Guide to the South End Dispensary and Hospital records, 1893 - circa 1924

Descriptive Summary

Creator The South End Dispensary and Hospital
Title The South End Dispensary and Hospital records
Dates 1893-1924
Identification CC 5
Quantity 0.5 linear feet (1 manuscript box)
Collection Abstract The South Boston Dispensary collection contains the correspondence of Dr. Freeman Lowell, the Dispensary's Superintendent, with potential donors, his Harvard class, the media, and some medical correspondence. The bulk of the collection consists of correspondence and applications from 1911-1923. The collection may be of interest to researchers studying Boston charities in the early 20th century, and particularly the era of small, unsupervised neighborhood dispensaries.
Historical Abstract The South End Dispensary and Hospital was established in 1893 "to help the sick, the poor, and the homeless." It provided "continuous medical and surgical care" to residents of the South End of Boston. The Dispensary was a vital resource to the South End, providing service to approximately 2,000 to 3,000 patients a year, according to its 1916 and 1917 annual reports.
Language Material in English.
Location Collection may be stored offsite. Please contact Archives staff for more information.

Information for Users

Access Restrictions

Collection is open.

Copyright Notice

Copyright for materials resides with the creators of the items in question, unless otherwise designated.

Publishing Permission

Please contact the College Archivist with requests to publish any material from the collection.

Preferred Citation

[Identification of item: description and date], South End Dispensary and Hospital, CC 5, Simmons College Archives, Boston, MA, USA.

Acquisitions Information

Transferred from the Simmons College School of Social Work Library, 1991

Accession number: 88.011, 88.025

Processing Information

Processed by Richard S. Carroll, March, 1993;

Supervised by Megan Sniffin-Marinoff and Peter Carini;

This collection guide was encoded as part of the LEADS project by Aliza Allen Leventhal, July 26, 2012.

Organizational History

The South End Dispensary and Hospital

The dispensary was established in 1893 "to help the sick, the poor, and the homeless."(1) Located originally at 53 Dover Street (and later at 2A Milford Street), it provided "continuous medical and surgical care" to residents of the South End of Boston.(2)

The Dispensary apparently issued few annual reports (of extreme brevity). Statements from 1916 and 1917 reported an average of more than 1500 charitable cases annually, with house and office visits averaging 2,000 to 3,000 a year. No statistics were provided on types of patients or method of treatment. Financial figures reported only broad categories of expense at $2,000 to $3,000 annually.

The staff consisted of the Superintendent, Dr. Freeman Lowell, and his wife, who was listed for a period as an officer of the agency, and apparently performed the only housekeeping duties.

Care was free, except for patients who could pay $1.00. Approximately 75% or more of annual income came from gifts, with 25% from patient fees.

1. See Lowell's appeal of December 16, 1918, in Fundraising Appeals and Materials series.
2. See 1918 Annual Statement in Fundraising Appeals and Materials series

Freeman L. Lowell (1871-1924)

A native of West Kennebunk, Maine, Freeman Lamprey Lowell (Harvard College 1894, Harvard Medical School 1900) was Superintendent of the Dispensary from 1906 to his death in 1924. After receiving his medical degree, Dr. Lowell served as a house officer at Cambridge Hospital, and from 1901 to 1905 as bacteriologist to the Somerville Board of Health. Thereafter he practiced briefly in Harwich, returning to Boston (after the death of his first wife) when he took over at the Dispensary.

Dr. Lowell, in fact, was the Dispensary, which he ran at his home on Milford Street. A skilled fundraiser, he wrote brief letters stressing his work with the sick poor. Many leading Boston residents contributed (See partial list under 'Fundraising Appeals and Materials'). His principal fundraising pamphlet, entitled "The Little Doctor Around the Corner," was a Dickensian write-up on the slums of the South End and its needy denizens. In seeking broader support from fellow Harvard alumni, he began adding a postscript extending greetings "to the noble old class of..." and filling in the appropriate class year.(1) The President of the Harvard Alumni Association wrote to him, asking him to end this confusing salutation, since many alumni assumed he was a classmate.(2)

The Associated Charities and the Boston Chamber of Commerce refused to support him because the Clinic lacked "a responsible board of directors"(3) and issued an "annual report which does not report."(4) The State Department of Health refused to license the Dispensary until 1919, noting earlier that the "and Hospital" was untrue, and the Dispensary had not shown that its operation "will be for the public benefit."(5)

In 1918, Dr. Lowell enrolled in the ROTC. Shortly thereafter, he had a nervous breakdown and developed cardiac problems. He ended up serving as a draft registrar and as Assistant to the Medical Examiner of the local draft board. His obituary notice states that, after several years of poor health, he died February 21, 1924 in a private hospital in Arlington.(6) The last correspondence in his file was dated December 1923. Since he was a one-man band, presumably the Dispensary died with him.

