Trail of Thai Royalty in Massachusetts 1916-1928

(Photo: Photo of the infant King courtesy of The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF))


By Cholthanee Koerojna, President of The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF)

Preserving Thai History in Cambridge
On Saturday December 5th at 1:00 PM, at Mount Auburn Hospital, 330 Mount Auburn Street, we will dedicate and celebrate the historic Trail of Thai Royalty in Massachusetts for Cambridge at 11 Hawthorn Street, 11 Story Street, 44 Langdon Street, 15 Berkeley Street and Mount Auburn Hospital honoring His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej and his royal family. These historic homes are the home of the parents of two kings, King Anandha Mahidol (Rama VIII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX). The hospital is the birthplace of the only monarch born in the U.S. A “Trail of Thai Royalty Day” program honoring the city’s special connection with Thailand will include authentic Thai cultural experiences.

On this auspicious day we Thais and Americans will also celebrate His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s 82nd birthday and present the Trail of Thai Royalty in Massachusetts as a birthday gift.

Historic Background

The Birth of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Eighty-two years ago in 1927, on Monday December 5, at 8:45 AM a 6-pound royal baby boy was born at Cambridge Hospital, is now Mount Auburn Hospital. The royal birth was performed in the operating room of the surgical wing. The baby and the mother were nursery in the Fiske building for 21 days.

Dr. W. Stewart Whittemore, the obstetrician was officiated at the birth of the king with four nurses in attendance; Mrs. Leslie H. Leighton of Cambridge, formerly  Miss Frances Hackett, R.N. obstetrical night supervisor , wife of a local physician and President of the Mt. Auburn Hospital Nurses’ Alumnae Association; Mrs. Margaret E. Fay of Arlington, Mary Genevieve. Weldon of Brookline, Ruth Harrington at 11 Curve Street of Lexington. The baby name was recorded in the Birth certificate as “Baby Songkla”.

Less than three hours after the birth, the 35-year-old father, Prince Mahidol of Songkla, telegrammed his mother, Queen Savang Vadhana, to inform her of the birth of his second son and to request that King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) bestow a name upon the baby. Nine days later on December 14, 1927 a telegram arrived from Thailand by Mom Chao Damras said “Your son’s name is Bhumibala Aduladeja”. King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) had officially given the baby the name “Bhumibala Aduladeja”, pronounced “Poomipon” which means “Strength of the Land with Incomparable Power.” Later the name was changed to “Bhumibol Adulyadej”.

When the mother, 27-year-old Sangwan Mahidol first saw the telegram, she was not sure what her son’s name was in Thai.  She thought the name was “Bhumibal” therefore she wrote “Bhumibal” in the birth certificate.

The royal baby was given “Phraworawong Ther Phra Ong Chao” a title at birth which was different from Prince Mahdol’s the first two children who did not have this title at birth because their mother was a commoner. They were given this title by the declaration of King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) on November 8, 1927.

Six weeks later in January 1928 the mother and son had gone to Symmes Arlington Hospital to rest and Mrs. George W. Hurley of Arlington took care of the baby. Mrs. Hurley said at the King’s visit in 1960, “The king stayed in the nursery and I used to bathe him every day. All my other babies had blue eyes, but the king had big brown eyes.”

When I first researched about this hospital, I did not know the name of the hospital, but I learned that the hospital was in Arlington from Princess Galyani Vadhana’s book. The princess had very good memory although she was less than 5 years old at that time. She said she remembered the hospital in Arlington, but not in Cambridge. She explained that the road to Arlington hospital was hilly and curved. On my first trip to survey the hospital I went by Woburn way and did not experience with the curved road. On the later trip we went through Arlington and then experienced the curved and hilly road as said in the book and proven that was the right hospital. Symmes Hospital was established in 1901 and closed for business in 1999, and then the building was removed in spring 2008.

When we first came to Massachusetts in 1980, we visited Mount Auburn hospital and saw King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s and Queen Sirikit’s pictures on the wall of the birth room and a small sign telling about the King’s birth in front of the birth room in Fiske building. These pictures were presented as a gift to the hospital when the King and the Queen visited the birthplace in 1960. The King’s and the Queen’s pictures were later moved to Wyman Building when the Fiske was removed. When the new birthing center was established in the main building, the pictures were relocated there and stay on the fifth floor today. The fifth floor used to be named “The Birthplace”.

