Thursday, January 12, 2012

Advice for the Independant Age- continued

We return to the idea of advice manuals. We've explored the types of manuals available and some of the context of why they may have become so popular. In this posting, we'll explore how one can use age, interests, and experiences to choose which advice manual one's impression might be likely to reference using domestic medical advice manuals in example.

The history of medical thought was transitioning in this era. New theories were emerging to explain the whole of thought in relation to new discoveries. Alternatives to some of the more extreme treatments and medicines were being found, advertised to the medical community, and put into practice... or refuted as so much bunk. It was an exciting time for medicine with new discoveries and theories published as fast as the printing presses could run.

With the Spirit of Independence explained in the previous posting, it is easy to see a Jacksonian looking at the medical practices of the day and wanting to understand for him/herself why such invasive practices as blood-letting, violent purging, and cupping might be needed to treat his/her medical issue. The Jacksonian would also want to be an informed consumer when the visiting the apothecary. They turned to medical texts geared to the domestic market for this.

A person solicits advice at a turning point. One of the most prominent turning points in the life of a Jacksonian woman was the setting up of her own household, usually upon marriage. The women in her life would be very likely to offer her advice on setting up and running a household at this time. For the modern re-enactor/ living historian this is the first step toward figuring out which advice manual to reference. I'll use myself as an example. I'm currently 37 years old. If my impression is the same age, I'd have been born in 1825. The average age at marriage for the Jacksonian era is about 20, putting a likely marriage date in about 1845. To figure out which manuals my women friends would have bought for me, I should view publication dates between 1840 and 1845. Thus, I decide her Auntie gave her an edition of "Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases."  That one has had a reprint many times, so Auntie would see a new edition with the same title she has used herself as a solid choice.

The next turning point in a Jacksonian woman's life was the birth of a child. The new mother constantly solicits advice from everyone to assure herself that she is "normal," her baby is developing "normal," and attempt to divine if her child is one of the lucky ones to survive and prosper. If she is particularly nervous or if things go amiss a new manual may be consulted for the most up-to-date information. Using myself as an example again, my impression has no children and that needs explaining. I often will use a childhood case of rickets weakening my bone structure to explain both a slight limp and several miscarriages. She would have consulted physicians, midwives, and the newest manuals for the most current theories on why she isn't "normal." Thus, she picks up "Domestic Medicine, or Poor Man's Friend".

Another turning point to many women of the mid-19th century was the start of the Civil War in 1861. My usual impression will be obligated to accept employment as a "matron" with the Women's Department for nursing. While there, she will meet other women. Each woman will bring her own learning and understanding of medical practice. Each woman will have an opinion on the challenges presented, based on the success or failure of various treatments she has experience with. (So do the surgeons, stewards, orderlies, and patients... but we'll confine this discussion to female nurses.) When a group of people with a shared interest meet, the exchange of ideas, opinions, experiences, and research flow free. Thus, a fellow female nurse suggests "The Household Physician" by Dr. Warren.

Continuing with that Jacksonian ideal of exchange of ideas, a friend may expand an impression's knowledge by suggestion. With the case of my impression, a steward was over-hearing a recipe from "The American Frugal Housewife" explained  and noted it was similar to a prescription in Beasley's "The Book of Prescriptions." In fact, many of the ingredients were exactly the same, just expressed in scientific terms in Beasley's work.

A friend of mine, who also re-enacts, has MS. This sent our little research group into exploring how MS would have been viewed in period and what treatments may have been offered. We've discovered that her impression may have an interest in a period system of treatments called "hydrophathy." This would have lead her to a whole group of specialty advice manuals. She'd have picked up "Hydropathy: or, Hygienic medicine" and would have shared what she was learning.

For my impression, a shared interest in medical practice can logically lead me to be quite current in my medical knowledge and even have a limited knowledge of some alternative treatments. For several of my friends who don't share my zeal, they'd be content with Buchan and Gunn. For our Dear Newbie, she should start with editions close to her impression's marriage date and then work forward with turning points in her impression's life.

Explore domestic medical advice manuals for yourself:
William Buchan & William Cadogan "Domestic Medicine, or The family physician" 1772
William Buchan "Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases" 1791, revised and republished in 1805, 1809, 1813, and 1826
William Buchan "Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the prevention and cure of diseases" 1859
Dr. Gunn "Gunn's Domestic Medicine, or Poor Man's Friend" 1835
Dr. Ira Warren "The Household Physcian" 1859
Mrs. Child "The American Frugal Housewife" 1833
Henry Beasley "The Book of Prescriptions" 1855
Edward Wickstead Lane "Hydropathy: or, Hygienic medicine. An explanatory essay." 1859

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