The Paradoxical Doctor Benjamin Rush

To spend and be spent for the Good of Mankind is what I chiefly aim at

One of Benjamin Rush’s biographers has compared him to quicksilver, the brilliant and elusive element mercury that changes so unpredictably yet so curiously reflects the images around it. The metaphor is appropriate in another sense, too, for not only was Rush mercurial as a person, but as an eighteenth-century physician he freely resorted to the use of mercury in its various forms to purge patients of certain “morbific” or disease-making substances that were supposed to lurk in their bodily fluids. Dr.Read more »

S•x Education

“Your body is a temple,” our ancestors told their pubescent youngsters. ‘Now go take a cold bath”

Standards of propriety were lofty indeed

Something called delicacy overtook Americans soon after our successful Revolution. Like an incoming tide, it flowed all over the nineteenth century, reaching its high-water mark about a hundred years ago. From that point it slowly receded, leaving behind rock pools of what came to be identified as prudery.Read more »

“all Hail To Pure Cold Water!”

Beset with ailments, Victorian women found solace, in more ways than one, in a new panacea—hydropathy

A century and a half ago American women faced a very different life prospect than today. Without dependable birth-control techniques they could expect to spend their prime years bearing children. Without modern medicine they frequently could anticipate painful and debilitating disorders arising from the rigors of repeated childbirth. Moreover, they lived in a world where the facts of life and the processes of pro-creation were shrouded in secrecy and not thought fit topics for female conversation. Read more »

The American Field Service

EQUIPMENT WAS HARD TO COME BY, RED TAPE WAS RAMPANT. BUT AMERICAN VOLUNTEERS IN FRANCE BUILT AN AMBULANCE CORPS THAT PERFORMED BRILLIANTLY IN THE EARLY YEARS OF WORLD WAR I

“Who knows?” Piatt Andrew wrote Isabella Stewart Gardner from shipboard on Christmas night of 1914, “we may spend the winter carting the groceries from Paris to Neuilly.” He had volunteered to drive an ambulance for the American Hospital in France, but beyond that his prospects were utterly uncertain. Yet within months he was to organize and direct an ambulance service that would serve virtually the entire French army until after America’s entry into World War I . Read more »

The Beards That Made Rough-keepsie Famous

Attached to every city in America is at least one illustrious industrial name. In Detroit it is Ford. In Durham it is Duke. In Milwaukee it is Schlitz, who made “the beer that made Milwaukee famous.” In the annals of Poughkeepsie, New York, it is Smith, or rather the brothers Smith, William and Andrew, whose patronymic is recognized wherever people cough. What Gloversville has been to gloves, Meriden to silverware, and Battle Creek to breakfast cereals, Poughkeepsie has been to medicated cough candy.Read more »

Sweet Extract Of Hokum

Patent medicines were usually neither patented nor medicinal, which is not to say they didn’t (and don’t) have any effect

If you can identify the period when gentlemen wore genuine ormolu lobs attached to their watches and the butcher threw in a slice of liver for the eat when he wrapped up the meat order, then you are close to establishing the date of the Golden Age of Secret Remedies. No family circle was complete without the brown or green bottle on sideboard or shell. Sometimes the contents were murky, mysterious, evil in taste and smell.Read more »

“it Don’t Hurt Much, Ma’am“

“Then how come they’re digging a grave behind the old corral, Luke?”

“Oh, Sam, what happened?”

“Nothing serious, Miss Sally—Luke just picked up a little bit of lead.”

“Oh no!”

“Now Miss Sally, don’t you fret. It’s just a little ol’ hole in his shoulder. He’ll be up and about in no time a-tall.” Read more »