His Majesty remains in contact with the hospital and thinks of his birthplace. On April 25, 1990, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulydaj telegrammed to President Francis P. Lynch of Mount Auburn hospital to congratulate the hospital on the new birthing center. “On this auspicious occasion of the opening of the new birthing center at the Mount Auburn Hospital I am pleased to send my heartfelt congratulations and best wishes for the hospitals further progress and success as well as for the happiness and well being of all members. Bhumibol R”

The Fiske building came down in 1982-83, but the surgical wing remains with the Parsons.  The room is now a part of Parsons building above the historic plaque where we just unveiled today.  The three buildings that make up Parsons were constructed in 1886; the surgical wing was built in 1897; Fiske was built in 1912, with one end right up against the surgical wing. The operating room in this wing remains for us to remember this room as the birthplace of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulydej of Thailand. 

Have you ever questioned why Prince Mahidol chose to have his son born at Cambridge Hospital? Often time I was asked why Prince Mahidol chose Mount Auburn Hospital for his wife to deliver the baby in Cambridge although the family lived in Brookline and there were hospitals in Brookline and Boston that were closer to their home. I said, “It’s a good question, I don’t know. I have the same question too”.  From my research I found a few possible reasons.

Reason # 1; from Dr. Sayre’s book Glad Adventure, in which Dr. Sayre expressed their families’ close ties during their stay in the US and after returning to Thailand.  He wrote of the birth of King Bhumibol Adulyadej: “His second child Prince Bhumibol, was born in a hospital in Cambridge close by our home so that they could be near Jessie and me.”

Dr. Sayre was the advisor to Siam Ministry of Foreign Affairs, King Rama VI and Rama VII from 1923-1925.

Reason #2; Mom Sangwan was serving as a volunteer at Cambridge Hospital while she was studying nursing at Simmons College.

Reason # 3; It is perhaps another possible reason that Prince Mahidol experienced with Dr. Whittemore when he was ill in October 1916 and hospitalized at Stillman Infirmary on 1010 Memorial Drive on October 22 where the surgery was performed. Dr. Whittemore examined and cared of his illness since October 13 late evening and Dr. Cabot performed surgery on his leg on October 23 while Prince Mahidol was a student of the School for Health Officers at Harvard University.  The Stillman Infirmary was for Harvard students only.

Did anyone know that 18 years later the baby would become a king, and eventually the world’s longest living monarch and the only monarch born in the United States?
When “Baby Songkla” was born here 82 years ago, no one knew that 18 years later this baby would become a king. That was not the desire of his parents. Prince Bhumibol left Brookline when he was 7 months old. He was raised up and educated in Switzerland. He became the king following the death of his brother, King Ananda Mahidol, on June 9, 1946.
Prince Mahidol lived a simple life as Mr. Songkla rather than Prince Mahidol while he stayed in Massachusetts. He always wanted his family to live the same way. The evidence from Dr. Sayre addressed Prince Mahidol’s concerns about his family.
Dr. Sayre visited Prince Mahidol when he was ill, and wrote of their conversation: “In April 1928, Prince Mahidol fell seriously ill and was taken to a Boston hospital. Fearing the illness might prove fatal, he asked me to come and take down a dying statement touching upon the possibility of one of his children coming to the throne of Siam. In this he asked the King not to make either of them heir to the throne.”

About His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej
King Bhumibol married to Queen Sirikit and has four children; Princess Ubol Rattana, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, Crown Princess Maha Chakri Sirundhorn, and Princess Chulabhorn Walailak. After becoming the king on June 9, 1946, King Bhumibol was crowned King of Thailand on May 5, 1950 at the Royal Palace in Bangkok where he pledged that he would "reign with righteousness for the benefit and happiness of the Siamese people". He is the only king born in the US and longest reigning monarch in the world. He initiated countless development projects for Thailand. He used part of his palace, Chitralada Palace for agricultural research to guide and improve the living of his people. His work for the people of Thailand has earned him great love and respect from his people. King Bhumibol is a painter, jazz musician, photographer, sailor, author and translator. He holds the hearts of people of Thailand.

