Medicine 1820-1860
helloOutbreaks of infections like cholera added to the public insecurity of the 1830s and
1840s. Without antibiotics, which hadn't been external image 0511-0902-1117-1255_Old_Fashioned_Prescription_Bottle_clipart_image.jpgdiscovered yet, more than half of the
people infected by cholera died. This large number of deaths caused reformer to pressure municipalities to establish city health boards to try to find answers to the problems but the medical professionals didn't know enough about bacterial infections to provide any solutions.
helloBecause there was no defined, scientific way to treat sicknesses, Americans turned to alternative theories of health care. One popular treatment among the affluent members of society was "water cure," which didn't improve health much, but did provide therapy for patients. New dietary theories were also adopted in this period.
helloIt was hard to make medical advancements because doing so required human subjects. On top of that, many unqualified people, worked their way into the medical profession. When efforts were made to regulate the profession they were beaten back by those who thought a monopoly would be made by the licensed physicians. Another detriment to the progression of medicine was the lack of knowledge about diseases. Both the vaccination against smallpox and anesthetics were developed in this period, but not accepted by traditionaly physicians.
hahaEdward Jenner simply adapted folk practices that were developed by people around the country. Similarly, William Morton, a dentist from New England, developed anesthetics because he just wanted a way for his patients to feel less pain when they had their teeth extracted. He used sulphuric ether to experiment the amount of pain caused starting in 1844. Just like Morton, John Warren, a surgeon from Boston, started to sedate patients with ether to help ease their pain and make the process easier for everyone.

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Phrenology was the belief that based on the shape and protuberances of the skull, one could determine character traits and mental capacity. It originated from the theories of Franz Joseph Gall of Gremany, which are said to have first reached America around 1832.This "science" of phrenology intrigued people, and had many of them believing that it would greatly improve society. Many people went to phrenologist for "readings" of their skulls in order to see what they should do, or were capable of doing, with their lives. Orson and Lorenzo Fowler began their business in New York, and it was a complete success. They would take elaborate measutements of the skull and use them to calculate the size and strength of certain parts of the brain. They constantly had customers wanting readings, and eventually they published the Phrenology Almanac. Despite its popularity in the 1800s, the theory of phrenology is now believed to have no scientific value.

Phrenological callipers from Combe, Elements of phrenology.
Phrenological callipers from Combe, Elements of phrenology.

This was a device used to measure the head. Gall recomended using the palms of your hands to take these measurements, but many used this tool, thier fingertips, or measuring tape.

Nowadays phrenology has developed into manny things. The most common of these is that people are "left or right brained."


Contagion, or the thought that disease could be transmitted from one person to another, was first discovered by Oliver Wendell Holmes, a Boston essayist, poet, and physician, in 1843. Before this, there were no widely accepted scientific methods for studying medicine, making it hard for doctors to treat patients. At first, people criticized this discovery, but Ignaz Semmelweis, a Hungarian physician, validated Holmes's findings when he noticed infections being spread by medical students who worked with corpses. He began making the students wash their hands after working with the corpses which essentially stopped the infections all together.

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The once criticized theory of contagion is now widely accepted across the globe. As children and throughout our lives, we are taught to cover our mouths and noses when we cough and sneeze and to wash our hands frequently to prevent the spread of illness.

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