What did people know about the anatomy of our eyes and the causes of eye diseases in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How did they understand vision and think about the sense of sight? My dissertation “Dissecting Sight: Eye Surgery and Vision in Early Modern Europe” tries to answer these questions. Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, I could consult the wonderful collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to support my project.
The absolute highlight of my visit is the book Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst by the German surgeon Georg Bartisch, published in 1583 in Dresden. It is one of the earliest publications on eye diseases and eye surgery, and is written in vernacular German. Bartisch was a man of modest upbringing who never received university medical training, yet he was appointed oculist to the Elector of Saxony late in his life.
Bartisch’s treatise is about the mechanism of seeing, but also enacts an experience of seeing. The most striking feature of this book is the great number of finely-executed illustrations alongside the texts. These woodcuts depict various subjects related to ocular disorders and surgical techniques. The Rubenstein Library has one of the very few hand-colored copies of this treatise. While I have already seen this edition in black and white elsewhere, examining this beautiful hand-colored copy was a very different experience and brought new insights.
Two sets of the illustrations are movable flaps, representing the internal structure of the head and the anatomy of the eye respectively. The red blood vessels, light brown iris, and the meticulous shading and cross-hatching help distinguish different parts of the eye. They evoke the ocular surgical procedure, and prompt the readers to ponder their own faculty of vision when they lift these sheets layer by layer.
Some of the images representing surgical tools were even heightened by gold and silver, such as this pair of scissors, thereby accentuating their intricate and elegant design.
Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia represents an emergent interest in the anatomy and physiology of the eye from the late sixteenth century. It also serves as a great example of how medical knowledge could be visualized and communicated at that time.
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.
Post contributed by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern, 2017-2018
In early 1900s America, an individual seeking relief from myriad ailments could choose from myriad purported treatments. When looking to cure “indigestion, bad breath, loss of appetite, sick headache, and rheumatism,” one could turn to an array of syrups, lozenges, tonics, or tablets. One such product, extremely popular for several decades, was Nature’s Remedy.
The man behind Nature’s Remedy, Augustus Henry Lewis, began his pharmaceutical career as a pharmacist in Bolivar, Missouri. Teaming up with his nephew James Howe, Lewis moved his company to St. Louis in 1901, soon becoming the A.H. Lewis Medicine Co.
Tin boxes filled with Nature’s Remedy churned out of the factory. By 1906, the business had grown so much that it moved into “a handsome new building at the corner of Fourth and Spruce Streets.”
Advertising campaigns described Nature’s Remedy as “Mother Nature in a pleasant, helpful form – all vegetable and a skillful blend of her own plan of insuring health.” Slightly more descriptive circulars referred to the product as a vegetable preparation that “act[ed] on the stomach, liver, kidneys, and bowels.” Marketing was so rigorous that the company enlisted a composer to produce a tune to popularize Nature’s Remedy. The first chorus from the 1928 sheet music, purchased to be played at home on a ukulele or banjo, reads as follows: “No matter whether you have wealth, Just as long as you have health, You ‘feel like a million!’ If you just wear a great big smile, You are in the latest style, You ‘feel like a million’ But when you wear a frown, And your health is run down, You feel bad, you look sad, At the whole world you are mad! And then you follow nature’s course, Banish all of that remorse, You ‘feel like a million!’”
What ingredients did these tablets contain? A chemical analysis conducted on the product in 1923 by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed the presence of burdock, juniper berries, sarsaparilla, mandrake, rhubarb, dandelion, prickly ash, aloes, cascara, and Belladonna root. A write up in JAMA went on to delicately allude to its effects: “The manufacturers of these tablets direct the purchaser to take one every night for a week. They very kindly allow the sufferer (from the effect of the tablets) a few days to recuperate and then suggest that the week of torment be repeated and if this is survived, another few days of rest is allowed before another round of torture and so on ‘until the bowels become strong enough to do their work.’”
Whether of the belief that the product was a nostrum, a placebo, a bonafide cure, or a temporary comfort, the list of contents – and Mr. Clark’s description – make the purpose of the pill clear: It was a cathartic mixture, a purgative, a laxative.
Although some may read the remedy itself as cause for a sour stomach, there is something rather kismet in this tale. Under the full leadership of Mr. Howe, the same “handsome” factory went on to manufacture one of America’s leading brands of antacid tablets.
 A.H. Clark, “Nature’s Remedy Tablets,” JAMA: Journal of the American Medical Association, March 1919. Quoted in American Medical Association, Propaganda Department, Miscellaneous Nostrums, 5th edition (Chicago: American Medical Association, 1923), 63.
 “A. H. Lewis Medicine Co. Outgrew Its Building,” The Pharmaceutical Era (35), 6 (1906), 639.