The King’s Visit to His Birthplace
Thirty-Two (32) years later on July 7, 1960 the King’s dream was fulfilled when His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej visited his birthplace and met his doctor and the nurses who attended his birth on December 5, 1927. He also visited Harvard Medical School and met Dr. Richard Smith of Brookline who was his Pediatrician.  On July 8, he visited his first home at 63 Longwood Ave in Brookline where the family lived during 1926-1928.

The Boston Globe, Friday, July 8, 1916 wrote about the king visit’s activities on July 7: At the hospital, “This is a dream fulfilled,” the slight, soft-spoken young monarch told the throngs of well-wishers who turned out to greet him and his Queen Sirikit at a garden reception at the hospital at 3:00 pm. As a souvenir of his visit, Daniel Needham, chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees, presented the king with the framed birth record and a scrapbook with other relevant documents. The young king was delighted. One of the main purposes of his visit, he said, “was to come here to this hospital to see my old friends. I am so happy to know them because I didn’t know anything then,” he added to assembled laughter. The king noted he had been termed “a nice baby” and, “I hope I have grown into something nice.”  For four nurses who cared for the king during his 21 days as an infant at Mt. Auburn, he had indeed. The king gave each one elegant gold compacts engraved in Siamese with the royal symbol.  “He was a darling baby,” Mrs. Leighton remembered. “His parents were very modest people and didn’t want any fanfare at all.”

At a private luncheon at the Harvard Faculty Club, 20 Quincy Street at 1:00 pm at which he presented cigarette case to Dr. W. Stewart Whittemore of Cambridge who delivered the king on December 5, 1927. “He was a very good baby indeed,” the doctor recalled. “His mother was a wonderful patient. She never complained.”

At the Medical School, the king said that “Thailand owned much of its present health program to the medical knowledge his father had acquired at Harvard.” 

At the state reception at 7:30 pm, “Boston had much to do with me,” the young monarch told 150 city and state dignitaries. “I was born here. My mother and father studied here. But apart from these things, Boston represents much more. It has been the birthplace of your country, and the spirit of freedom is very strong here.”

The young king asked permission of his audience to speak not as a monarch, but “as just a private citizen.” In warm candor, he recounted his emotions of the afternoon when he stood in the hospital room where he was born and met the doctors who delivered him and cared for him. “I come here as a private citizen, as a human, to see my birthplace,” he concluded, and to see the things you do here, and to feel your spirit of freedom.”

Historic Homes of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s Parents
Prince Mahidol was a son of King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) and Queen Savang  Vadhana. Prince Mahidol was the first Thai royal to study in the USA. Prince Mahidol is a younger brother of the kings of Siam, King Vajiravudh (Rama VI), and King Prajadhipok (Rama VII) and father of the two kings, King Anandha (Rama VIII) and King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX).

Princess Sangwan (Miss Sangwan Talapat) was a commoner who received a scholarship from Queen Savang Vadhana to study nursing in the U.S.

The royal baby was born during the second trip that the family stayed in Massachusetts. The family lived in the entire first floor apartment with six rooms and a sun porch at 63 Longwood Ave in Brookline.

While living here Prince Mahidol graduated from Harvard Medical School and received a degree of M.D with cum laude in June 1928 and the Princess Mother studied nursing and household economics at Simmons College and local hospitals. Prince Mahidol was ill for three weeks after his graduation which delayed the trip back home. The family returned to Thailand on way through Europe on July 15, 1928.

Cambridge is very important to Thai history where the parent of the two kings lived in four houses and was the king’s birthplace. Cambridge was the first residence of Princess Mother, then Sangwan Talapat when she first arrived in Massachusetts in September 1918.

On the first trip to Massachusetts, Prince Mahidol stayed in Cambridge from 1916-1919 and in Boston from 1919-1921 while he was studying for Certificate of Public Health at Harvard.

