The real history behind the look of “Wonder Woman”s Dr. Poison

~Courtesy Michael Rhode, Archivist / Curator, US Navy BUMED Communications Directorate (M09B7) Office of Medical History

The new Wonder Woman movie has a long-standing villain named Dr. Poison who is developing a super poison gas to reverse Germany’s imminent loss of the Great War. Elena Anaya’s character is shown with a porcelain mask over the lower quadrant of the left side of her face… Read the rest of Michael’s post here!

Heart’s Ease

~Courtesy Chrissie Perella and Beth Lander, MLS, College Librarian, Historical Medical Library.

What is a recipe?  Is it instructions from which one can prepare a meal, a snack, a dessert?  Or is it how to mix the best cocktail?  Or how to cure acne?  Or how to care for a bee sting?  What other knowledge does one need to properly take advantage of the advice in a recipe?  Recipes found in medical books are no different than ones found in food cookbooks; it’s just that the desired outcome is different than a crowd-pleasing cake.

The Historical Medical Library holds over 20 manuscript recipe (or “receipt”) books, dating from the 17thcentury up through the early 20th century.  The majority of our recipe books are medical in nature, but many include food, drink, and household cleaning recipes as well.  I’ve even seen recipes for ink in a couple of our 19th century books.

However, the recipe book I’ve chosen to look at for The Recipes Project’s virtual conversation does not contain any ‘extras’ – it is filled with strictly medicinal concoctions.  MSS 2/258 (Lancaster County recipe book) is dated to circa 1854 and attributed to an unknown physician from Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  I chose this particular book because I found it interesting that no food, drink, or household cleaning recipes are included.  Other unusual features are a table of weights; a conversion table for liquid measures; a summary of “Doses of medicines for the different ages;” a chart of pulse rates, categorized by age; and my favorite, “The regulation of doses of Laudanum for Children.”

“Table of weights adopted by the Pharmacopoeias” and table of “Liquid measure.”

“Doses of medicines for the different ages”

“The regulation of doses of Laudanum for Children” and “Pulse.”

The second section of MSS 2/258 reminds me strongly of student lecture notes.  The next 5 pages include explanatory paragraphs about topics such as the circulatory system, irritation or inflammation, and “The Dangerous effect of bleeding.”

 

It is dangerous to bleed a person immediately after receiving a fall in such accidents a shock is given to the great nervous centres, which bleeding would augment or bring on the fate of the patient, if it be employed before reaction has taken place. D.mm.m.ii.164-5

The Dangerous effect of bleeding.

Following the notes are recipes from both botanical and eclectic medical sources, which are often cited.  One of my favorite citations is for a recipe for plasters: “This is the recipe of the plaster so long kept secret and remaining in the family of Doctor and Mrs. Carpenter.”

One has to wonder how our physician was able to get the secret plaster recipe from Dr. Carpenter.  Another recipe in the book caught my eye because of its name: “Heart’s Ease.”  I was curious to see whether this was some sort of tonic or tea, and if it was for what we may term depression/heartache/etc.  I found some familiar ingredients (not ALL uses are enumerated here): valerian, used for insomnia as well as depression and conditions related to stress; saffron, for insomnia and depression; bergamot, used in aromatherapy to reduce anxiety; and the all-powerful lavender, useful for insomnia, depression, anxiety, and fatigue.  Surprisingly, aloe

s socotrine is listed; it is described in Boericke’s Materia Medica (1901) as

An excellent remedy to aid in re-establishing physiological equilibrium after much dosing, where disease and drug symptoms are much mixed. There is no remedy richer in symptoms of portal congestion and none that has given better clinical results, both for the primary pathological condition and secondary phenomena. Bad effects from sedentary life or habits. Especially suitable to lymphatic and hypochondriacal patients. The rectal symptoms usually determine the choice. Adapted to weary people, the aged, and phlegmatic, old beer-drinkers. Dissatisfied and angry about himself, alternating with lumbago. Heat internally and externally. Has been used successfully in the treatment of consumption by giving the pure juice.

