Dorcas Society

A brief history of this Charitable society was given by Larch Garrad in Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol IX p257 et seq from which it is extracted:


Dr. Larch S. Garrad

The Douglas Dorcas Society was the longest-established Douglas charity, being instituted on December 1st, 1834, being a day set apart by Wesleyan Methodists and others,of Douglas, for Public Thanksgiving to the Almighty for that merciful exemption of the town from cholera during that year.At a meeting held in the Vestry of the Wesleyan Chapel at which several ladies were present it was agreed: "That a Society be formed, which shall be denominated 'THE DOUGLAS DORCAS SOCIETY', in allusion to the character of Dorcas recorded in Acts ix, 36."

The rules of the Society were:
1. That the objects of this Society be to administer relief to the poor and necessitous of Plain and Necessary Articles of Clothing.
2. That an Annual Meeting of the Committee and Subscribers shall be held on the last Friday in November in each year, to hear a report of the proceedings of the society, and to elect a new Committee and to appoint Office-Bearers for the ensuing year, viz., President, Treasurer, Secretary and Wardrobe Keeper.
3. That the Subscribers shall be supplied with Tickets of recommendation at the rate of Two Shillings and Sixpence each.
4. That attendance shall be given at the Vestry of Thomas Street Chapel for the Distribution of Garments, from Ten to Twelve o'clock on each Thursday in November and December; first and third in January and February; and the first Thursday in March and April.
5. That no alteration shall be made in any of these Rules unless proposed by a member at a Monthly Meeting who shall be required to give notice of the same at a previous meeting, or at the Annual Meeting of the Committee and Subscribers.

The immediate reason for the Society's founding seems to have been that there had been a wholesale destruction of clothes and bedding during the cholera outbreak which had left many of the poorer families in the town in great need. Blankets were given out, as well as the garments sewn by members of the sewing circle. Among items now in the Manx Museum is the bag in which blankets for distribution were carried. It is labelled, in ink, 'Dorcas blankets/1884/Miss Cubbon Wardrobe Keeper/E. Gelling Secr.'.

The members who did the actual needlework met to work every other week, at the beginning of the twentieth century. The tradition of hand sewing persisted until about 1925 but the Society had acquired a sewing machine. A sample chemise from the sewing cupboard is sewn with small, straight machine stitches, although it is of a Victorian pattern. It is of heavy, closely-woven, unbleached cotton and is the epitome of a 'plain and necessary article of clothing'. The scarcely-flared body is gathered onto a neckband which fastens with a fabric button, with none of the then customary lace, or broderie anglaise. The short sleeves have square under-arm gussets and there is no decoration, not even a line of feather stitching, such as would usually ornament the hems of petticoats made by Sunday School pupils for missions. As each member arrived at the sewing meeting, she was handed a round wicker basket, containing thread, scissors, needles, pins, a thimble and her unfinished work. She also put on her white on red pin-spot apron, to protect light fabrics from her dark clothing. The Manx Museum has two aprons and a sewing basket (on loan).

Although the garments were so plain they were clearly durable and a 2/6 'ticket of recommendation', which would only be given to those a subscriber judged to be worthy, would have been of considerable value in terms of clothing. The library of the Manx Museum has several price lists, including one of 1892, signed by Elizabeth Gelling, Secretary, and coming down to the 1939-45 war period when coupons had to be surrendered.



Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received The Editor
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