Prince Mahidol arrived in Massachusetts by train on August 27, 1916. Harvard professor Jens Iverson Westengard welcomed Prince Mahidol at the Boston train Station. Westengard was General Advisor to the Royal Siamese Government from 1908-1915, and received the title of “Phraya Kalyan Maitri” from King Vajiravudh.  Prof. Westengard had arranged for Prince Mahidol’s to attend Harvard.   Prince Mahidol stayed in Gloucester before attending Harvard to study Public Health in September. He moved to Cambridge when the school started. Just 24 years old at the time, Prince Mahidol wanted to be known as Mr. Songkla. He studied in Public Health from at the School for Health Officers, and earned a certificate of Public health, under the joint auspices of Harvard University and MIT.  Americans were impressed with his good character, vision and lifestyle.

When the semester started in September 1916 Prince Mahidol rented a suite at Brattle Inn at 48 Brattle Street and still went back to Gloucester occasionally. While staying at the Brattle Inn, Prince Mahidol helped taking care of Thai students and sometimes hosted students in this suite. The Brattle Inn was constructed in 1863 and was demolished in January 1969.

Once he found the house for rent, Prince Mahidol moved to stay at 45 Brattle Street across from the Brattle Inn. Prince Mahidol occupied this house from 1916 to 1918 while studying public health at Harvard University. At that time this house was located at the corner of Brattle and Church streets where it had originally been built. The house was moved to 11 Hawthorn Street in 1926.

About the year 1917, a new apartment building, a duplex and finished in stucco, was constructed at 11 Story Street in Cambridge. Story Street is near the corner of Brattle St and Story St and relatively short and runs from 48 Brattle to 125 Mt. Auburn St, not far from then Cambridge and now Mt. Auburn Hospital. Prince Mahidol was perhaps attracted by the modern facilities offered by the new building of the apartment at 11 Story Street. In 1918 he moved to this unpretentious apartment with 1 bedroom with 2 beds, study room with a folding bed, one bathroom and a small kitchen. He stayed here until he completed his public health studies at Harvard University in 1919.

He then moved to 329 Longwood Ave in Boston to further study in Public Health at Harvard University and MIT.

(Photo: The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF))

Above: 44 Landon Street


Between 1917 and 1927 this building housed the Siamese (Thai) Office of Educational Affairs headed by Phraya Chanindra, the government officer. This office took care of Thai scholarship students in America.  Staff of other governmental offices also worked and lived here. There were about 50 scholarship students studying in New England and New York states during that time.

One of those students was Miss Sangwan Talapat, who was to marry Prince Mahidol and become the Princess Mother. Having received a scholarship from Queen Savang Vadhana to study nursing, Miss Sangwan arrived in Boston by train from San Francisco with eight other students on the evening of September 21, 1918. She was welcomed at Boston Train Station by Prince Mahidol who had come to greet the students and take them to the Brattle Inn at 48 Brattle Street. Miss Sangwan later moved to 44 Langdon Street and stayed here until September 28. Miss Sangwan then moved to live with the Strong family at 18 East Greenfield, Hartford in Connecticut to study in grade 6 and 7 at the grammar school, North Western School in Hartford. Since “Love at First Sight” at Boston Train Station, Prince Mahidol often visited Miss Sangwan in Hartford and engaged to her in Hartford in 1919.
From 1921 to 1927 this building also housed the Siamese Alliance (Siam Samakom), the first Thai student association in the USA, established under Prince Mahidol’s leadership.

During Prince Mahidol’s study at Harvard from 1916-1921 in addition to his mission on the study of public health, he looked after Thai students in their education, social, living and finance. Miss Sangwan, one of the students was a commoner. With permission from the King, Miss Sangwan married Prince Mahidol on September 10, 1920 in Bangkok and became the Princess Mother. At that time Prince Mahidol and his wife stayed at 329 Longwood Ave in Boston. Princess Sangwan studied Household Economics and Nursing at Simmons College in Boston and School Health at MIT. They both left Boston for Europe on September 24, 1921.   Prince Mahidol led students to establish the Siamese Alliance (Siam Samakom) to encourage students to learn democracy, working together following the by-law while studying in the US. The Siamese Alliance was established on July 23, 1921 at Gradford Club in Cambridge. Thirty- Five students including Prince Mahidol and Princess Sangwan were presence that day.  Mr. Li Sripayak was President; Mr. Thavil (Tha-whin) Kooptarak was Vice President and Secretary.   This building was Shepherd Apartments built of Harvard face brick with stone trimmings, four stories, with four suites on each floor. It was built by Edward A. and E. Gilmore Shepherd in 1915.


