Well into the 20th Century it was common practice for women to give birth at home, assisted by their husbands, “significant others” and one or more midwives. The practice shifted to giving birth in hospitals as medical techniques improved in the early part of the last century. But as early as the 18th Century, trends started shifting away from giving birth at home. In 1798, there was a yellow fever epidemic in New York City and a prominent physician, Dr. David Hosack, founded the first Lying-In Hospital (an early name for a maternity ward) for widows of yellow fever victims. Hosack is an undeservedly forgotten name in history annals; he founded Bellevue Hospital and attended Alexander Hamilton after his duel with Aaron Burr in Weehawken, NJ in July 1804.
The Rutherford Medical building, 2nd Avenue between East 17th and 18th Street, is a magnificent edifice designed by R. H. Robertson in 1902, replacing the mansion of Hamilton Fish, a prominent NYC politician. The facility was founded in 1898 with a grant from financier J. Pierpont Morgan in 1897 for the Society of the Lying-In Hospital of New York.
The new Lying-In Hospital opened in January 1902 and featured state of the art operating rooms (think of the recent cable TV series “The Knick”) along with lecture rooms, a solarium and even a museum. In that era sunshine was thought of as having essential recuperative attributes, so rooms were bright and sunny. It was considered the best maternity hospital of its era. It served rich, poor and in between, and more than 50,000 children were born here every year.
Rutherford Medical, as it was called, after nearby Rutherford Place, became the Manhattan General Hospital from 1936-1957, continuing maternity services. After stints as a methadone clinic and Beth Israel Medical Center, it was sold for $8M in 1981 and is, what else, condominiums today.
The old tradition of Rutherford Medical is evident today on the exterior, which has bas-reliefs of young children.
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