descriptive image

What You Can Do Yourself: Home Health Guides in the History of Medicine

Photograph of colored plate in book illustrating various uses for water to promote health. Figure 1 is a band standing in a bathtub, Figure 2 is a woman seated at a table, using a tube connected to a bag of water to rinse her nose, Figure 3 is a woman seated in a chair with her feet in a shallow tray of water Figure 4 is a man lying on a low mattress with the back of his head resting in a a shallow tray of water
“Methods of Applying Water” from New Curative Treatments of Disease… vol. 1, (1901) Fig. 1 – Exercising in a cold bath, Fig. 2 – Nasal douche, Fig. 3 – Foot bath, Fig. 4 – Head bath

What is that rash? What should you do if you have a snakebite? Are carrots really good for one’s health? What does chicken pox look like?

Long before WebMD and other online tools existed, popular medicine guides were created and consulted to answer such questions. In the United States, there is a long tradition of such home health guides designed to help the common person diagnose and treat illnesses. These guides, often physician-approved and authored, included ways to prevent illness and injury while offering instructions and remedies.

Home health guides offered laypeople (assuming they could read) information on a range of topics: basic anatomy, symptoms of illnesses, exercises for good health, “cures” by water or electricity, sexual education, and much more. These popular medicine guides continued well into the twentieth century with works like Our Bodies, Our Selves. Such works are still printed today in the digital age.

An exhibit featuring a sample of these popular medicine guides from our History of Medicine Collections is currently on display. You can visit the exhibit What You Can Do Yourself: Home Health Guides in the History of Medicine in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room from July 24 – October 13, 2018.

Health Knowledge : A Thorough and Concise Knowledge of the Prevention, Causes, and Treatments of Disease, Simplified for Home Use, vol. 2, (1921).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *