Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The Rainsford Island Hospital

May 21, 1853
General Court authorizes use of Rainsford Island as Almshouse/Hospital:
The legislature creates three almshouses and
funds the creation of a “hospital” on Rainsford Island to care for the droves of poor entering Boston after the famine in Ireland (BG, September 15, 1878, p.2). It also authorizes the Board of Commissioners of Alien Passengers to send sick state paupers to Rainsford Island if accommodations are available (1853 ARGC, Chapter 572, An Act Concerning the State Pauper Establishments within this Commonwealth, Section 5, p. 574).

Rainsford Island Accepts Drunkards on the Island by Edict of the General Court:

In conformity with a statute passed in 1855, drunkards are confined to the island (see 1867 entry below).

March 14, 1855
The General Court confines criminals to Rainsford Island:

The law applies to those violating the 5th section of the 143 chapter of the Revised Statutes and is limited to 6 month sentences (1855 MA Acts and Resolves, Chapter 52, page 525).

May 19, 1855
The Massachusetts General Court funds enlargement of female hospital:
The Court approves $20,000 for an enlarged hospital, workshop and laundry and the construction of a tomb (1855, ARGC, Chapter 76, p. 971).

Rainsford Island Paupers Number 246:

The Annual Report of the Rainsford Island Almshouse declared 246 paupers lived on the island on an average week (ARGC, 1860).

February 15, 1861
General Court Appropriates $4,000 for Rainsford Island:
The appropriation covers ordinary hospital expenses (ARGC, Chapter 42, An Act Making Appropriation for Expenses of the state almshouses and the hospital at Rainsford Island, p. 365).

April 11, 1861Rainsford Island Inspectors Limited to Three Year Terms:
The 3 year term requires one of the three appointed positions to expire every year. (ARGC, Chapter 195, An Act Concerning the Appointment of Inspectors of the Hospital at Rainsford Island, p. 518).

January 3, 1862
Governor Declares Rainsford Island Hospital is well managed:
However, Governor John Andrew indicates its benefits accrue almost entirely to Boston (1862, ARGC, Governor’s Address, p. 267).

April 4, 1862
Water Closets for Rainsford Island:
The General Court provides $350 to build water closets in the hospital. Presumably, out houses were used prior to that time (1862, ARGC, Chapter 42, Resolve in Favor of Rainsford Island Hospital, p. 222).

April 25, 1864Rainsford Island Used to Care for Sick Soldiers:
With a certificate from the Governor, enlisted men in the Commonwealth can use Rainsford Island if they are sick with any contagious or infectious disease (1864 ARGC, Chapter 170, An Act Relating to Rainsford Island Hospital, p. 109).

April 27, 1865
Towns are Prohibited from Sending Sick Paupers to State Almshouses:

This measure, supported by Governor John Andrew, requires those sick of smallpox or other dangerous diseases, whose lives would be endangered by removal, to be cared for within their own community. Towns are reimbursed for such cases at the average weekly rate that would be paid for care at Rainsford Island Hospital (1865 ARGC, Chapter 162, An Act Concerning Admission of sick persons to the State Almshouses, p. 558 and Governor’s Address on pp 719-721).

April 30, 1866
$5,000 for Repair & Rebuilding of Wharfs
The General Court allocated these funds to the Rainsford Island inspectors for necessary action in anticipation of resurgent immigration after the Civil War (1866 ARGC, Chapter 66, Resolve Concerning Rainsford Island Hospital, p. 310).

Abuses at Rainsford Island Hospital Leads to its Abolition:
The virtual closing of the hospital followed public cries of waste and extravagance in the care of the state’s paupers on Rainsford Island. (BG, September 15, 1878, p.2).

Extreme Mortality Rate on Rainsford Island:
The whole number of patients at Rainsford, from 1854 to 1867, was about 7,000 not including some 400 vagrants, drunkards, etc. These lost souls were received under sentence, in conformity with a Commonwealth statute passed in 1855. Of the 7,400 persons that lived on the island, about 300 were infants that were born there. The State admitted many of the inmates more than once, so the real count of unique individual was probably less than 7,000. A total of 884 died at the hospital or more than 12 per cent of all the patients (Supplement to the 12th Annual Report of State Charities, Public Charities in Massachusetts during the century ending 1876, p. cxx).

