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100 Years Ago


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Medicine

During the early part of the nineteenth century, most members of the medical establishment practiced purging (evacuation of the bowels) bleeding (letting blood flow from the body, using devices such as the fleam pictured at left), and administering large doses of drugs.  Early medical knowledge adhered to the theory that inflammation and disease was caused by "tainted blood" or "bad blood." By the 1850s and 1860s, it was felt there was an overabundance of blood (which was considered to be tainted) that had to be eliminated. The physicians would cut into the affected area and let the blood flow. Called bleeding, it was a common treatment.

Prior to the Civil War, Ohio had no laws governing pharmacy (the science of preparing and compounding medicines). As with a number of other professions, the normal method of learning was to work and study with someone already performing the work. There would be no legislation regulating the practice of pharmacy until 1873. It wasn’t until 1905 that a degree in pharmacy was required in any state. Given this, few effective medicines were available. The practice of medicine required neither a medical degree nor a license. Many doctors simply prescribed the use of herbs, medicines, poultices, hot baths and dietary moderation.

The relationship between cleanliness, germs and infection, had not yet been determined so diseases such as pneumonia, smallpox, typhoid and cholera were quite common. Others included the croup, gout, consumption, diphtheria, whooping cough, pleurisy, dropsy, scurvy, chillalins, and, of course, broken bones and wounds. Chemical substances that have been proven dangerous to human consumption were regularly prescribed, mercury, lead, various poisonous plant extracts, arsenic, opium, etc. It wasn’t until 1852 that the General Assembly of Ohio passed an Act that regulated the sale of poison. It required that the druggist keep a detailed register of the sale of poison and was not allowed to sell arsenic in pure form — soot had to be added to it.

Without regular access to a doctor, a pioneer woman became the physician of her own home. If she proved successful, word would spread throughout the region and the woman would be asked to assist other pioneers as well.

'Pioneer' segment written in October, 1997 by Sherrie Casad-Lodge

 

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