The First Lady Almoner: The Appointment, Position, and Findings of Miss Mary Stewart at the Royal Free Hospital, 1895–99
- Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences
- Oxford University Press
- Volume 68, Number 4, October 2013
- pp. 551-582
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This article examines the professional roots of the hospital almoner, a position which has been widely neglected in medical history. The first almoner was Miss Mary Stewart, a former Charity Organization Society employee, appointed at the Royal Free Hospital of central London in 1895. The Royal Free was a charitable hospital which offered free medical treatment to patients considered morally deserving but unable to afford medical care elsewhere. The role expected of Stewart was to means test patients in order to ensure that only those deemed “appropriate” received free medical treatment, and to establish the extent to which the hospital was being abused by those who could afford to contribute toward their medical care. While in office, Stewart continually reshaped the role of almoner. She fashioned the position into that of a medical social worker and undertook such duties as referring patients to other means of medical and charitable assistance, visiting patients’ homes, and training almoners for positions at other voluntary hospitals. Through the examination of Mary Stewart’s Almoners Report Book, this article considers the circumstances of her appointment, the role she performed, and the findings of her investigations.