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Women’s Troubles and Electro-Therapy

October 19, 2009

This week, the focus of my studies was split between medical texts and manuscript collections. Several of the books I looked through, especially on gynecology were owned by Charlotte doctors, namely Annie Alexander and Lester Hunter. The manuscript collections also yielded interesting results, including more receipts for slave medical visits and receipts for a Charlotte dentist. The books and Collections I looked through were:
Harrell Family Papers 1:4
Gail Haley map of famous women writers
Kirk and Alexander Store Account Book
Nicholas Biddle Gibbon papers
Patterson Family Papers
Ella Hargrove Sullivan box 26, 14, 21
Sharon Presbyterian Church Box 2
St. Marks Episcopal Church Box 1
American System of Gynecaeology by Mann
The Married Woman’s Private Medical Companion 1855
Gynaecology: A Textbook for Students
A Treatise on Human Physiology
Lexicon-Medicum, or Medical Dictionary
A Text-book of Electro-therapeutics and electro-surgery.- belonged to J.R. Irwin
Renal and Uretal Calculit with Report of a Case

The ones that appeared most promising were

Ella Hargrove Sullivan box 26, 14, 21
Patterson Family Papers
A Treatise on Human Physiology
Lexicon-Medicum, or Medical Dictionary
A Text-book of Electro-therapeutics and electro-surgery.- belonged to J.R. Irwin
Renal and Uretal Calculit with Report of a Case
American System of Gynecaeology by Mann
The Married Woman’s Private Medical Companion 1855
Gynaecology: A Textbook for Students

The books on women’s health were exceptionally interesting. Some of the books such as the American System of Gynecaelogy were created for doctors, while others like the Married Woman’s Private Medical Companion were for everyday women. This last book claimed its purpose “is to extend to every female, whether wife, mother or daughter, such information as will best qualify her to judge her own maladies, and having ascertained their existence, apply the proper remedies.” Printed during the prime of the antebellum Victorian era, it is no surprise that women were encouraged to diagnose their own medical issues. Women’s virtues encouraged women to be modest and fully dressed in mixed company. While obviously doctors were treating women’s issues during this time, women’s modesty sometimes prevented them from going to these doctors (see the previous week’s blog for how this manifested itself in Charlotte). When this was the case, this book would have been helpful. However, looking through the texts created for doctors shows the limits that a normal woman would have had in treating herself. For example, one book shows a variety of the medical instruments used in gynecology during this time, instruments that a woman would not likely have around the house.
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Another interesting text was the one on Electro-surgery in the 19th century. It details the different types of surgery that can be performed and the equipment you can use. The top picture below is a picture of a woman with a facial tumor that was removed by one of these methods. The details around the picture show how the patient reacted and recovered. The lower picture shows some of the equipment used in this electro-surgery. Notice the batteries in the bottom of the cabinet that run the machine.
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Besides the medical texts, the Patterson Family Papers proved incredibly enlightening on several areas of Mecklenburg medicine. The first of which is medical treatment to slaves. There was a receipt for traditional medical services to a slave named Lucy by Dr. J.B. Walls.
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Finally, In the Patterson papers, there was a slave-lease agreement.* In this agreement the leasee had to agree to pay all of the medical bills for the slave before returning the slave to their master.

*The slave-lease system was an agreement between a slave owner and a person or company who needed extra help during non-peak harvest times. The leasee would pay the leasor for this privilege and in return agree to take care of the slave during this time. This had benefits for both parties. The slave owner not only received monetary compensation for leasing the slave, but was also relieved of the care of the slave for the said amount of time. For the leasee, it allowed them to obtain extra labor at a cheap price.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Thomas Cole permalink
    November 13, 2009 11:42 am

    Great findings! What a collection!

    In their 1978 work For her own good, Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English take a less charitable view of 19th-century medicine. It was designed more to control women rather than to serve and heal them. J. B. Alexander seems like an exception to this generalization.

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