A “Crutch to Assist in Gaining an Honest Living”: Dispensary Shopkeeping by Scottish General Practitioners and the Responses of the British Medical Elite, ca. 1852–1911


This article examines the practice among general practitioners in Scotland of keeping shops for dispensary and retail purposes in the late nineteenth century. It demonstrates that while doctors kept such open shops in these areas in order to subsidize their income in a crowded medical market, they argued that shopkeeping allowed them to provide medical care in communities where the population was otherwise too poor to pay for such care. The article compares shopkeeping to medical “covering” and assesses the medical hierarchy’s reactions to shopkeeping doctors via disciplinary actions taken against some of these doctors by the General Medical Council (GMC). These actions provoked an organized protest among hundreds of doctors (some of it channeled through the British Medical Association), which challenged the methods of the GMC in determining acceptable professional medical standards.