 Identifier MM0227 Mother Nature – as Health’s Guardian. 1923. Medicine and Madison Avenue, Digital Collection, John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. Retrieved from https://repository.duke.edu/dc/mma/MM0227
 American Medical Association, Propaganda Department, Miscellaneous Nostrums, 63.
 Waldon, W. Feel Like a Million. St. Louis, Mo.: A. H. Lewis Medicine Co., 1928. Print.
 American Medical Association, Propaganda Department, Miscellaneous Nostrums, 64.
Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections
An engineer, conservator, and curator walk into a small space; a small space with a micro CT chamber surrounded by rooms that glow red with biohazards signs. What are they doing? Where could they be?
First a bit of background. The History of Medicine Collections here in the Rubenstein Library has a large collection of ivory anatomical manikins. In total, we have 22 ivory manikins, part of the Josiah Charles Trent Collection that was gifted to the University in 1956.
To say these ivory anatomical manikins are cool is an understatement. They are truly fascinating and beautiful. And a bit mysterious. Scholars are not entirely clear on why they were created or their intent, which likely evolved over time. The delicate figures in our holdings average about eight inches in length and were probably initially used for instructional purposes, to help medical students learn human anatomy. But how easy were they to use? Did the didactic intent fall by the wayside as these turned into collectibles? We speculate these were carved in the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, but we’re not entirely sure.
With so much interest in the ivory anatomical manikins and so much to learn, we considered what it would take to digitize these to share with a wider audience. Last April, we began to scan these items using Micro CT scanning in Duke’s Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMiF) – a magical space with lots of heavy equipment (and some rooms that glow red – although not the room where these are scanned).
Scanning the ivory manikins has been a true team effort with much assistance from our friends in Conservation and Justin Gladman, an engineer working in SMiF. We hope to complete scanning by the summer and turn to focusing on processing and uploading files to a site for the world to see. And yes, once this is done, they can be 3D printed. !!!! Stay tuned as we continue to move forward with our project. You can read more on Duke Today and the Preservation Underground Blog.
You are cordially invited to a dramatic reading of excerpts from pertinent texts that will bring to life the voices of women and men, past and present, whose perspectives on menopause range from “the historical to the hysterical.” In addition to the readings, individuals are also encouraged to share their own stories and experiences of “the change.”
Please join us Monday, April 30th at noon for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series. Raul Necochea, Ph.D., will present Contraception Crossroads: Health Workers Encounter Family Planning in Mid-20th Century Latin America.
Between the 1930s and the 1970s, health workers of different types began to embrace, slowly and selectively, the value of smaller families for all people in the region as well as to become used to new types of contraceptive technologies. What were the circumstances under which physicians, nurses, midwives, and social workers first encountered the use of birth control in Latin America? What they did do to advance and limit the use of contraception? How did they interact with birth control users? The answers to these questions help us better understand the context and the mindsets of people on the forefront of a momentous development: the normalization of family planning in the so-called Third World.
Dr. Nechochea is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Medicine & Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of History at the University North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
All are welcome to attend. Light lunch will be served.
This post is contributed by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, History of Medicine Collections.
“…there is no limit to the marvelous powers attributed to females” (Pliny, NH, 28.23).
When Pliny the Elder spoke of female powers in his Natural History, he attributed the most marvelous among them to menstrual blood. A menstruating woman could sour crops, tarnish mirrors, blunt razors, kill bees, drive dogs insane, and stave off hailstorms.
How unfortunate that the same womb which, in a woman’s younger years was blamed for such chaos, could be even more problematic in her later life.
For centuries it was believed that the menses were a means to cleanse poisons from a woman’s blood. When a woman’s menstrual period came to a permanent end, toxins could accumulate and stimulate disease (in addition to a slew of physical and mental conditions). “The Change of Life,” as the cessation was referred to, was the harbinger of both barrenness and wildness, sullenness and excitability, lethargy and hysteria, volubility and melancholy. Pathologized and medicalized, this physiological transition was viewed as anything but a natural, biological process.
The term now widely used to describe this phase – menopause – comes from the Greek words men (“month”) and pausis (“cessation”). Since French physician Charles-Pierre-Louis de Gardanne coined the term in 1821, knowledge about what menopause denotes has grown significantly.
The items in this exhibit trace changing perspectives on menopause – from early proponents who labelled it a debilitating disease to the women who have reclaimed it as an empowering transition. The exhibit aims to make visible the experience of menopause, dispel myths, and encourage public conversation about a topic that has, for too long, been considered taboo. Its curation was inspired by the words of feminist Rosetta Reitz:
“I’m going to pull menopause out into the open, remove the cobwebs, clean it off, and look at it.” 
Curated by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, The Change of Life: Menopause and our Changing Perspectives, runs from March 20 – July 14, 2018, and is on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room.
