A Pox On The New World

As much as nine-tenths of the indigenous population of the Americas died in less than a generation from European pathogens

In the summer of 1605 the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed along the coast of New England, looking for a likely spot to place a colony—a place more hospitable than the upper St. Lawrence River, which he had previously explored. Halfway down the Maine coast he began to find spots with good harbors, abundant supplies of freshwater, and big spreads of cleared land. The problem was that these parcels were already occupied. The peoples there were happy to barter with him and treat his sailors to fine dinners. But none were interested in providing free real estate.Read more »

Violence In America

What Human nature and the California gold rush tell us about crime in the inner city

VIOLENCE is the primal problem of American history, the dark reverse of its coin of freedom and abundance. American society, or a conspicuous part of it, has been tumultuous since the beginnings of European colonization.

 
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The Passion Of Typhoid Mary

Mary Mallon could do one thing very well, and all she wanted was to be left to it

Longfellow notwithstanding, precious few of us leave footprints in the sands of time. Even today, while our names will probably remain, buried in such things as old phone books and Social Security records, most of us will be utterly and forever forgotten within a generation or two of our deaths. Like it or not, only the great and the infamous are remembered. Read more »

Epidemic

A disease that no one understood laid waste a major American city. Five thousand died in two months, and Memphis was never the same again.

In 1878, not long after Reconstruction ended, Memphis appeared likely to emerge from the ashes of Confederate defeat as one of the regal cities of the New South. Her population had doubled during the 1860s in spite of war and occupation, and by 1878 it had reached nearly 48,000. She lay almost midway between New Orleans and St. Louis and had rail and river connections to all the major cities and growing markets of the South.Read more »

The State Of Medical Care, 1984

Americans have never been so healthy, thanks to advances in medical technology and research. Now we have to learn to deal with the staggering costs.

 

FEW PEOPLE ARE as well qualified to assess the U.S. medical scene as David E. Rogers. Formerly chairman of the Department of Medicine at Vanderbilt University and then dean of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and medical director of Johns Hopkins Hospital, he has since 1972 been president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The foundation was established on a modest basis in 1936 by Robert Wood Johnson, head of the pharmaceutical concern of Johnson & Johnson.Read more »

What It Was Like To Be Sick In 1884

American medicine in a crucial era was at once surprisingly similar and shockingly different from what we know today. You could get aspirin at the drugstore, and anesthesia during surgery. But you could also buy opium over the counter, and the surgery would be more likely to be performed in your kitchen than in a hospital.

IN 1884 ALMOST three-quarters of America’s fifty million people lived on farms or in rural hamlets. When they fell ill, they ordinarily were treated in their own homes by someone they knew, someone who might not be a trained physician but a family member, neighbor, or midwife. Only a handful of smaller communities boasted hospitals, for they were still a big-city phenomenon.Read more »

The White Plague

A young girl’s memories of life in a community haunted by

The mothers of my childhood friends paid special attention to me, and I never understood why. I was dimly aware that something about me made them pat my shoulder and murmur sympathetically or, on the other hand, quite as inscrutably, bar me from their homes and keep their children from visiting me. Grown-up behavior was difficult to fathom, and I did not question it.

I never connected it with the fact that my mother suffered from tuberculosis. Read more »

“God…would Destroy Them, And Give Their Country To Another People…”

The mysterious diseases that nearly wiped out the Indians of New England were the work of the Christian God-or so both Pilgrims and Indians believed

In December of 1620, a group of English dissenters who “knew they were pilgrimes,” in the words of William Bradford, stepped ashore on the southern coast of Massachusetts at the site of the Wampanoag Indian village of Pawtuxet. The village was empty, abandoned long enough for the grasses and weeds to have taken over the cornfields, but not long enough for the trees to have returned. The Pilgrims occupied the lonely place and called it Plymouth. Read more »

Belly-my-grizzle

Of herbal medicine, a “doctor” named Samuel Thomson, and a sure cure for almost everything…

In the late 1820’s and 1830’s American physicians found themselves with a major rebellion on their hands. The rebels were their own patients, or ex-patients, and the rebel leader was a onetime New Hampshire farmer and itinerant herb-and-root doctor named Samuel Thomson, who had published, in 1822, a book called Thomson’s New Guide to Health; or, Botanic Family Physician. Read more »

The Greats Wine Flu Epidemic Of 1918

In the last week of October, 1918, 2,700 Americans died “over there” in battle against the kaiser’s army. The same week 21,000 Americans died of influenza in the United States. Read more »