Presidential Address: The 1890s Debate over the Democratic Control of Hospitals in Britain and New Zealand

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Anna Clark's presidential plenary to the 2018 North American Conference on British Studies in Vancouver, British Columbia, compares scandals over the mistreatment of patients and nurses that led to demands for popular control of hospitals in both Britain and New Zealand in the 1890s. A high death rate at the Chelsea Hospital for Women in London, located near a Pasteur Institute for animal research on vaccination, incited fears of human vivisection. The high death rate of nurses at the London Hospital provoked newspaper exposés and parliamentary investigations and calls for the municipalization of voluntary hospitals. In Christchurch, New Zealand, a debate over the rudeness of doctors and nurses enraged citizens. The flames of these scandals were sparked by newspaper agitation but fanned by feminists, socialists, trade unionists, and animal-rights organizations. In response to fears around experimentation, Fabian socialists Havelock Ellis, Harry Roberts, and Honnor Morten proposed democratic control of hospitals. These demands, focusing on patients' rights and nurses' health, differed from the hospital reform movement that urged hospitals to become more economical by forcing patients to pay. They also diverged from Beatrice and Sidney Webb's admonitions that the state must oversee citizens' health for the nation to function efficiently. Although the calls for the democratic control of hospitals did not succeed, they might be seen as germs of a patient-centered approach to hospital care.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-28
Number of pages28
JournalJournal of British Studies
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Anna Clark is professor of history at the University of Minnesota. She thanks the University of Minnesota’s Grant-in-Aid and Imagine Fund, the Fulbright Scholar Program of New Zealand, and the Derek Brewer Visiting Fellowship at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, for enabling the research for this project. She is also grateful to Barbara Brookes, Charlotte Macdonald, Matthew Newsom Kerr, and Nadia Durbach for their expert critiques and help; Kirsten Fischer, Kate Solomonson, and Anne Carter for reading drafts; and Maureen Garvie for expert copyediting. Please direct any correspondence to


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