The Great Book Scare

Epidemiology, Everyday Life, Medicine

The Great Book Scare was a period between 1880 and 1920 when the general public was obsessed with the idea that library books were a major source of epidemics. 📚😱

Even though the evidence for this was small, especially compared to other potential disease sources, many in the U.S and the U.K. believed that library books could spread everything from tuberculosis to smallpox. 🦠🦠 The authorities and doctors alike started to come up with ideas on how to limit the risk such as treating books with vapors from heated carbolic acid crystals, using formaldehyde, and … just completely destructing books if they had come into contact with a sick person. 😷

Finally, the fear has died out after it turned out that library workers and patrons weren’t really getting sick more often than others. You can read more about these regulations in this article.

Freud and Cocaine

Famous Victorians, Medicine

Sigmund Freud, best known as the father of psychoanalysis, spent a large portion of his life promoting cocaine as a miracle cure for almost everything. Not only did he prescribe cocaine to his patients, but also used it himself on a regular basis. Some scholars believe this has largely influenced his theories on the human psyche and treatments which are considered pseudoscientific today.

Arsenic Routine

Cosmetics, Everyday Life, Medicine

Many Victorians wanted to have a very pale complexion which was supposed to give them a more aristocratic look. 👻 Because of that, companies started to add arsenic to various cosmetics, including soaps 🧼, lotions, 🧴 and powders . Arsenic was also advised, either in the form of wafers 🍬( e.g. Dr Rose’s Arsenic Complexion Wafers) or fluids 🥛 (e.g. Fowler’s Solution, also used as medicine).

There were known cases of death caused by such treatments, but it didn’t discourage many of the customers. ☠️

Interestingly, prolonged use of arsenic actually darkens the skin, which suggests that the producers might have skimped on the arsenic quantity in their products, thus making them a little bit less deadly.

You can find more crazy treatments from the past in a fascinating book: Quackery: A Brief History of the Worst Ways to Cure Everything.

Dr. Fahrney’s Teething Syrup

Everyday Life, Medicine

Dr. Fahrney’s Teething Syrup was one of the “miraculous” Victorian products that promised to cure everything from teething pain through the common cold to cholera and dysentery.

Advertised as medicine for babies, 👶 this concoction included alcohol, 🍸 morphine, 💉and chloroform😴.

 I came across this gem on this episode of Sawbones: Opium.

Unwrapping Party

Colonialism, Entertainment, Funerals, Medicine

The Egyptomania that took over Europe in the 19th century caused a few disturbing trends in society. One of them were so-called unwrapping parties, during which people would observe or even take part in unwrapping ancient mummies, stealing the valuables they could find, or even dissect what was left of the body for “souvenirs” or magic-like medicine. Such parties were supposedly happening in London.

While some scholars today question whether such parties really happened, we can be quite sure that at least one person – surgeon Thomas Pettigrew – was fond of such gatherings, turning them into bizarre shows.

Remember to check out Caitlin Doughty’s video on this topic: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pVDo2tsJeXA

Thomas Dent Mütter

Medicine, Surgery

Doctor Thomas Dent Mütter was an exceptional surgeon 💉 who pioneered many techniques that helped burn victims and people with extreme deformities, labeled by others as lost causes and “monsters” (it was a medical term at the time! 😰).

Mütter himself suffered from several illnesses throughout his life, which made him very sympathetic to patients’ lot. He used to explain the procedures to patients and prepare them for surgeries both physically and mentally. He boasted to be one of the fasted surgeons in the U.S., an important feature in the pre-anesthesia times, and wrote a book on special techniques used during such surgeries. This didn’t prevent him from becoming the first surgeon to administer ether anesthesia in Philadelphia and adapt his methods over time according to the newest discoveries.

Mütter was also a colorful figure known for extravagant style and expression, something that Europeans loved about him and many Americans … not so much. Today he’s best known for an enormous collection of medical specimen and oddities you can visit in Philadelphia (I highly recommend it! 💀)

Check out this riveting biography for more outstanding stories from Mütter’s life: https://www.goodreads.com/…/20949450-dr-m-tter-s-marvels

Wash Your Hands

Epidemiology, Famous Victorians, Medicine

While working in Vienna General Hospital in the 1840s, Ignaz Semmelweis noticed a curious thing – the mortality rate of new mothers was a lot higher in wards supervised by doctors 👨‍⚕️compared to those supervised by midwives 👩‍⚕️. After some investigating, he found the source of the problem – only doctors had access to both maternity wards and autopsy tables. Semmelweis quickly developed a theory of what he called “cadaverous particles” 🧟‍♀️🧟‍♀️ and introduced rigorous handwashing 🧼 in his clinics. Unfortunately, even though his method worked spectacularly well, he was ridiculed by most of the medical professionals until his death in a lunatic asylum. 💀

Original John Snow

Epidemiology, Famous Victorians, Medicine

John Snow was an English physician, 👨‍⚕️ best known for finding the source of a cholera outbreak in Soho,1854. By putting all known cholera cases on a map, he found the source of all troubles – a contaminated water pump. 💦 Why was it such a big deal? This discovery not only led to shutting down the pump, but also worked in favor of the budding germ theory of disease. 🦠🦠🦠 Even though Snow himself didn’t know that at the time, he contributed to the birth of epidemiology. 🔬

The third episode of the newest Victoria season talks about the Snow’s cholera investigation, so check it out! (the series doesn’t always stick well to the facts, though, you’ve been warned) 😀