Donald Moreland, a collector of literature on local charities and the donor of these records, states that "I believe this was a phony charity conducted by a man with the right name at the time (Lowell)."(7) Unfortunately, with no individual patient records and no independent board to supervise the clinic, there is little evidence whether Dr. Lowell did or did not actually operate a full-time dispensary. One classmate who visited him found him in bed at mid-day (rather than seeing patients), but that was apparently due to Dr. Lowell's stated policy of night calls at all hours. A few letters concern what he did for patients at the Dispensary or other hospitals.

If he was indeed operating "a phony charity," his annual income of $2,000 to $3,000 was no great bonanza, even early in the century. During his tenure, The Bay State Dispensary in the North End was charged with failing to account for thousands of dollars raised, and for sale or misuse of drugs, food and other gifts in kind. The available records do not show any such charge against Lowell.

His correspondence -- particularly his "noble old class" trick -- reveals that he was an amiable rogue. Whether he was a fraud cannot be determined.

1. For a modified version of this salutation, see three letters of December 15, 1915, in Fundraising Appeals and Materials series.
2. See his letter of January 28, 1913, in Fundraising Appeals and Materials series
3. See their letter of March 3, 1910 in Applications to Agencies series.
4. See the Chamber's 'Current Affairs' of December 24, 1917, The Bureau of Investigation (page 3 column 2) in Application to Agencies series.
5. See the Department's letter of August 15, 1919, in Application to Agencies series.
6. The Boston Medical and Surgical Journal 190 (January-June, 1924): 438.
7. Information maintained in the Archives' control files for this collection.

Collection Overview

The South Boston Dispensary papers contain correspondence of Dr. Freeman Lowell (its Superintendent) with potential donors, his Harvard class, and the media (as well as some medical correspondence). It also contains samples of his fundraising letters and materials, applications to philanthropic and health agencies, clippings, and a drawing and photo of Dr. Lowell while in ROTC.

The bulk of the collection is found in the correspondence is found in the correspondence and the applications, and covers the years from 1911 to 1923, or most of the period during which Dr. Lowell was Superintendent.

The collection may be of interest to researchers studying Boston charities in the early years of the 20th century, and particularly the era of small unsupervised neighborhood dispensaries, often staffed by a single physician. As a sidelight, Dr. Lowell's "ingenious" fundraising techniques could be of interest to small agencies.

Some aspects of local interest in this collection are the number of leading Bostonians who supported the Dispensary, the actions of the Associated Charities of Boston and the Chamber of Commerce who refused to support the agency, and Lowell's long struggle to secure licensure by the State Department of Health.

Online Catalog Headings

These and related materials may be found under the following headings in online catalogs.

Charities -- Massachusetts -- Boston
Lowell, Freeman L.
Poor -- Medical care -- Massachusetts -- Boston
Public Health -- Massachusetts -- Boston
The South End Dispensary and Hospital

Collection Arrangement

Arranged into five series:

Series I: Correspondence
Series IV: Clipping File

Related Material

Detailed Description of the Collection

Series I: Correspondence, 1911-1921 (4 folders)

Box 1

  • Folder 1: Fundraising correspondence, 1911-1921
    • Folder 2: Harvard class correspondence, 1915-1921
      • Folder 3: Correspondence with the Media, 1912-1917
        • Folder 4: Medical correspondence, 1913-1920

          Series II: Fundraising Appeals and Materials, 1913-1920 (1 folder)

          Box 1

          • Folder 5: 1913-1920

            Series III: Applications to Agencies, 1910-1923 (1 folder)

            Box 1

            • Folder 6: 1910-1923

              Series IV: Clipping File, 1913-1919 (1 folder)

              Box 1

              • Folder 7: 1913-1919

                Series V: Drawings and Photographs, circa 1918 (1 folder)

                Box 1

                • Folder 8: Circa 1918