Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia

Dispensaries

Bishop William White

Portrait of Bishop William White. The image is from his waist up. He is seated, with his right arm crossing his body in the lower half of the fram. He is an older white man, bald on top of his head but with longer, curly white hair around the sides and back of his head. He wears a religous robe.

Bishop William White (1748-1836) believed that religious education and devotion could cure society’s problems. (Historical Society of Pennsylvania)

Historical Society of Pennsylvania

William White (1748-1836) originally headed the Philadelphia Dispensary for the Medical Relief of the Poor, considered the nation’s first, opened in 1786. White was born in Philadelphia and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Philadelphia College, later known as the University of Pennsylvania. Although he traveled to England to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, White lived in Philadelphia for the majority of his life.

First an Episcopal deacon, then priest and finally bishop, White believed that religious education and devotion could cure society’s problems. In addition to his role in the dispensary, the bishop raised funds to start a school for black and Native American children, helped create the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf, was the first president of the Pennsylvania Society for Alleviating the Miseries of Public Prisons, and served as president of the Magdalen Society to care for and reform “fallen women.”

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