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Divine Providence Hospital patients

If we were to outline the general profile of the patient that passed through the Divine Providence Hospital during the 19th century, we would say that he was a man, probably single, between 25 and 60 years old, and born in Vila Real. These are the characteristics of almost two thirds of all patients that attended the Hospital.

For women, their journey to the Divine Providence Hospital in the early 19th century was more problematic, though, over time, their numbers increased. There are several cultural, economic and psychological reasons for this behaviour – a greater resistance to abandon the household or the lack of consent from her family –, not to mention the hospital's lack of physical conditions or its incapacity to treat certain diseases associated to women.

Children are also rare in the hospitalization records, a reality common to other countries. Although being a group with high levels of mortality, children were, throughout centuries, “stuck” inside the household, deserving little attention.

Among adults, we highlight the single, followed by the married. In the case of the widowed, women prevail, not only due to the typical age structure, but also due to the fact that women emerged as “beneficiaries of assistance” from the moment they were "in a vulnerable position", particularly if they were poor.

Overall, taking into account the entire period for which we have records of entries in the Divine Providence Hospital (1796-1888), we can consider two phases: first, from 1796 to 1852, when the number of patients grew slowly, usually less than 400 per year; and a second phase between 1853 and 1888, when the annual number of patients was always above 600.

Indeed, the patients annually received at the Hospital did not reach 100 in the period from 1796 to 1827 – with the exception of 1804, 1808, 1823 and 1826 –, rising up to 200 during the reign of King Miguel I and the Portuguese civil war, in the years of 1828-1835 (530 entries in 1833, the year of cholera morbus), remained above 200 between 1843-1852, and suddenly, in 1853, the number jumped to 575 and remained over 500 until 1888  – in 1886 it reached 976 entries, the highest number since the founding of the Hospital.

The expansion of the Hospital’s facilities appears to be the decisive factor behind this large increase in entries in the second half of the 19th century, which coincides with the beginning of the period known as “Regeneration”, an increase that will be developed across the 20th century.