BWH marks 100 years, opens time capsule

May 17, 2013
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LMA—Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) kicked off its 100th birthday celebration this month by opening a time capsule that included letters from the hospital’s 1963 leaders to their modern counterparts. Items from the capsule are on display in the hospital’s lobby.

Branded “BluePrint” after the nationally known teaching hospital’s colors, the two-year celebration will mark the 100th anniversaries of two of the hospitals that merged to become BWH: the Peter Brent Brigham, founded 1913, and the Robert Breck Brigham, founded 1914.

During the Peter Brent Brigham’s 50th anniversary, its leaders assembled a time capsule of mementos to be opened in 2013. Sealed on May 30, 1963, the time capsule was moved around and then forgotten until being rediscovered in 2009 in the Harvard Medical School library archives, according to BWH.

At a May 7 gala, BWH leaders read aloud the letters written by their counterparts 50 years ago. The letters, often written frankly and with emotion, describe the challenges and hopes of the hospital’s leaders.

Dr. Francis Moore, the chief of surgery in 1963, oversaw a department already known for groundbreaking kidney transplants. He wrote about the hospital’s experiments on liver transplants, which at the time still could not be attempted on humans, but are relatively common and successful today.

“…I envy you the fact that fifty years later you will be able to say whether or not this dream came true,” Moore wrote.

Moore also noted that he happened to be the same age as the hospital and “would have the very dubious pleasure of being 100 years old” if he were able to shake the hand of the unknown future person to whom he was writing. Moore died in 2001, according to his New York Times obituary.

Dr. John Brooks, an assistant professor of clinical surgery, ventured some predictions about the medicine of 2013. Some were right, such as cancer remaining generally incurable and the availability of hormone replacement therapy for thyroid disorders. Some were wrong, such as the cause of ulcers remaining unknown.

The letter from board chairman Charles Barnes describes the hospital’s aggressive expansion plans that triggered a historic war with the Mission Hill neighborhood. He wrote about the idea of seizing private homes on Francis Street by eminent domain, saying, “However, urban development is now politically unpopular…It will be interesting for you to see if and how this land acquisition problem has been solved.”

The land battle in the following years led to the creation of Roxbury Tenants of Harvard (RTH), which preserved some Francis Street housing and now also runs the Mission Park housing development. Today, RTH is a partner with BWH in the redevelopment of the former Massachusetts Mental Health Center site, a major hospital expansion.

BWH officials today are planning to continue the tradition by creating a time capsule of their own—including similar letters written to their future counterparts—to be opened in 2063, according to hospital spokesperson Tom Langford.

Items from the time capsule are on public display in the BWH lobby at 75 Francis St., and also online at brighamandwomens.org. Various other events are planned for the 100th anniversary celebration, culminating in next year’s opening of the Stoneman Centennial Park, a new green space under construction in Brigham Circle.

Visitors examine the time capsule exhibit in the lobby of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (Courtesy Photo)

Visitors examine the time capsule exhibit in the lobby of Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (Courtesy Photo)

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