The Princess Mother of Thailand (née Miss Sangwan Talapat) stayed in this house with the Williston family from September 1919 to April 1920. Miss Sangwan was preparing herself to study nursing at Simmons College and local hospitals under a scholarship from Queen Savang Vadhana. Miss Sangwan studied arts and other subjects with the two Williston sisters Emily and Constance and attended Miss Edith Johnson’s Tutoring School as well.
This house was not only the Williston’s home, but also the Berkeley Street School until 1912.  The school later joined with the Cambridge School for Girls.

After the engagement, Miss Sangwan moved back to Massachusetts and stayed with the Kent family at 49 Cedar Road, Belmont until August 1919. Mr. Kent was a Mathematics professor.

(Photo: The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation (KTBF))

Above: Dedication ceremony at 44 Landon Street

About Prince Mahidol

During his early years Prince Mahidol had been sent by his father to study in Germany, and he was slated to head the Siamese navy. At the German capital he used to see Kaiser Wilhelm and occasionally was entertained by the Kaiser at Potsdam. But as he matured he kept asking himself, “Why a Siamese navy?” As a result of his growing convictions and his belief that what Siam needed most was an understanding of how to fight disease he decided to abandon a naval career and to devote himself instead to the study of medicine and public health. So, with the King’s permission, he came to Boston to study in Public Health at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institution of Technology.  

Prince Mahidol interviewed with the Boston Globe and the New York Times. He expressed his interest to come to study in the US to seek knowledge in Health Care for benefit to his people.

In the The New York Times interview, published September 25, 1916. Prince Mahidol expressed his goals and hopes for his people:

“I am not likely to reach the throne, but that does not worry me,” the Prince said by way of introduction.  “My ambition is to lead a life of usefulness. I could live comfortably and honored as his Majesty’s brother, but I think it is very sill that I should be honored simply because I happen to be whom I am.  If I am to be honored I wish it to be because I have earned my honors.”

The Interview with Boston Daily Globe, published September 24, 1916. Prince Mahidol expressed his personality and mission in coming to America; to seek knowledge in health care to help his people deal with the problems of public health in tropical diseases:

“I do not want to be treated one bit differently from anybody else while I am here,” the Prince explained last evening, with his contagious smile. “I am not here to enjoy myself – although I expect to derive much pleasure from my experience here – or to spend money, but to study hard and to apply my knowledge to the best interests of my country.”

“I do not want to be known as ‘Prince’ while I am here,” the young man continued earnestly. “Plain ‘Mr. Songla’ will suit me a great deal better.  You see, one of my titles is ‘Duke of Songkla’ and while I am here I prefer to use that name with the American prefix ‘Mr.’

Prince Mahidol successfully worked with Rockefeller Foundation to receive aid in improving the medical education of Thailand that results the country to achieve a better health care system and quality personnel to the present time. Unfortunately Prince Mahidol died in the prime of his life at just age 37 on September 24th, 1929 after working at McCormick Hospital in Chiang Mai as a resident doctor for a short time. The good memory of him and his family still remains.

Trail of Thai Royalty

The Trail of Thai Royalty honors Thailand’s longest reigning, most beloved monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX), and his royal family.  Sites connected to His Majesty’s family received plaques that tell the story and express gratitude and respect to a King who has dedicated himself to developing Thailand and the well being of all Thai people. 

The Trail is ten historic sites listed on a bronze plaque at The Birthplace Monument at King Bhumibol Adulyadej Square, Harvard Square in Cambridge.  Seven sites are expected to receive individual plaques with historical comments in Gloucester, Cambridge, Brookline and Martha’s Vineyard. The Trail will foster international friendships, give Thai visitors a warm feeling and remind Commonwealth residents of our tradition of international hospitality and friendship.

Cholthanee Koerojna is president of The King of Thailand Birthplace Foundation. Her project is funded by individuals of goodwill toward Thailand to preserve this piece of Thai history. To learn more, please visit or call her at 781-365-0083 or 781-351-1885.

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