Tuesday 17 May 2016

An Apple a Day Will Keep the Doctor Away

After a long, but pleasantly milder winter we are getting back to uncovering more hidden histories here at the museum. Upon searching our vault for some textbooks, a few old medical books were discovered. Since allergy and cold season are upon us once again, we saw it fitting to share with you one of these artifacts.

The “20th Century Family Physician” is a 1,157 paged hardcover book, published in 1900. This book includes symptoms, causes and treatments for a wide array of illnesses including pneumonia, scabies, and apoplexy. In addition “20th Century Family Physician” outlines the proper procedure for setting broken bones and treating various diseases of the eye. There is also a whole chapter designated to the diseases of women and children. Included in this chapter is information pertaining to marriage (selecting a partner for life), pregnancy, diseases and hygiene of pregnancy, and care of the mother after labor. Another chapter expands on various medical plants like lime, fennel, and wood sorrel.

A few excerpts that we found interesting and you may or may not find helpful :

In the chapter deemed ‘Hygiene’ we find that the opening sentence for the section ‘The Care of the Sick’ on page 1067 is: “One of the first items to be attended to in the management of the sick room is proper ventilation. Fresh air is of extreme importance for a healthy person, but doubly so for one who is sick.” The next paragraph begins, “No odors of any kind should ever be perceptible in the sick room; their presence is evidence that the ventilation is imperfect.” So if you are finding that you are experiencing a difficult time ridding your body of a nasty spring cold, you may want to make sure that the ventilation in your dwelling is up to par.

Another interesting passage on page 39 outlines the disease varicella, or the more commonly known chicken pox. A disease that many of us have unfortunately experienced personally. Treatment is described here, “as to require nothing more than the simplest of home treatment; a saline laxative, such as the citrate of magnesia, occasional sponging and light diet”. One may wonder how well this treatment eased the pain of those excruciatingly itchy blisters!

Lastly, we offer you a bit of advice regarding the “Cold in the Head”. Unless you take action immediately treatment of this is said to be ineffective – “so soon as the attack is indicated by sneezing and the other familiar symptoms, the individual should take a hot bath for ten or fifteen minutes, followed immediately by Dover’s powder (ten grains) and quinine (five grains); he should then be warmly covered in bed or otherwise until perspiration is freely established. In this way a cold in the head can often be cut short.” The paragraph goes on to describe what some of the more stubborn individuals experience, “When, however (as is usually the case), the individual cannot or will not take the time and trouble to adopt these measures, he must expect that this affection will last from twelve to fourteen days in spite of all that can be done. During this time he should take especial care to keep himself warmly clothed, avoid draughts and secure regular evacuations.”  

 The Kings County Museum is not recommending any of these treatments (nor are we saying you shouldn’t give them a try!), and is not to be held responsible for any good or bad results (well maybe the good). We just hope that whether it be allergies or the common cold, you find relief soon and enjoy your summer!


  1. Very timely article and very entertaining! I enjoyed it very much.

  2. Some very sensible suggestions and some of which we should follow today! Have to look up apoplexy. It is often on death certificates.

  3. I found this so interesting.... I, too, have an old book of home remedies... I often think these 'old remedies' were far more effective than today's 'Take a Pill'