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Salem Dispensary (1820-1877) Records

Salem Dispensary (1820-1877) Records

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SALEM DISPENSARY (1820-1877) RECORDS, 1849-1877

Collection Summary

Repository:The Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum 132 Essex Street Salem, MA 01970 Phone: 978-745-9500 Fax: 978-531-1516
Creator:Salem Dispensary
Title:Salem Dispensary (1820-1877) Records
Quantity:0.5 Linear feet (1 box)
Abstract:The Salem Dispensary Records document part of the history of this Salem, Massachusetts, privately-funded medical service.
Collection Number:MSS 309

Series List

SERIES I. Secretary/Treasurer's Journal
SERIES II. Collection Notebook
SERIES III. Business Papers

Scope and Content Note

The Salem Dispensary Records document part of the history of this Salem, Massachusetts, privately-funded medical service. The collection has been organized into three series.

Series I. Secretary/Treasurer's Journal begins in 1860 with a note that the earlier records had been destroyed in a fire at Henry Whipple's store; Henry Whipple had been the Secretary/Treasurer for thirty-one years. The notebook contains the minutes of annual meetings from 1860 through the final meeting in 1876. In the back of the book are the treasurer's accounts from 1860 through 1877.

Series II. Collection Notebook, 1860-1871, consists of a notebook with the office record of dues collected for the Dispensary; the collector maintained a separate account, which is not included in these papers.

Series III. Business Papers consist of apothecary bills, receipts, reports and letters.

Historical Sketch

Prior to 1820 no institution existed in Salem that fulfilled the purpose of a dispensary. On January 10, 1820, a meeting of "gentlemen" was held at the Essex Coffee House, chaired by B. W. Crowninshield for the purpose of forming a dispensary, "and recommending the institution to the wealthy and charitably disposed inhabitants of the place." At this meeting a committee was chosen, Rev. Thomas Carlile, Dr. Able L. Pierson and Mr. John W. Treadwell to make suitable arrangements toward accomplishing the purpose. At the adjournment on February 15, 1820 the committee report was adopted and the members elected Dr. Edward A. Holyoke president, John W. Treadwell, Joseph Howard, Rev. Thomas Carlile, and Abel Lawrence, Jr. managers, and John G. King, Esq., secretary.

The town was divided into two districts: the Western District included all persons living west of Washington and Court Streets, the Eastern District, those persons living to the east of those streets. Each district was to have a physician and an apothecary to service applicants. To receive services each subscriber could furnish to any person he deemed deserving a ticket entitling the holder to all the benefits of the institution. In 1831, the Salem Dispensary petitioned for formal incorporation by the General Court. It was enacted and approved by the governor on February 3, 1831.

By 1839, abuses had crept into the system with many persons availing themselves of benefits who could pay, in part, if not in full to their medical attendant. This and a smaller subscription list prompted changes in how services would be funded. The rules were changed such that to avail themselves of services, each family was required to pay three dollars a year to receive benefits. Families who could not afford the fee were given free tickets as in the past. With the fees also came a change in the way services were delivered. The managers gave over to the executive committee the control to determine who could get free services. The City allowed the Dispensary an office at Old Town Hall in 1860 where a clerk would be in attendance afternoons from three to five daily, except Sundays, where services could be applied for.

All funds collected would be applied to services and expenses, excess expenses to be borne by the subscribers. In the event of any excess funds, the money would be shared among the physicians who, up to this time had received no payment for their services.

At the annual meeting on January 20, 1875, the managers voted to dissolve the Dispensary and any funds remaining to go to Salem Hospital, founded in 1873. Pursuant to the vote of the managers the president petitioned the General Court to dissolve the Salem Dispensary, which was granted in 1876. The last treasurer's entry on January 22, 1877 notes that all the assets of the Dispensary had been transferred to Salem Hospital.

Index Terms

This collection is indexed under the following headings in Philcat. Researchers desiring materials about related topics, persons, or places should search the catalog using these headings.

Charities, Medical--Massachusetts--Salem
Medical assistance
Medical care--Massachusetts--Salem
Poor--Medical care--Massachusetts--Salem
Salem (Mass.)


Restrictions on Access

This collection is open for research use.

Administrative Information


Requests for permission to publish material from the collection must be submitted in writing to the Manuscript Librarian in the Phillips Library at the Peabody Essex Museum.

Preferred Citation

Salem Dispensary (1820-1877) Records, MSS 309, Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum, Salem, Mass.


The provenance of the collection is not known.

Processing Information

Collection processed by S. Perkins, April 2000. Updated by Nicholas Long, May 2015.

Related Material

Acts & Resolved of the General Court of Massachusetts; 1831, Chapter 30; 1876 Chapter 30.

Salem City Directory; 1837 and 1864.

Salem Gazette; January 14, 1820; February 18, 1820; March 24, 1820.

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