Trinity’s dedication to serving the needs of the surrounding neighborhood has been an important part of its mission since its founding, taking many forms throughout its history, including a 19th century medical dispensary.
During an 1879 sermon, Trinity Rector Morgan Dix called for “means to employ a competent physician to take care of the sick poor in this neighborhood.” Fulfilling this need became a top priority of the Trinity Church Association, which formed the following year. Trinity already operated a small dispensary on Varick Street, which was relocated to the Trinity Mission House at the request of Dix. The Trinity Dispensary hired physician-in-charge Dr. Fitch and filled its first prescription on June 23, 1880.
The dispensary became a lifeline for low income families living in tenements and unsanitary conditions in the neighborhood, with 1,100 visits in the first year. By 1883 the dispensary was writing 4,000 prescriptions and seeing 2,160 patients. A first visit and prescription cost 25 cents, and a second visit and renewal was 10 cents, although the cost could be remitted at the request of Dr. Fitch or his assistants. At the height of its popularity the dispensary provided a quarter of their prescriptions for free.
In 1887 the dispensary moved to the New Mission House on Fulton Street. The spacious new office allowed them to handle 6,000 visits per year, which held steady through 1912. Visits to the Dispensary began a slow decline after World War I, with residents of Lower Manhattan benefiting from public health programs such as milk dispensaries, housing regulations, and volunteer hospitals. The local community also declined as tenements closed and residents moved uptown or to the boroughs.
Trinity Dispensary closed its doors in May 1955 after 75 years of service.
“What should be recalled with immense gratitude," wrote Charles Thorley Bridgeman in The History of Trinity Mission House 1876-1956, "is that it was made possible only through the self-sacrificing service of such splendid physicians as Dr. Fitch, Dr. Henry, Dr. Beach and Dr. Amill, who gave to their downtown friends for a mere token salary the medical skill and attention for which their uptown patients would have paid fabulous sums."
You can read more about the Trinity Dispensary here.