“The best charities of any city are those that are fed by the heart throbs of its citizens.”*
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.
We were a revolutionary concept in the late 1800s, turning the routine occurrence of quarantine barges into a health excursion that combined medical care, healthy eating, and entertainment into one experience. Aboard The Floating Hospital, patients and visitors enjoyed puppet shows, dancing, sing-a-longs, art classes, games, celebrity appearances and movies. They snacked and lunched as they spied breathtaking views of sea and city. No wonder we were nicknamed “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
Our first land-based hospital was the Seaside Hospital of Staten Island, which tied together sea excursions and a facility for longer-term care and infant deliveries. Improvements in living conditions in the early days of the twentieth century were tempered with better diagnosed maladies, and an understanding of the importance of hygiene, prevention and health education. Modern medicine had arrived, and The Floating Hospital took pride in being at the forefront of all these advances. While we have provided all of our patient services from land-based facilities since the early 2000s, healthcare, relief, and prevention still anchor our mission. For over a century and a half, we have remained steadfast and true to our charitable purpose. We’re here for all who need us.
Visit The Floating Hospital, A Romance at Sea to see and learn more.
*Walter Stanton, Chairman of The Floating Hospital, December 12, 1895
On October 19, 1866, the St. John’s Guild of Trinity Church founded The Floating Hospital with a clear and singular purpose: “To afford relief to the sick children of the poor of the City of New York without regard to creed, color, or nationality.”
On July 3, 1872, The New York Times asked wealthy New Yorkers for support in purchasing a ship. In its first year, 18,600 impoverished children and caretakers enjoyed free chartered ferry rides and countryside picnic outings.
Built on Staten Island, the Seaside Nursery and Hospital was created to provide a richly supportive medical environment where parents could tend to their sick children in a healthy atmosphere away from the city.
The third Floating Hospital, The Lloyd I. Seaman, was launched on May 30, 1935. During its first season, 54,807 children and others sailed aboard, an average of 1,075 per trip. 56,050 portions of milk, 8,019 portions of formula milk, and 53,512 sandwiches were served. “Shower-bathes, music and instruction formed part of the day’s curriculum. Benches have been replaced by comfortable chairs and the mothers are given an opportunity for rest and relaxation, which many of them greatly need”*
*St. John’s Guild Sixty-Ninth Annual Report, 1935
Behavioral healthcare was offered aboard ship, and the ship’s psychologist, described as having “probably the only floating couch in New York,” educated as well as helped moms and kids work through their “troubles.” Many on board thought of him as a mind reader. “Believe me, for us it’s more than a boat ride,” one mother told a staff member. “It’s like going to Heaven for a while.”*
*The Lookout, Seamen’s Church Institute of New York, Vol. XLVII, No. 8, August 1956
The Floating Hospital has long been associated with the creative soul of NYC. Our first independently owned ship, The Emma Abbott, launched in 1875, was championed for and named after a prominent opera singer of the time. In the wake of the success of the first Floating Hospital, the first Helen C. Juilliard ship launched on May 4, 1899. The Juilliard family, musical arts patrons who have left their mark all over NYC, also kicked off the financing of the third Floating Hospital in 1916. In 1935, the Lloyd I. Seaman, backed by numerous donors and a clever name, debuted in NY Harbor. The last Floating Hospital ship, called the “Lila”, was a gift of Lila Acheson Wallace, one of the two founders of The Reader’s Digest. Storied, important, and beloved by the City’s inhabitants, the five Floating Hospital ships remain a legacy of NYC’s waterways.
The Floating Hospital became a place of refuge in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. As the city declared a state of emergency, the ship moved to a dry dock at East Broadway in Manhattan, and then later to the Brooklyn Navy Yard in 2003. Here, administrative staff remained on the ship, while a medical clinic was opened in the Lower East Side of Manhattan’s Chinatown. For the first time in 129 years, The Floating Hospital was no longer floating.
After being certified as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in 2002, The Floating Hospital set its sights on Long Island City, where it could reach a medically underserved area and continue to provide patients with comprehensive primary care services.
In 2016, The Floating Hospital reached another milestone—celebrating its 150th Anniversary of ensuring that all families get a chance to be healthy and thrive.
Today, the homeless family and safe house populations are larger than ever, with nearly a third of New York City children living below the poverty line. Serving the people of New York City for more than six generations, The Floating Hospital continues to meet a permanent need: helping those who need it most.
A New Beginning. In 2019, TFH will be renovating a 30,000 square foot leased space in Long Island City, Queens to move its main clinic site and expand the scope of services it provides to patients.