February 26, 1869General Court abolishes Rainsford Island Office of Inspector:
As a cost saving measure, the legislature turned these responsibilities over to other state almshouses (1869, ARGC, Chapter 43, An Act to Abolish the Office of the Inspector if Rainsford island, p. 426).

March 3, 1869
Island Properties Inventoried and Distributed:

The Board of Charities authorized its General Agent to inventory its Rainsford Island properties in anticipation of its sale.

April 27, 1869
General Court Decides to Sell Rainsford Island:
The legislature issued a resolve authorizing the Governor to sell all the island property and to order its removal and distribution to other state charitable institutions. (1869, ARGC, Chapter 39, Resolve Authorizing the sale of Rainsford Island, p. 805).

May 3, 1869Board of State Charities Authorizes an Island Keeper:
Due to the planned sale of the island, the Board assigns an Island Keeper to work with its General Agent to develop a list of equipment to distribute to other almshouses (SBC, Annual Report, 1869, p. cxxii).

September 1869
Major Storm Damages the Island:
The buildings remain in nearly the same condition as a year ago except in so far as time and the elements have damaged them. Significant repairs were rendered necessary by the great September gale. The Keeper takes good care of the property, and with his family is the sole resident of the island. (SBC, Annual Report, 1869, p. 78).

“Elements of Evil” Necessarily persist in Almshouse System:
The State Board of Charities urges an overhaul of the almshouse system in view of systemic failure to help the poor rise out of poverty. The Board discontinues the Hospital at Rainsford Island calls it “useless.” It lessened the number of sick at the almshouses, by providing for their relief at their homes. It also declared the principle of “aggregation of the poor” in almshouses as counter productive to their well being! This radical thinking resulted in the sale of the island to the City of Boston (SBC, Annual Report, 1869, pp xxxi to. xxxiv).

State Moved Rainsford Inmates to Tewksbury:
The shutting up of Rainsford Island Hospital and the removal of its inmates to Tewksbury has largely increased the number of its inmates requiring hospital accommodations. Cost was a factor in this relocation. The state spent $103,228 in construction costs on Rainsford Island from the date it took it over 15 years ago. It was costing the state $22,120 a year to keep the island Almshouse operational (SBC, Annual Report, 1870, pp. 222, 369).

City Purchased Rainsford Island from the Commonwealth: Boston purchases the island for $40,000 and uses it for paupers whose settlement falls within the city limits (Boston Municipal Register, 1875, p. 119). Initially City Officials placed male paupers on the island (Memorial History of Boston, Vol. 4, p. 649).

December 15, 1876
Rainsford Island Inmates Complain About Food:

The Boston City Council received a letter of complaint from Rainsford Island Inmates concerning the poor food served to them. The Council took no action. (BG, December 15, 1876, p.8).

December 22, 1876
Board of Public Institutions staff Dismiss Complaint: Representatives of the Board of Public Institutions investigated the food complaint of the previous week and dismissed it as the revenge of a disgruntled inmate who had lost his privileges after misconduct. (BG, December 22, 1876, p.5).

September 15, 1882
Bad Food Raises another Ugly Smell:

The Boston City Common Council received another complaint from Rainsford Island Inmates concerning the poor food served to them. (BG, September 15, 1882, p.4).

September 30, 1885
Excessive Use of Whiskey Alleged on Rainsford Island:
In response to allegations of whiskey use on the island, a rebuttal is printed in the Boston Globe indicating very little whiskey is used and then only for medicinal purposes. (BG, September 30, 1885, p.4)

October 16, 1886
Rainsford Island Hospital Houses 361 Paupers:

The paupers housed at Rainsford Island are exclusively of the male sex according to a Boston Globe report of this date. (BG, October 16, 1886, p.8)

January 3, 1888
Newly Elected Mayor O’Brien Urges Reorganization of Board of Public Institutions to fix Rainsford Island Management:

Need for change reflects the overwhelming burden placed on a nine member lay board without full time dedicated staff to oversee 14 major pauper institutions and other social service functions (BG, January 3, 1888, p.3).

