Friday, June 17, 2011

Cavendish Semiquincentennial: 18th Century Medical Care

Among the first Cavendish settlers, health care was most likely typical of late 18th century America. It would have been provided at home under the direction of women. They served as doctor, nurse, midwife, pharmacist, and therapist. Since women of this era received minimal education, their medical information was handed down within families and among neighbors and what they learned by trial and error. Kitchen gardens did double duty, offering remedies in the form of herbs.

If a woman was thought to be specifically skilled at caring for the sick, or helping with childbirth, she might take care of her neighbors. During the Revolutionary War and again in the Civil War, including Cavendish’s Aunt Lizzie Aiken, women served as nurses to the sick and wounded.

The use of vaccinations began in the 18th century, with a vaccination for smallpox. Given the outbreaks of this disease in Cavendish, it is unlikely that the early settlers would have been so treated.

The first physician came to Cavendish in 1787, when ASAP Fletcher settled near Proctorville. Physicians of this era based health on the four ancient elements: earth, air, water and fire and their corresponding “humors” blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. People became sick if the humors were unbalanced. If a patient had excess, practices such as bloodletting, purges, blistering, sweating was used, while herbal remedies; food and drugs were used to add humors. One of the most popular forms of medicine at the time was Calomel, a form of mercury.

The difference between how women treated their patients (family members, friends and neighbors) and how doctors administered care was that the women practiced what they found to work, while doctors practiced “scholarly medicine,” whether it worked or not. Most midwives washed their hands before attending to the mother. Physicians did not start washing their hands before assisting in a delivery until the mid 1800’s or later.

These women must have known what they were doing as John Coffeen was 76 and his wife Susanna 94 when they died. Salmon Dutton was 80, his wife 83 and Leonard Proctor were 93 at the time of their passing.

1 comment:

  1. Coffeen and Preston families practiced Thomsonian Medicine which was herbal. Lobelia used to induce sweating/vomiting.