MGH Bulfinch Building

55 Fruit St Bostonundefined

Bulfinch's Boston/MGH Bulfinch Building
City of Boston Arts
Written By City of Boston Arts

The Mayor's Office of Arts + Culture for Boston. We foster the growth of the cultural community in Boston and promote participation in the arts.

Charles Bulfinch designed the original home of Massachusetts General Hospital, the first teaching hospital for Harvard Medical School and the third oldest hospital in the US. Now named for him, the building is still an active part of the hospital, which has grown into a much larger campus.

In 1811, the Massachusetts Legislature chartered a "Massachusetts General Hospital Corporation" which began raising funds to improve medical care in the city. Their first priority was to provide more appropriate housing for the city's mentally ill population, who were living primarily in almshouses (homeless shelters). Bulfinch designed an "Insane Hospital" in Boston's Charlestown neighborhood, the precursor to today's McLean Hospital in Belmont, MA. Their second priority was to build a general hospital, which would primarily serve the poor, since wealthy Bostonians could receive house calls from doctors. Bulfinch designed this as well, and Harvard Medical School moved from Cambridge to be near the new hospital.

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Bulfinch's design featured a surgical amphitheater with a small rotunda. In 1846, it became the site of the world’s first demonstration of pain-free surgery, using ether as an anesthetic.

Now known as the “Ether Dome,” the amphitheater is open to the public (except when the doctors are using it for meetings), and houses an exhibit about this crucial moment in medical history. A visit to this odd space where past and present, culture and science seem to collide makes for a quintessentially Boston adventure. Mass General was also the first hospital to use x-rays for diagnosis, to reattach a human limb, and to start a specialized cancer center.

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