December 8, 1889
Rainsford now used for Female Paupers:

Sometime in 1889, The Board of Public Institutions relocated female paupers to Rainsford Island. Simultaneously, male paupers were placed on Long Island where there was more space for them to work. The Boston Globe refers to Rainsford as a lodge with little to do (BG, December 8, 1889, p.6).

October 14, 1892
Rainsford Island Hospital Called a Disgrace:

Councilman Norris called the Rainsford island Hospital a “disgrace to the city” and urged the removal of the paupers to Long Island. (BG, October 14, 1892, p.4).

February 20, 1893
Reverend Banks condemns the unchristian treatment of Paupers: Dr. Luis Banks wrote an editorial in the Boston Globe in which he said there were no fire escapes on the island hospital. He also claimed the building had been condemned a quarter century before and its inmates lived in overcrowded conditions (BG, February 20, 1893, p.5).

March 31, 1893
Ms. Lincoln Complains Poor, Aged Women are Mistreated:

She claims that up to 351 women live on the island and many sleep on the floor and have no chairs (BG, March 31, 1893, p.4).

April 12, 1893
City Defends its Position – Claim Chairs Not Needed:

In response to Ms. Lincoln’s declarations, Dr. Jenks states that there are plenty of chairs on the island. The real issue, he contends, is the overcrowding but the City can remedy this problem if $100,000 is allotted for a new women’s almshouse. Contrary to earlier assertions, Dr. Jenks states there are only 211 women on Rainsford Island (BG, April 12, 1893, p.9)

April 26, 1893
Dr. Jenks Resigns Office of Board of Public Institutions:
The Boston Globe suspects he resigned because of the “chair incident” (BG, April 26, 1893, p.5).

City Declares 234 Inmates Live on the Island:
Boston Globe reports 234 inmates on the island based on a story appearing on page 4 of its March 30, 1894 edition.

August 7, 1894
Dr. Ernst Establishes a Sick Baby Hospital on the Island: Working with the Board of Public Institutions and other physicians, Dr. Ernst worked feverishly to create this hospital for poor working women. (BG, August 7, 1893, p.4).

August 8, 1894
First children to Use the Hospital Arrive today: The hospital is the same building previously used for the almshouse but was totally refurbished and cleaned and supported by nurses from several religious orders. (BG, August 8, 1893, p.8).

March 17, 1895
General Michael T. Donohoe Appointed "Super"of Rainsford Island:

The Globe highlights his colorful military background before becoming Superintendent (BG, March 17, 1895, p. 23).

May 6, 1895
Dr. Ernst Reopens the Summer Hospital:

The use of the island was done inexpensively by relying on convict labor from Deer Island and the services of the Board of Health’s fumigation equipment found on board the Vigilant. (BG, May 6, 1895, p.6).

May 27, 1895
General Donohoe Dies:
Boston Globe reports his untimely heart attack on May 27, 1895.

June 9, 1895
Lorenzo D. Perkins appointed "Super" of Rainsford Island: Perkins, a 40 year old former teacher, was a deputy superintendent at the House of Industry on Deer Island before his appointment. (BG, June 9, 1895, p.24).

May 8, 1896
City to Maintain Children’s Hospital on Rainsford:
The Globe reports that the city will continue the children’s hospital as a permanent service. (BG, May 8, 1896, p.8).

August 12, 1896
Commissioner Heath Closes Children’s Hospital Due to Scarlet Fever:
After finding scarlet fever amongst the children on the island, Heath orders the hospital closed for new patients until it can be fumigated and cleared of disease (BG, August 12, 1896, p. 8).

October 21, 1896
Common Council visits Rainsford Boys Reformatory:
During their visit they are urged to support improvements on the island to make it a better training center for youth (BG, October 21, 1896, p.7).

December 28, 1898
Perkins Removed from Office:

Perkins is removed from office for lack of discipline at the House of Reformation for Boys (BG, December 28, 1898, p.7).

March 10, 1899
Investigation Ordered of Rainsford Island Boy’s Home:
Boys were said to be kept in dark solitary basement cells for three or four days (BG, March 10, 1899, p.4).

April 26, 1899
Globe Reports Boys have been Whipped, Beaten and held in Dark Cells for Days on End:

Globe story raises public outcry concerning island conditions(BG, April 26, 1899, p.12).