Also listed is “Musk – best common” which is apparently good for stroke, coma, nerve problems, seizures (convulsions), heart pains, and sores.

Well, it was fairly clear to me that either calming and soothing tinctures, teas, and tonics have greatly changed over the past 150 years or so, or I was way off on what this concoction was used for.  It turns out that “heart’s ease” is not meant to relieve anxiety, sadness, or anything like that, but for “the treatment of diseases of the heart palpitations.”  The tincture is described as a “stimulating antispasmodic.”  A stimulating antispasmodic works to prevent or calm spasms by stimulating the higher nervous system.

Recipes like the one above, and recipe books like MSS 2/258, can tell us much about the time in which they were written – what ingredients were familiar and available to the author, what medical or natural philosophy books the author studied or referenced, what ailments were common or considered important to know how to treat, and sometimes even short case studies about the effectiveness of a particular treatment.

What I find most fascinating, perhaps, about many of the Library’s recipe books is that they are non-discriminatory when it comes to choosing recipes: a treatment for kidney stones will be followed by a recipe for roast mutton; something to stop the flux will be followed by hair tonic.  But MSS 2/258 is different in that it includes only medical recipes.  The nature of the book is more formal and less chatty than some in the collection: I’m thinking specifically of MSS 2/351, (Elizabeth Paschall Coates receipt book), which includes notes like this in recipes:

“Susannah Fowler an old Acquaintance of mine from her Childhood & a person of Good Reputation had a verry bad fellon Coming on her finger. . . this She Says was practised by a woman as a very Grate Secret I Dispersd one for our Girl Rose in 6 or 8 Dressings. . .”

While we know a bit about Elizabeth Paschall Coates, we know nothing about our Lancaster County physician.  Where did he attend medical school?  Did he have his own practice or did he work in a hospital?  The way his recipe book is laid out and the contents it includes suggest that he was a meticulous, thorough person, and therefore was probably a decent doctor.  Perhaps he didn’t include food, drink, or household cleaning recipes because he liked everything well organized and in its place – do recipes for bread, punches, or inks belong with medicines?

Even in strictly medical recipe books one will find many answers to the question “What is a recipe?” and perhaps more questions, as well.

Founding Gallaudet: Origins and Activism

~This post courtesy of Katie Healey and Caroline Lieffers, doctoral students in Yale’s Program for the History of Science and Medicine, with additions by Melissa Grafe, John R. Bumstead Librarian for Medical History, Head of the Medical Historical Library.

Title page of An Address in Behalf of the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind by Edward M. Gallaudet, 1858.

Title page of An Address in Behalf of the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and the Blind by Edward M. Gallaudet, 1858.

In 1856, Amos Kendall, former postmaster general of the United States, became guardian to several deaf children. Concerned by their limited educational prospects, he donated two acres of his estate in the capital to establish the Columbia Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb and Blind, to be run by Edward Miner Gallaudet. The blind students were soon moved to a separate school in Baltimore. Not satisfied with just secondary education, Kendall convinced Congress to grant the school the authority to award college degrees. In 1864, President Lincoln signed the college’s charter and President Grant signed the diplomas of its first graduates, establishing a tradition of presidential signatures that continues on its diplomas today. The college was renamed Gallaudet College in 1894, in honor of Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet, and became Gallaudet University in 1986. Continue reading

Tuberculosis, Public Health, and Big Data

In case you missed it, last week we were proud to host five posts from Tom Ewing’s Data in Social Context class at Virginia Tech. Each post was written by a group of students who selected and researched a topic centered on tuberculosis and public health data in the United States around the beginning of the twentieth century. The data they used came from the Medical Heritage Library collections and we were privileged to talk to the students via Skype and be able to work with them on their drafts.

The posts are collected here for ease of reference — we highly recommend all of them! Continue reading

Guest Post: The Impact of Tuberculosis on Adults as Measured by Philadelphia’s Vital Statistics

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This final post is from E. Thomas Ewing and Nicholas Bolin.

