Bellevue Hospital

Founded in 17361, Bellevue Hospital is one of the oldest public hospitals in the United States. Located on New York City's East Side (462 1st Avenue), the hospital occupies a singular place in the public imagination as a warren of mangled crime victims, lunatics, and derelicts.2



Bellevue Hospital started in 1736 as an almshouse with six beds for the city’s poor, that needed a place for quarantine due to the outbreaks of diphtheria, cholera, and yellow fever. For this uses, an old empty mansion of the Murray Family was selected in 1798 for New York’s first hospital. The mansion commanded spectacular vistas over the East River and the farms of Brooklyn and was so named Bellevue in 1824.3 Bellevue soon became a refuge for the undesirables of the time, mostly the immigrants living in the torrid slums of lower Manhattan and, in most cases, it was often their last port of call. It was overrun with abandoned infants, the insane, alcoholics, victims of epidemics, the homeless, and patients ranging from the suicidal to the homicidal. It used to be very overcrowded, patients would sleep in three in a bed, or more often on the floor and conditions were abysmal. Bellevue was also a pioneering hospital. It housed the city's first morgue, and it was the first hospital in America to run a maternity ward. In 1861, The Bellevue Hospital Medical College, the first medical college in New York connected with a hospital, was founded and in 1872, the nation's first nursing school based on Florence Nightingale's principles opened in the hospital.4 A veteran of the Civil War, surgeon Colonel Edward Barry Dalton saw the need to get the wounded to medical aid as quickly as possible and so he managed to create a horse drawn wagon with removable slatted beds in the back, and in so doing invented the first ambulance (The Bellevue ambulance).5


It was also the first hospital to use hypodermic syringes, to have a pediatric ward, and also the first to contain a specialized unit for outpatients. Among the many important surgeons and physicians connected with the hospital, we can name6: William Halsted, David Hosack, Charles Leale, Valentine Mott, Lewis A. Sayre.

From the outside of the hospital you can see part of the old facade


getting in, you can see the rest of the original facade, recently restored


The sorrounding buildings


The former psychiatric hospital, now a psychiatric children's center


The current Bellevue's Men's shelter (for the homeless)

Bellevue Today

In 1912, a new campus for the hospital was designed, which mirrored the increasingly better standard of medical care. Today, Bellevue runs a state of the art, first rate medical service. In a gleaming new building, that still retains some of the original renovations made in 1912, it has built a reputation as one of America’s most progressive and renowned hospitals. In the mid 1980s, it was one of the first hospitals to create an AIDS clinic. True to its origins as a refuge for the unwanted, Bellevue was in the news in 2014 for taking in Craig Spencer, a recovered New York ebola patient.7
By the way, The old Bellevue psychiatric hospital closed in 1984.8 Today it’s partially used as a shelter for the homeless, but the imposing building lies mostly empty and abandoned. At night a few lights can still be seen behind ragged curtains, where the staff still care for the cities poors, just as they did nearly 300 years ago.


  • Main Text by Camilla Conti moc.liamg|8991.itnoc.allimac#| and Alessandra Casillo moc.duolci|59isac.ela#| (December 2017)
  • Photos by Luca Borghi ti.supmacinu|ihgrob.l#| (June 2017)


  • David Oshinsky, Bellevue. Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital, Doubleday, New York 2016, pp.418

Related Pages

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License