The Belfast Charitable Society was one of the first charities established in Belfast, opening the doors of the Poor House in 1774. Over time, other important voluntary organisations emerged for the relief of distress in Belfast. One such organisation was the Humane Society for the Relief of Lying-In Women, founded in 1793 by the women of Belfast. The Humane Society, in association with the Belfast Charitable Society, set up the Lying-In Hospital for pregnant woman. Together the Societies worked in conjunction to source doctors, medicines and premises.

The Belfast Charitable Society’s vast archive includes material relating to the foundation of the Lying-In Hospital, detailing the granting of official water rights in 1794. An unfortunate consequence of opening the hospital was the need to make provisions for the women and babies who sadly died during childbirth.  During this period there were no municipal graveyards, and the graveyards in operation were controlled by the different churches in Belfast. Following the opening of Clifton Street Cemetery, the Belfast Charitable Society provided coffins and burial plots in the poor ground free of charge for the Humane Society.

Martha McTier, wife of the board member Samuel McTier, was heavily involved in the scheme.  At the first meeting, she was elected, much to her surprise, as the Honourary Secretary of the committee. Upon her appointment, she wrote to her brother, the esteemed doctor and poet William Drennan, for advice on running the maternity hospital. Dr Drennan wrote back to her advising that the doctors, midwives and patients should “wash and be clean”.   This public service specifically aimed towards assisting women and children, showed the progressive and enlightened spirit of the Charitable Society.

The Lying-In Hospital survives to this day as the Royal Maternity Hospital.