Department of Occupational Therapy, 1960-present


The Department of Occupational Therapy was created when the Tufts-affiliated Boston School of Occupational Therapy merged with the university. In 1962, the department moved into the School of Medicine's Boston campus. Efforts were made to integrate this formerly all-women's school into the Tufts community and align its liberal arts component with the program followed by most Tufts undergraduates. In 1986, these efforts were abandoned and its bachelor degrees were phased out in favor of graduate degrees, which had been introduced in 1978. The department moved to quarters in Somerville, and then to the Medford campus, and added a doctoral program.

History of Department of Occupational Therapy

In 1960, the Boston School of Occupational Therapy, one of five professional schools affiliated with Tufts, merged with the university. It became the Department of Occupational Therapy in the College of Special Studies. For the next several years, it was referred to in university publications as Tufts University-Boston School of Occupational Therapy (TU-BSOT), although it was often still referred to as simply Boston School of Occupational Therapy.

The BSOT moved its Boston-based operations from Harcourt Street to the Tufts School of Medicine's Boston campus. The relocation became official on January 22, 1962. TU-BSOT occupied two floors of the New England Medical Center's Stearns Building at 136 Harrison Avenue.

Tufts University President Nils Y. Wessell wrote a message of welcome in the TU-BSOT's 1961 Caduceus yearbook, greeting its students as "the first [BSOT] class to be graduated as an integral part of the University." The school's change in name, status and location were only a few of the changes for TU-BSOT students; the institution became co-educational with the announcement in Tufts' 1961-1962 Bulletin that "well qualified young men and women between the ages of seventeen and thirty-five are considered for entrance." But it was not until 1967 that the first male graduate of TU-BSOT received a degree.

According to the 1961-1962 Bulletin, TU-BSOT students who wished to combine liberal arts courses with professional preparation could follow a four-year Degree Program leading to a Bachelor of Science in Occupational Therapy. There was also a program for students who had completed two years of college. The Postgraduate Program, for students who held a college degree, led to a certificate of proficiency in occupational therapy.

The TU-BSOT's academic program included courses in English, literature, social studies, science and psychology. Technical subjects included anatomy and physiology, kinesiology, neurology, and theoretical principles of occupational therapy. For training in the wide range of manual and creative arts through which treatment in occupational therapy is given, students took classes in Therapeutic Techniques, which included woodwork, design, weaving, metalwork and ceramics. The nine-month Clinical Internship included four assignments in occupational therapy departments that offered experience in psychiatry, pediatrics, general medicine and surgery, and physical disabilities.

The TU-BSOT was accredited by the American Medical Association. Upon receipt of a diploma, a student was eligible to take the examination for admission to the National Register of the American Occupational Therapy Association.

Students lived in dormitories adjacent to the Medford campus and had their own exclusive sections of liberal arts classes on the campus. Since their professional classes were in Boston, they made frequent commutes, which added to the perception that they were not fully part of the on-campus community. According Russell E. Miller's history Light on the Hill, there was much distress over the isolation of the TU-BSOT faculty and student body from the rest of the university, especially among BSOT alumnae who believed that it indicated second-class citizenship.

During the 1970s, steps were taken to further integrate the TU-BSOT program into the undergraduate and graduate programs. In 1971, its curriculum was revised to fit the general degree requirements of Liberal Arts and Jackson. The clinical internship requirement was shortened from nine months to six. As of 1972, students had the option to pursue a combined degree of a B.S. in Occupational Therapy and a Master of Education (later, Child Study was made an additional option). In 1978, a master's program in occupational therapy was introduced.

In 1982, the TU-BSOT separated from the College of Special Studies and became a constituent body within Arts and Sciences. By that time, the department had come a long way from the days when BSOT students took classes in basket-weaving and pottery. TU-BSOT students studied an "ecological model" of occupational therapy practice which examined four components: "the individual, the individual in relation to the immediate setting, the individual in relation to social networks and institutions, and the individual in relation to ideological systems."

During the mid-1980s, a final push was made to bring TU-BSOT's undergraduates in line with the university's liberal arts standards. In a five-year dual degree program, students would have to meet all requirements for a bachelor's degree from Liberal Arts (including requirements for a major) and all requirements for a B.S. in occupational therapy. They would have both a liberal arts adviser and an occupational therapy advisor.

However, in 1986 Tufts' faculty recommended the dissolution of TU-BSOT's undergraduate program. Consequently, bachelor's degrees were phased out by 1990. As part of the university's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, TU-BSOT offered M.S. degrees in occupational therapy that could be earned without a thesis, as well as both M.A. and M.S. degrees in occupational therapy for which a thesis was required.

During that decade, TU-BSOT again moved its base of operations, this time from Boston to the Conwell School, a former elementary school in Somerville. The move took place in 1982, but in May of 1986, the city of Somerville decided to end Tufts' lease on the building. Tufts bought and renovated the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house at 26 Winthrop St., Medford, and TU-BSOT moved into these quarters in 1988.

As of 2011, the Department of Occupational Therapy offers entry level and post-professional M.S. programs and a post-professional doctoral degree. It also offers a Hand and Upper Extremity Rehabilitation Certificate Program in collaboration with Massachusetts General Hospital. "Clinical reasoning" is the organizing framework for its curriculum, and fieldwork and practical application of theory are considered a crucial part of the educational experience. Students may devise a course of study drawing upon the resources of a consortium of schools that includes Boston University, Boston College and Brandeis University.

Throughout much of its history, the TU-BSOT received financial help from a series of benefit concerts called the Boston Morning Musicales. Beginning in 1928, six benefit concerts per year were held. The subscribers were among Boston's social elite, and the coveted subscriptions were reportedly handed down from mother to daughter. The announcement that the series would end in 1968-because of scheduling difficulties with the Statler Hotel, where the concerts took place-caused alarm within and without the Tufts community. However, the series continued, with a move to the Copley-Plaza and a shortened season of four concerts. The institution came to a close with its 319th show on March 8, 1990.

According to the department's website in 2011, "The Mission of the Department of Occupational Therapy at Tufts University is to develop, disseminate, and apply knowledge that promotes meaningful and healthy societal participation of individuals, families, and communities."