The social impact of tuberculosis in the late nineteenth century was distinguished by the relatively high mortality rate among adult populations. This social impact can be graphically illustrated in a chart showing the relative number of deaths over a six year period in the city of Philadelphia due to the ten most common causes for the adult population, aged 20-50 years. Of these causes, tuberculosis accounts for nearly half — or the same number of the other nine causes combined. Of the approximately 33,000 adult deaths from all causes in this six year period, tuberculosis accounted for more than one-third (35.8%), more than three times as many deaths as other leading causes (typhoid fever, pneumonia, and accidents and injuries). As this graph suggests, the vital statistics collected and analyzed by government agencies, preserved by medical libraries in published form, and now widely accessible through the Medical Heritage Library in digital form are both an excellent source of data for analysis with modern tools and a basis for thinking about the ways that public officials used statistical analysis to identify health concerns and recommend appropriate policies. Continue reading

Guest Post: Tuberculosis in California: A Statistical Analysis From 1880-1910

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This post is from Jack Fleisher, Jae Ha, Joey Hammel.

We chose to explore tuberculosis in California because of a few interesting characteristics. One of these characteristics was the phenomenon of California being seen as a beacon of health and longevity in the late 1800s, and as a result, attracting many individuals sick with tuberculosis thinking that moving there was their best hope to recover and alleviate their disease.  We suspected that this would drive up the tuberculosis rates as the increase in the population of those previously diagnosed would raise the death rate above where it would be for the Californian-born population.   Continue reading

Guest Post: Tuberculosis in Boston: The Impact of Socioeconomic Factors

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This post is from Brian Yuhas, Claire Ko, Emma Rhodes.

The discussion of socioeconomic factors and their impact on tuberculosis came about as a result of our inadequate knowledge of the disease and our wish to delve deeper into how this disease influenced everyday life in the 1890s. Our research focused on whether economic status had an apparent effect on the deaths that occurred in Boston due to tuberculosis in the late nineteenth century. Did similar population densities have the same tuberculosis rates among different classes? Did wards with higher tax revenue experience higher or lower tuberculosis death rates? Through the 1890s Vital Statistics report for Boston, we were able to come to some conclusions about the correlation between wealth and likelihood of death due to tuberculosis in the city. Continue reading

Guest Post: The Experiments of Dr. Robert Koch: A Reconsideration of the Scientific Method for Evaluating Treatments for Tuberculosis

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! This post is from Christian Averill, Robbie D’Amato, Nathan Gibson, and Jonathan Silbaugh.

During the nineteenth century, a widespread desire for a cure for tuberculosis prompted intense interest in any claims of a medical breakthrough in diagnosing and treating this disease. When German physician Robert Koch announced in 1882 that he had discovered that the cause of the disease was a bacillus known as M. Tuberculosis, his discovery was widely celebrated as a major medical breakthrough. Eight years later, however, his claims to have discovered a cure for tuberculosis aroused more substantive questions about the veracity of his claims as well as the methods, findings, and analysis advanced to support these claims. This post examines some of the evidence involved in this discussion with the goal of evaluating Koch’s claims relative to standard procedures used now to discover, test, and approve cures. Continue reading

Guest Post: “Phthisiophobia”: The Tuberculosis Clinic in New York City and Popular Anxieties about Public Health Dangers

Today we are pleased to feature five guest posts from students in Tom Ewing’s Virginia Tech Introduction to Data in Social Context class! The first is from Allyson Manhart, Andrew Pregnall, and Harshitha Narayanan.


TB_Infirmary_OpenToPatientsAt the beginning of the twentieth century the Treasury Department of the United States classified pulmonary tuberculosis as a “dangerously contagious disease” which meant that any immigrant found to have tuberculosis coming to the United States would be denied entrance. The ban led to a swift reaction from the physicians of the New York Academy of Medicine, many of whom argued that the ban created unnecessary fear of those with tuberculosis.
Continue reading