The Establishment of a University Dispensary (1826)
    by Catherine A. Creighton, Undergraduate Research Assistant (History Degree)


The Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia met on Monday, April 3, 1826, and Tuesday, April 4, 1826, to discuss the establishment of a medical dispensary at the University. Both meetings were attended by five of the seven members of the Board: Thomas Jefferson, Joseph Carrington Cabell, John Hartwell Cocke, Chapman Johnson, and James Madison; the enactment for the creation of the Dispensary passed on April 4, 1826.  


Plans discussed at the meeting called for the Dispensary to be “attached to the Medical School and under the sole direction and government of the Professor of Medecine [sic].” To facilitate the “direction” of the Dispensary, the Professor of Medicine was expected to “attend personally at the Anatomical theatre” on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays “from half after one to two o’clock” to dispense “medical advice, vaccination, and aid in Surgical cases of ordinary occurrence.”


The Visitors planned for the Dispensary to serve free and non-free individuals alike. However, while “all poor free persons disordered in body topically or generally” received their advice “gratis,” all others, “bond or free," were to receive advice “on payment of half a Dollar at each attendance.” The very real fear of smallpox led the Visitors to propose a different policy with regard to vaccinations. This policy provided free vaccinations to all individuals regardless of the status of their freedom. Moreover, students were “particularly encoraged” to avail themselves of vaccinations “as a protection to the institution.”


In addition to serving the University, the Dispensary would afford clinical experience to the University’s medical students. As long as the Professor of Medicine accompanied them, medical students were permitted to “examine the patients by pulse, and other indications of disease” as well as “to ask them such questions as the Professor shall think pertinent.” Medical students were also expected to assist with the preparation of medicines and thus “acquire practical knowledge of the processes of Pharmacy.”


The Visitors next discussed the best application of the revenue generated by the Dispensary. Consensus held that the “monies so received” ought to be applied toward maintaining “a sufficient stock of medecines [sic] and salves,” and toward “procuring Surgical instruments.” Any remaining revenue would be used to “defray other expenses” of the institution.  To initiate operation of the Dispensary it was decided that “money shall be advanced from the funds of the University” so as to acquire “the first stock” of medicines and instruments. Once the dispensary became profitable, it was to reimburse the University for this initial loan.


To publicize the creation of the Dispensary, the Visitors proposed that notice of its establishment “be inserted in the 1st Central gazette” of the University each month until the Executive Committee ordered its discontinuance. This frequent publication would ensure that “all those who may wish to avail themselves of the Institution” were aware of its existence and the services it provided.



University of Virginia. Board of Visitor Minutes. 3,4 April 1826: n.p.


Cite This Entry

Creighton, Catherine A. "The Establishment of a University Dispensary (1826)." JUEL, June 18, 2015.


First published: June 18, 2015 | Last modified:  July 1, 2018