Marie Zakrzewska was born on September 9, 1829 in Berlin. In one of her memoirs she wrote “I prefer to be remembered only as a woman who was willing to work for the elevation of woman.” She did just that by starting the hospital. As a child she followed her mother (a midwife) around the school of midwifery where she worked. Once she was 18 she applied to study midwifery, which was the only part of medicine women were allowed to work in, at the Royal Charité Hospital in Berlin. She was rejected, however she continued to apply at ages 19 and 20, but was still rejected. It was only once Dr. Joseph Hermann Schmidt, who worked at the school, used his influence to get her in that she finally was able to study medicine. Later, she moved to America, where women were allowed to be doctors.
Once in New York, she met Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who helped her to become a doctor. The two of them opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children on May 1, 1857. This lead her to go to Boston to meet with the board at the New England Female College, where she was offered, and accepted, a position as a professor of Obstetrics, and Diseases of Women and Children and the head of the clinical program. She eventually resigned. With the help of members of the board of the New England Female College as well as Ednah D. Cheney (legal sponsor), Lucy Goddard (legal sponsor), Mrs. George G. Lee (donated $3000), and Samuel E. Sewall (donated $1000), she opened the New England Hospital for Women and Children on July 1, 1862.
The goal of the hospital was “1) to provide for women medical aid of competent physicians of their own sex; 2) to assist educated women in the practical study of medicine; and 3) to train nurses for the care of the sick.” Dr. Zakrzewska was devoted to providing obstetric care to all who needed it, regardless of race or economic status.
At the start of the hospital, the staff consisted of Dr. Zakrzewska, 2 interns, and 2 consulting physicians. By 1900 there was a residient physician, 54 attending, assisting, and advisory physicians, and 13 consulting physicians.
All staff and doctors that worked there were women until 1950, when a lack of money led the board to reverse the policy. The policy was again reversed in 1952 to only allow women to be on the staff. This was reversed a final time in 1962 when the by-laws were rewritten.
In 1864, the Massachusetts state legislature gave the hospital a grant of $5000, allowing it to expand down Pleasant street. The hospital also acquired property behind the hospital at the end of 1864. This allowed the hospital to split into 3 parts. A hospital, a dispensary, and an inpatient facility.