The Floating Hospital is an icon of NYC, a survivor who has seen the city’s highs and lows through the eyes of its undervalued citizens. We remain as relevant now as at the time of our birth as one of the city’s first pediatric charity hospitals. Today, we are one of its last.
The Floating Hospital has thrived through revolutions in healthcare: the discovery of penicillin and aspirin; the invention of typewriters, telephones, cars, and the Internet—even the standardization of time itself occurred on our watch. At a time when electronic health records were more akin to science fiction, The Floating Hospital was using hand-written ship’s logs to record the afflictions of the great masses that flooded our decks—the poor, immigrants and discharged soldiers looking to start new lives.
Then, the primary role of healthcare was relief, through the distribution of milk and the assurance of a monthly bath, both of which were luxuries unavailable to most poor families in the post-Civil War era. Opium, laudanum, and spirits were widely used as remedies. Beer and bread were the basics of many children’s diets.
A million horses, burning coal, and crowded tenements created a lung-damaging stew that doubled as air. For children already stressed by malnutrition and a lack of child labor laws, sea air was one of the few remedies available to combat widespread juvenile asthma. By taking these child laborers and their moms out onto the sea for a day, the Hospital provided a respite, albeit brief, from the miseries of daily life.