Built in 1888 as an outpatients dept for the Sick Children’s hospital, a significant factor in the choice of location was that “the north west of the city, including the large district of Cowcaddens and Garscube Road and east and west of there up to the canal, stands most in need of an institution of this kind”.
During its first year 16,000 attended and an extension was required within 5 years of opening. There was no NHS at that time, but treatment was provided free of charge at the Dispensary, the only condition being that the child was “poor and sick”. Soup was also provided in cold weather and festive fare around Christmas.
In the afternoons, the Dispensary Sisters made home visits to patients to provide continuing care. They also gave health, hygiene and nutrition advice and assisted the poorer cases with milk, beef-tea, and surgical appliances. The Sisters also carried out the duties of an Almoner (medical social worker) until a hospital Almoner was appointed in 1915.
The Head Nurse was Sister Laura Smith, who became a household name in the area, running the Dispensary for 30 years. Laura had been born in Wales c 1868 and had worked at the hospital for 5 years before moving to the dispensary and was Sister in Charge of the Dispensary from 1897 – 1922.
In 1911 she helped to establish The Sister Laura’s Infant Food Co Ltd, in a factory at Bishopbriggs which marketed a proprietary infant food based on a recipe she had used at the Dispensary for years. Although initially intended for infants, the food was later marketed for other groups, including “invalids and convalescents” as well as “expectant and nursing mothers”.
This business venture did not meet with the approval of the Directors at the Dispensary and Laura was reprimanded. The business expanded, but sales were affected by the provision of NHS dried milk from 1948. The doors of the Bishopbriggs factory closed for the final time in 1981
Laura herself retired due to ill health in 1922 and the hospital tried to encourage her to stay on by offering her the opportunity to take a few month’s rest. The offer was turned down and Laura was awarded an annuity of £100 p.a. which was paid until her death in 1943.
In 1953 the Dispensary and the hospital out-patient merged in a new Department at Yorkhill. The building is now used by Glasgow School of Art.