Southfield Ferry, c. 1912
This young girl either had tuberculosis or was “suspicious for TB.” She is sitting on the Southfield Ferry, a retired Staten Island Ferry purchased by the Bellevue Auxiliary in 1908 for the day treatment of TB. The ferry was moored in the East River, in front of Bellevue Hospital, and patients came every day for treatment, which included rest, fresh air, sunshine, and “corrective exercises”. Part of the treatment was drinking milk and eating eggs to provide proper nourishment. The Auxiliary also provided outdoor school and art classes on the deck of the ferry, no matter how cold or how hot. In the summertime, many children were sent to the New York City Farm Colony in Staten Island to get extra sun. The ferry exploded in 1918 from a boiler accident and was replaced by another ferry, the Day Camp Boat. Fresh air treatment of tuberculosis was replaced by antibiotics in the early 1950s, when isoniazid (INH) became available.
In the 1980s, an elderly woman (a Mrs. Dulen) recounted her childhood experiences to the Bellevue archivist. She had been considered suspicious for TB since everyone else in her family had already contracted the disease. During the school year she walked every day, by herself, from East 40th Street to the Southfield Ferry at Bellevue where she attended classes and received treatment. During the summer, she was sent to the farm on Staten Island, which she hated. She never developed tuberculosis, but later in life she was diagnosed with skin cancer.
Photo courtesy of Bellevue Hospital Archives