Skip to main content

Trinity College Dublin, The University of Dublin

Trinity Menu Trinity Search


TLRH | Role of Dublin Workhouse Officials in Preventing and Contributing to Institutional Mortality, 1872-1913

Wednesday, 6 April 2022, 12:30 – 1:30pm

TLRH | Role of Dublin Workhouse Officials in Preventing and Contributing to Institutional Mortality, 1872-1913

‘“They attached no blame to the staff in charge”: The Role of Dublin Workhouse Officials in Preventing and Contributing to Institutional Mortality, 1872-1913’ a seminar by Shelby Zimmerman (TCD) as part of the Medical and Health Humanities Lunchtime Seminar Series in association with Trinity Long Room Hub.

The Trinity College Dublin Medical and Health Humanities Initiative brings together researchers from a wide range of disciplines including history, philosophy, sociology, drama, health sciences, religion, cultural studies, arts, literature and languages.

Medical and health humanities seeks to provide insights into the cultural and social contexts within which diverse but interrelated concerns such as the human condition, the individual experience of illness and suffering, and the way medicine is (or was) practiced, might be understood. The Trinity College Dublin Medical and Health Humanities initiative seeks to cultivate a richer understanding of the interactions and synergies between practices and discourses of wellness, health or medicine and the arts, humanities or culture through interdisciplinary research and education. 



During the Great Famine from 1845 to 1852, the Irish workhouse was associated in the public consciousness with dying and the mistreatment of the dead. By the end of the nineteenth century, the role of the workhouse shifted from poor relief to medical relief and thus became the largest and most accessible medical institution for the poor. Despite the workhouse’s newfound status as a medical institution, it was still plagued by the reputation of its Famine counterpart. Through an analysis of the North and South Dublin Unions, this paper will examine whether that stigma was warranted in post-Famine Dublin. It will look at the treatment of inmates to ascertain whether the Board of Guardians and medical officers were complicit in mortality rates. It will analyse ward management and staffing to determine whether negligence was inherent or a reflection on the medical officers. This paper will also examine how the Guardians responded to infectious disease and whether it revealed different attitudes towards different classes of inmates. Ultimately, this paper will determine if workhouse staff sought to reduce institutional mortality or contributed to the workhouse’s stigma.

Register here


Speaker Biography

Shelby Zimmerman is a PhD candidate at Trinity College Dublin studying the medicalisation of death in the Dublin city workhouses from 1872 to 1920 centring on the role the workhouse played in Dublin's medical landscape for the sick and dying poor. She is primarily interested in the history of medicine, institutions, the Irish Poor Law, poverty, and death. She received her BS in History and Museum Studies from Towson University in Maryland and her MPhil with Distinction from Trinity College Dublin in Modern Irish History. Shelby is an Early Career Researcher in the Trinity Long Room Hub Arts & Humanities Research Institute. She is also the co-curator of the Little Museum of Dublin’s upcoming exhibition on Victorian medicine.

Attendance is open to all with relevant interests inside and outside TCD. Please indicate if you have any access requirements, such as ISL/English interpreting, so that we can facilitate you in attending this event. Contact:

Campus LocationTrinity Long Room Hub Arts and Humanities Research Institute
Accessibility: Yes
Room: online
Event Category: Lectures and Seminars
Type of Event: One-time event
Audience: Undergrad, Postgrad, Alumni, Faculty & Staff, Public
Cost: Free but registration is required
Contact Name: Prof Des O'Neill

Support Trinity Long Room Hub

Click Here