May 3, 1899
Trustees of Children’s Hospital Resign:

Mayor contends the resignations are not related to the investigation of the Rainsford Island Boys Reformatory (BG, May 3, 1899, p.1).

June 22, 1899
Suffolk County Grand Jury Recommends Reformatory be placed on Mainland:
The recommendation is reported on page 14 of the June 22, 1899 Boston Globe.

August 10, 1899
Prisoners are Freed by Fire – Arson Suspected:

The North wing of the House of Reformation for Boys was gutted the previous night at a loss of $20,000. This front page Boston Globe story brought further public attention to the island’s dismal conditions (BG, August 10, 1899, p.1).

August 21, 1899
Boys Admit starting fire, 10 Escape by Boat and remain Free:
In one of the most daring moves in the history of the island, a riotous series of events led to a conspiracy of youths who started a fire to escape the island. (BG, August 21, 1899, p.1).

October 3, 1899
Seavey Appointed "Super" of Rainsford Island Reformatory:
Previously Sumner D. Seavey served for more than 18 years as an officer of the Massachusetts State Prison before his appointment to Rainsford (BG, October 3, 1899, p.7).

March 21, 1900
Once Again a Case of Arson on Rainsford: Globe reports four boys are singled out for a fire on the island (BG, March 21, 1900, p.1).

May 17, 1900
Trustees Plead for More Room:
Need for more Room is raised in a Boston Globe Story (BG, May 17, 1900, p.6).

March 28, 1901
Mayor’s Commission recommends Island for Landfill Use:
Mayor Hart transmitted a report of a commission composed of the City engineer, City Solicitor and Superintendent of the Street Department recommending transfer of Rainsford Island to the Street Department to be used a garbage plant (BG, March 28, 1901, p. 9).

October 26, 1905
City Councilor Watson urges Mayor Curley to fix overcrowding at Suffolk School: Wants contents that truants are mixed in with hardened criminals for want of space to separate these groups on Rainsford. Watson created laughter at a City Council meeting by declaring that "I couldn't make a speech that would appeal to you, even it I stood on a. stack of Bibles-unless the Bibles were published by the Finance Commission.” His remarks underscored the city’s desperate fiscal condition and the underlying “bottom line” orientation of the decisions made during this period (BG, October 26, 1905, p.8).

January 6, 1907
Suffolk School for Boys, Needs Fire Protection: Boston Globe reports the fire prevention system on the island is inadequate; the island’s coastline needs protection from soil erosion and; water service needs improvement. (BG, January 6, 1907, p.17).

July 4, 1909
Putnam Urges Abandoning School on Rainsford Island:

Dr Charles P. Putnam and Lee Friedman of the children’s institution trustees submitted a minority report, last year, recommending Suffolk school be abandoned and the boys transferred to the Lyman school. The city appointed a committee of five to investigate, and four months ago their report recommended keeping Rainsford Island. (BG, July 4, 1909, p.23).

July 4, 1909
Corporal Punishment Becomes a City Scandal: Corporal punishment was a public fascination. Superintendent Seavey meted out routine punishments, 24 hours after an offense and in the presence of the offended teacher. He used a rattan on the hand to make his punishment and presumed revenge had been done away with by this planned method. The rite of punishment was infrequent and only for grave offences. The Globe reported that in several years of work at Rainsford one teacher had never received any kind of personal disrespect from any boys, declaring that the “boys are amenable to the refining influences of women, and seem to feel great affection for their mothers, wretched examples of motherhood though many of them are” (BG, July 14, 1909).

July 10, 1913
Two Boys Die Trying to Swim From Rainsford Island:

Boston Globe reports Arthur Allen and Frederick McGinley died trying to escape from the Suffolk School for Boys. John Scully survived after near total exhaustion in attempting to swim across the 200 yard channel between Rainsford and the coast. All three boys were 13 years old (BG, July 10, 1913, p.1).

December 22, 1916
Fire on Rainsford Island Destroys Shoe Shop:
Due to an accidental fire, the island’s shoe shop burned down this date causing $15,000 in damages. (BG, December 22, 1916 p. 4).

February 3, 1917
Mayor Curley offers Rainsford Island to State Board of Charity:
Curley indicts the current system of detaining truants on Rainsford Island as a form of class discrimination, mentioning that the children of rich families never get sent there even if they are truants. Legal loopholes get them out of island confinement. He urges the state take over Rainsford Island. (BG, February 3, 1917, p. 8).

