Journal Article

Subscribing to a Democracy? Management and the Voluntary Ideology of the London Hospitals, 1850–1900

Keir Waddington

in The English Historical Review

Volume 118, issue 476, pages 357-379
Published in print April 2003 | ISSN: 0013-8266
Published online April 2003 | e-ISSN: 1477-4534 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ehr/118.476.357
Subscribing to a Democracy? Management and the Voluntary Ideology of the London Hospitals, 1850–1900

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Victorian commentators believed that London's hospitals were the greatest achievement of voluntarism. In an ‘age of charitable societies’ they were the most visible of Victorian manifestations of institutional philanthropy, providing an administrative and medical model that was copied throughout England and Wales. But what type of voluntarism did they represent? By examining the common motives for giving, the rights offered to donors in return for their generosity, and who managed London's hospitals in the period 1850 to 1900, the article explores the nature of voluntarism when it was mediated through a charitable institution. In doing so, it suggests that despite the inclusive fundraising rhetoric employed, the dominant role of the giver was tempered by the practicalities of management and by a form of voluntarism that claimed to be inclusive but was in fact exclusive. A study of hospitals in London suggests that Morris' concept of a ‘subscriber democracy’ needs to be refined to take account of growing pressure from women and the working classes to be involved in how the late Victorian hospital was managed in the second half of the nineteenth century. By looking at the role of women and working men in hospital management it raises questions about the unifying influence of institutional voluntarism and associational philanthropy.

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Subjects: British History ; World History ; European History ; International History

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