More 19th Century Medicine


Currently my favorite reading material

Patricia Grady Cox

August 10, 2016

I can’t seem to stop reading this book! “The National Farmer’s and Housekeeper’s Cyclopaedia” contains too much useful information, especially if one is writing a novel set in this time period. This 1888 portal into the past offers not only the “science” but also the culture and attitudes of the time, especially since the publisher, Mr. Frank M. Lupton, exhibits no qualms about letting his personal feelings guide his editorial work (see last week’s post). I’m especially enjoying “The Home Physician” chapter. Please also be aware that even though Frank saw no reason to issue a disclaimer, I do. None of this information is to be considered actual medical advice. Here is the suggested treatment for sunstroke:

possible sunstroke victim

Possible sunstroke victim awaiting ice water and essence of ginger on the streets of New York, 1800s. Photo from New York Public Library Digital Collection, public domain.

“As soon as you reach your patient take hold of him or her and carry or drag him or her into the shade. Place the body in a sitting posture, the back against a wall, with the feet and legs resting upon the sidewalk and extending in front of the body. Get ice water and a bottle of some strong essence of ginger. Pour the ice water over the head, copiously; never mind the clothes. Then pour two or three tablespoonfuls of ginger in about half a tumbler of water, and make the patient swallow it quickly. Keep the head cool by using a little of the ice water, and in case there is not much of a glow on the body give more ginger. If this recipe is promptly used and fully carried out in every case the Board of Health will never have a death to record from this cause. It is no experiment or quack remedy. It costs but a few cents and a half-hour or an hour’s time. Ginger is by far the best to use, and where it cannot be had quickly two or three good drinks of brandy will answer.”

Picture of spices

Picture from New York Public LIbrary Digital Collection, public domain.

Do you get the feeling Mr. Lupton had a specific incident in mind when compiling this advice? I visualize him dragging the sunstricken “him or her” out of a street, leaning the body against a building in the shade, and running for ice water and essence of ginger from the nearest establishment. Oh, and a tumbler, please. Of course, all this requires the sun to strike in a town. I’m assuming he lived in New York City,

Out for a stroll

Strolling the streets of 19th century New York City, no sunstroke victims in evidence. Picture from New York Public LIbrary Digital Collection, public domain.

where his publishing company was located, which would explain why much of his information seems a little metrocentric.

Mr. Lupton’s previous admonitions against “drinking poisonous whiskey and other intoxicating drinks” and “repeatedly using poison as medicines” (near the top of his list of “How People Get Sick” – see last week’s post) receives dispensation in this instance. I should research the records and see if Mr. Lupton served on the Board of Health, since he seems so concerned about their work levels.

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One comment

  1. Good catch about the whiskey – unless he meant for the medical professional to drink it, lol.


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