursing, Catherine Laboure School of Nursing.

A formally organized out-patient service exists at the Hospital.  In May of 1972, the outpatient department moved to a modern new facility in the former nursing school building.

On October 6, 1974, Humberto Cardinal Medeiros, Archbishop of Boston, dedicated the hospital’s new wing and parking garage.  This event culminated years of planning by the hospital’s Board of Trustees, Administration, and Medical Staff.  This program of construction stands as a memorial to those individuals, past and present, whose efforts have made St. Margaret’s one of New England’s leading hospitals for women, and to the faith that it will remain so for many years to come.  this latest of the many expansion projects of the last hundred years, completed in October, 1974, included a tri-level garage which now allows the hospital to provide secure and convenient parking to employees, medical staff and visitors, while the new addition itself provided for the relocation of forty-two patient beds, and expanded radiology suite, kitchen/cafeteria complex, recovery room, and an Intensive Care/Convalescent Nursery that is virtually unprecedented in design at that time.


Posted on

May 21, 2020