I spent all of yesterday in Boston, in the realms of two of the city’s more venerable–and very different–institutions. At Massachusetts General Hospital, I kept my father company while we waited for news of my stepmother’s condition after surgery (she is fine, thank you). This particular institution has such a strong historic identity that you can’t escape it: sepia-toned photographs of firsts line the halls, a flyer for the “MGH History Trail” greets you in the waiting room, the original 1821 Bulfinch-designed building still sits in the center of its expansive campus, and a new Russell Museum of Medical History and Innovation opened its doors just last year. While waiting, I made my way to the Bulfinch Building, and ascended stone steps to the 4th floor surgical theater called the “Ether Dome”, the site of the first public surgery with anesthesia, performed in 1846 (there is a mummy up there too).
In the afternoon, I found myself in another venerable Boston institution: an “Old Boy’s Club”, except it wasn’t! Surviving bastions of the Brahmin past, Boston’s social clubs–most of which are located in the Back Bay–continue to function as social centers for their members but also offer rooms for short-term stays “in town”. My father’s club was closed for renovations, so they had placed him at the nearby Chilton Club, the only women’s club (clearly I cannot say “Old Women’s Club) among its brethren. Named for Mary Chilton, the first Mayflower passenger to leave Plymouth for Boston, the club occupies two adjacent brownstones on Commonwealth Avenue. Compared to the other Boston clubs I have seen, the decor of Chilton was indeed decidedly feminine, with needlepoint, lots of toile, a damask fabric-lined dining room, delicate fancy chairs scattered about, a pale yellow ballroom with mirrored “windows”, and a beautiful front-facing parlor called the “Dexter Room”. I asked the man at the reception desk if it was safe for my father to stay there, and he said they had admitted men a while ago (but they asked him to use the side entrance when he returned later that night).
Appendix: in the Public Garden, a swan laid on her newly-lain eggs, in the biggest nest I have ever seen!
July 9th, 2013 at 7:03 am
It’s wonderful when structures with so much history are still functional, and when the individuals who own or operate them are willing to embrace that history.
July 9th, 2013 at 7:16 am
I feel just the same way; and it is such a pleasure and a privilege to be in their midst.
July 9th, 2013 at 7:40 am
Wonderful pix! I look forward to reading at leisure!
July 9th, 2013 at 8:11 am
Fascinating! Especially the chair., My grandparents had similar chairs, but with a different paint job.
July 9th, 2013 at 8:17 am
As you’ve visited the ether dome, have you also visited the Warren Anatomical Museum’s gallery? https://www.countway.harvard.edu/menuNavigation/chom/warren/WAMvisit.html
July 9th, 2013 at 8:19 am
I have not, Brian; I’m going to put it right (high) on my “list of things to do this summer close to home since I am not going to be able to get away”. Thanks!
July 10th, 2013 at 9:21 am
I love your tour and photos. The Chilton Club is not the “only” woman’s club in Boston. The College Club was started 30 years earlier at 44 Commonwealth Avenue. It has seven bedrooms decorated in the college colors of seven different women’s schools. It is now “co-ed”, too, and men can stay there.
July 10th, 2013 at 9:43 am
Thank you for correcting me, Heather; I had no idea! Will edit the post too.