The Church of Scotland and the mixed economy of health and welfare provision in Glasgow, c. 1900-1950

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By 1948, Glasgow had an established, mixed economy of both healthcare and welfare. In addition to voluntary providers, there was an array of charitable providers. One of the largest providers of social services and healthcare was the national Church, the Established Church of Scotland. Yet it was a fairly recent entrant into the formal health and welfare market. While during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries individual Church of Scotland ministers helped recruit and train midwives for rural communities, it was only at the turn of the twentieth century that the Church formalized its health and welfare provision. In 1894 the Church opened the Deaconess Hospital in Edinburgh to train missionary deaconesses and to provide healthcare for Church members and the poor of the Pleasance District of Edinburgh. By 1904, the Church recognized the need to both coordinate and expand their health and welfare services. To that end, they established a Committee on Social Work to ‘provide social services irrespective of class, creed or colour based on Christian gospel and carried out by committed Christian men and women...'. Their network of health and social services gradually expanded so that by World War II, the Church was the largest single provider of social services in Scotland. The Church focused their provision in Scotland’s cities and gained civic recognition for the health and welfare services provided, including much needed accommodation, as well as specialist health and welfare services that targeted young women - the future mothers of the nation. Yet the Established Church of Scotland was only one of many providers of health and welfare services. Using Glasgow as a case study, because many of the Church’s efforts were centred there, this paper examines the Church’s initiatives in health and welfare services for women and how these were designed to meet local needs. While the Church worked independently of other providers, it engaged with civic bodies and kept a close watch of other providers to determine the type, extent and nature of its provision. This paper will argue that while local economic, social and cultural circumstances influenced its initial direction, the services provided became the State religion’s official channel for approaching Scottish moral anxieties over the erosion of community and family values. In so doing, the Church constructed medical boundaries that neglected the majority of its membership – the poor. Such exclusionary policies limited the Church’s impact and marginalized it from other health and welfare providers in the city.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2012


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