Public dispensary

(Redirected from Charitable dispensary)

A public dispensary, charitable dispensary or free dispensary gives advice and medicines free-of-charge, or for a small charge.[1]

A charitable dispensary in Bhubaneswar, India
A former dispensary in London.

Provident dispensaryEdit

In the 19th and early 20th centuries a provident dispensary was a clinic offering medical care to people who made a small weekly payment as a kind of medical insurance.


In England, from the later 18th Century onwards, there was a growth in Medical Philanthropy. This saw the establishment of voluntary hospitals offering in-patient and dispensaries offering out-patient treatment. By 1800 dispensaries dealt with at least 10,000 admissions per year.[2]

There are competing claims to where the first dispensary was founded but it is clear that dispensaries began being established in numbers from 1770 onwards.[3] The Philadelphia Dispensary for the Medical Relief of the Poor, founded in 1786, is considered to be the first public dispensary in the United States.[4]

According to a historian of health services "During the nineteenth century access to healthcare was class based".[5]

Dispensaries were funded by voluntary subscriptions. Subscribers would "recommend" local people to be treated by the dispensary.[6] In the main the medical practitioners engaged by dispensaries offered their services for free.[7]

One of the earlier English cities to have a provident dispensary was Coventry (dispensary opened in 1830) where, in the 1840s, members subscribed one penny a week for adults and a halfpenny a week for each of their children. This was seen as a suitable arrangement for working-class people who wanted to be provident and self-reliant, avoiding charitable treatment offered to 'paupers', but with no hope of paying the fees charged to wealthier people. A provident dispensary needed a few hundred 'club' members to pay for one doctor. Some dispensaries had extra funding from philanthropists, and some arranged for hospital specialists to see dispensary patients at reduced fees. Doctors at a few provident dispensaries, in London for example, would visit patients at home.

A provident dispensary was opened in Buffalo, New York in the second half of the 19th century.

In some places the same need might be met by friendly societies organised by the members themselves. Provident dispensaries, on the other hand, were usually set up by prosperous well-wishers and/or by a doctor, as Sophia Jex-Blake did in Edinburgh, with support from a committee.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ The eighteenth century dispensary movement. Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh. Retrieved 29 December 2018.
  2. ^ Loudon, I. S. L. (Fall 1981). "The Origins and Growth of the Dispensary Movement in England". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 55 (3): 322–342. JSTOR 44441381. PMID 7037081. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  3. ^ "The Provident Dispensary Movement". The British Medical Journal. 2 (655): 63–64. July 19, 1873. JSTOR 25235072. Retrieved 20 March 2021.
  4. ^ Philadelphia Encyclopedia "Dispensaries" by Steven J. Peitzman
  5. ^ Roberts, S (2010). "A Note on the UK National Health Service". Krankenversicherung und grenzüberschreitende Inanspruchnahme von Gesundheitsleistungen in Europa: 33–50. doi:10.5771/9783845228563-33. ISBN 9783845228563. Retrieved 6 April 2021.
  6. ^ Loudon, I. S. (1981). "THE ORIGINS AND GROWTH OF THE DISPENSARY MOVEMENT IN ENGLAND". Bulletin of the History of Medicine. 55 (3): 322–342. PMID 7037081.
  7. ^ Brown, M (2009). "Medicine, reform and the 'End' of charity in early nineteenth-century England". English Historical Review. 124 (511): 1363. JSTOR 25639852. Retrieved 6 April 2021.