December 17, 1919
Mayor Peters Urged to Abandon Rainsford Island: The cost of repairing the existing buildings is too expensive for the city to afford. According to the Boston Globe, the best option is removing the Suffolk School for Boys from the island. (BG, December 17, 1919, p. 13).

July 15, 1920City Council Committee on Prisons Visits Suffolk School for Boys:
David Brickley declares the facility “Hunky Dory” for the 84 boys housed at the island. His assessment is of suspect quality based on years of government neglect (BG, July 15, 1920, p. 10).

November 11, 1920
Rainsford Island to be Closed:
City Commissioner O’Brien announces that the city will abandon the Suffolk School for Boys and all 91 inmates will be paroled. By December 31st all boys are removed from the island (BG, November 11, 1920, p. 12).

Removal of Dead from Rainsford:
Historic records indicate that upward of 1,100 souls may have been interned on Rainsford Island and that all or a portion of the remains were re-interned on neighboring Long Island in the 1920's. (Source:

April 12, 1923
Curley Offers to Sell Rainsford Island for $40,000:
Mayor considers the island excess property and the assessed value of the buildings as worth only firewood. (BG, April 12, 1923, p. 13).

April 27, 1927
Chairman Carr of Finance Commission Urges Sale of Rainsford:
The city takes no action but there is an ongoing cost of maintaining the buildings even though they are no longer used by the City. (BG, April 27, 1927, p. 8).

July 22, 1927
Finance Commission Urges Sale of Excess City Property: Within a portfolio of $1.1 million in excess city property, the Finance Commission notes that the assessed value of Rainsford Island is $145,300 (BG, July 22, 1927, p. 25).

Massachusetts Legislature creates Harbor Park System:
In the nick of time, the Massachusetts legislature authorized a harbor park to include 31 islands in Boston harbor (BG, July 18, 1976, p. 45).

Harbor Park Fully Staffed:
This is the first year the Harbor Island Park was fully staffed to support tourists (BG, July 18, 1976, p. 45).

June 25, 1981
State leases Rainsford Island to expand Harbor Park:

Recently, the state negotiated the lease of Spectacle and Rainsford islands from Boston for 50 years at a cost of $157,000. The leasing of the two islands and the opening of Peddocks Island to the public for the first time in 10 years were announced yesterday during a press conference on Georges Island, one of the most heavily visited of the harbor islands (BG, June 25, 1981, p. 1).

June 26, 1984
Damage to Rainsford Island through Neglect:

Rainsford Island, covered with graffiti and slowly being denuded as campers hack at its last trees for firewood, is an example of what can happen to an island not managed by the Park. The State Park managers earn $220 a week to live on and care for six of the more popular island in Boston Harbor Islands State Park (unfortunately Rainsford Island was not one of those). For the estimated 150,000 visitors who arrive by public ferry and private boat at the Park each summer, a manager combines roles of local historian, naturalist, and informer of camping and fire regulations designed to protect the fragile island habitats. (BG, June 26, 1984, p. 1).

June 29, 1986
Dukakis Plans Harbor Park System:

Governor Dukakis yesterday unveiled plans to develop and preserve Boston Harbor Islands State Park during the next 15 years through an ambitious project expected to cost the state about $45 million (BG, June 29, 1986, p. 26).

September 3, 1994
Mayor Supports Boston Harbor Island Park:
Mayor Menino expressed support yesterday for the Boston Harbor Islands entering the national park system, but ruled out handing over the Custom House Tower or Long Wharf to the federal government without additional compensation. (BG, September 3, 1994. p. 21).

October 14, 1996
Congress creates Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area: The bill creating Boston Harbor Islands National Recreation Area won unanimous approval in the US Senate and was sent to President Clinton for his signature. US Rep. Gerry E. Studds, the Cohasset Democrat who was the prime mover behind federal designation, said that the legislation was two years in the crafting and that the public-private management partnership it creates is a model for how national parks will be run in the future. (BG, October 13, 1996. p. 1).

Source Codes:
ARGC = Acts & Resolves of the Massachusetts General Court
SBC = State Board of Charities
BG= Boston Globe