The provident dispensaries movement in Manchester, 1871–85

Martin Hewitt’s chapter on the history of the provident dispensary movement, initiated in the 1870s by the social reformer, Dr John Watts asks why provident dispensaries, unlike the Hospital Funds movement, have been largely neglected in the scholarship of medical philanthropy although, as Hewitt argues, those in Manchester were central to national debates over hospital reform and served as a model for similar initiatives in other parts of the country. The establishment of provident dispensaries in the city encapsulated many of the challenges which impeded the development of medical provision for the working-classes, as in the tensions which Hewitt illustrates in relation to the professional status and expectations of medical men, concerned about the movement’s threats to their fees and status. Watt’s scheme of provident dispensaries, which aimed to promote ‘a general scheme of medical insurance’, was ahead of its time, symptomatic, Hewitt argues, of the pitfalls which faced those committed to the establishment of a comprehensive system of healthcare in the late-Victorian period.

in People, places and identities