Newborn Nursery, Bellevue Hospital, c. 1915
Until the middle of the twentieth century, women with resources gave birth at home, with a personal physician or midwife on hand. It was only the indigents and immigrants who went to the hospital to have their babies. Bellevue’s Emergency Pavilion was established in 1877 by the Nursing Schools Board of Managers for “women taken in labor on the streets.” This pavilion was a small, two-story, converted firehouse at 223 East 26th Street (now a nondescript Department of Sanitation building). During their required six-week rotation there, physicians were permitted no contact with the main hospital several blocks away to prevent spread of puerperal fever to the new mothers.
The cover photo shows student nurses caring for babies in their bassinets (c. 1915). The students were advised by the Board of Managers to watch the babies carefully when they were distributed to their mothers at feeding time since there was a high incidence of infanticide. The Emergency Pavilion closed in 1935 and all cases were transferred to the newly built F&G pavilion at the main hospital campus. New licensing laws and the emerging field of obstetrics for doctors heated up the politics of childbirth, and Bellevue’s School of Midwifery closed its doors that same year. (The F&G pavilion was replaced in 1973 with the “New Bellevue” building, where all in-patients are currently housed.)