This article looks at the contingent developments that led to the feminization of hospital dispensing at the end of the nineteenth century in England. In the 1870s, as a result of the campaign of the Women's Movement to open medicine to women, the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women found it possible to place some of its protégées in the dispensaries of hospitals founded by members of the Movement. Coincidentally, a radical member of the Council of the Pharmaceutical Society smoothed the way for them to take the Society's examinations, thus setting up an expectation that these women should be qualified. By the 1880s, the practice of employing female dispensers had spread to Birmingham, and the women here adopted a less difficult and expensive qualification, the Apothecaries' Assistant's Certificate, as the qualification of choice. The 1890s also saw increasing pressure on mainstream hospital dispensaries to replace the untrained assistants in their dispensaries, customarily employed on the Babbage Principle to save money, with qualified ones. In consequence, hospital managements sought a new means of containing costs and, turning to the kind of women already shown to be competent in Women's Movement hospitals, found the solution in a vertical gender-segregation, where the lesser qualification of women dispensers made them ‘unpromotable’ to head dispenser, thus preserving the career ladder for more highly-qualified male dispensers.
Social History of Medicine Vol. 15, Issue 3, p. 429-456