 Menopause: A Positive Approach. Rosetta Reitz (1924-2008). New York: Penguin Books, 1979, c1977, pg. 1.
Please join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Gerrit Bos, Ph.D., will present
“Moses Maimonides, medical doctor and author: Aspects of his work, medical training, theory, and practice.”
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, most commonly known as Maimonides, was a 12th century philosopher and physician. Maimonides authored numerous philosophical and medical treatises. In his talk, Professor Bos will cover a short survey of Maimonides’ medical works, his training as a doctor, and some central aspects of his medical theory and practice such as proper regimen, including the sex res non-naturales (six things non-natural), the role of one’s nature, and his wariness to apply bloodletting.
Dr. Bos is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Martin Buber Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cologne. His main fields of research are medieval Jewish-Islamic science, especially medicine, medieval Hebrew, and Judeo-Arabic studies.
This post is contributed by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, History of Medicine Collections
There are many extraordinary items in the History of Medicine artifacts collection: Bloodletting fleams, trepanation kits, bone saws, and ivory handled dental tools. But for me, the most magic dwells in the unassuming items that ask us to tell their stories, such as a diminutive paper cylinder measuring 3 ¼ inches in height and 2 inches in diameter. This Kraft brown tube is capped on each side by scalloped-edge paper in dark blue. I fall in love with the simplicity and utility of this object – its design, its size, its weight in my hands. A small amount of its contents, Purified Talcum Powder, remains inside. A label emblazoned across the front declares that the product was dispensed at Spake Pharmacy in Morganton, North Carolina.
The January 1937 edition of The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy heralds the opening of the Mimosa City’s newest drug store: “The Spake Pharmacy is the name of a new drug store which was formally opened in Morganton on Dec. 9 (1936) by Mr. Y. E. Spake. The new proprietor has spent fourteen years in drug work in Morganton, coming to that town from Kings Mountain where he was a partner in the wholesale drug firm of the Mauney Drug Co. The prescriptionist will be Mr. W. P. Phillips, originally from Morehead City, who goes to Morganton from Charlotte where he was connected with J. P. Stowe and Co. The new store, Mr. Spake says, ‘will offer complete prescription service, in addition to maintaining a modern fountain and a complete line of other medical supplies, cosmetics, and other goods.’” At the time of the store’s opening, purified talcum powder could be obtained from a wholesale druggist for approximately 20 to 40 cents per pound.
Talcum powder is a refined powder form of the mineral talc, which rose to commercial popularity during the 19th and 20th centuries. Advertised as ‘thoroughly antiseptic’ and intended for use by the young and old alike, it was generally applied after bathing, shaving, or partaking in outdoor activities. Talcum powder was thought to cool the skin on hot days, sooth irritation, and keep the skin ‘comfortable.’ On babies, it was used to prevent chafing and ‘nappy’ soreness. Adults dusted the powder on their bodies to absorb dampness and neutralize body odors. Advertisements aimed specifically at women promoted its scented quality, proclaiming that talcum powder would keep them ‘dainty’ and fragrant ‘like a newly opened flower’ when essential oils were added to the product – typically rose, lavender or violet. Given its myriad uses, powder-filled tin canisters, glass bottles, and paper cylinders like the one dispensed at Spake Pharmacy, would have been a common sight within the medicine cabinets and on the dressing tables of many American households.
Occupying a small space on North Sterling Street, Spake Pharmacy first operated under the catchphrase, “The little store with the big heart.” In addition to dispensing and delivering prescriptions, they sold fountain drinks, Blue Ridge Ice Cream, and Martha Washington candies. In the early 1940s, Yates Ellis Spake moved his business to a prominent location at the corner Union and Sterling Streets and adopted the iconic slogan, “On the Square.” While the talcum powder cylinder is undated, the presence of this simple slogan on the label indicates that it was dispensed sometime after the move.
Between 1936 and January of 1953, Spake and his team filled over 300,000 prescriptions. A set of these were captured in a small 1950s feature, entitled ‘Rx Oddity’: “Yates E. Spake of Morganton sends us a list of three prescriptions filled for a customer recently: (1) 1 bottle of Cortone Tablets, $30; (2) 1 Rx for Terramycin Caps., $14.40; and (3) 1 Rx for an ice cream cone, 5c. ‘I have never experienced anything like this during all my years in the drug business,’ says Yates.”
Under the leadership of J.A. Hurt, Spake Pharmacy moved locations for a third and final time in 1966 to 307 West Union Street. Spake Pharmacy last appears in the Carolina Journal of Pharmacy’s ‘List of Drug Stores’ for Morganton in 1970 with J. A. Hurt, Jr. certified as pharmacist in charge. By 1971, the address was assumed by Burke Pharmacy, Inc.
Happenings of Interest. (January 1937). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XVIII(1), 8.Named Manager of Spake Pharmacy. (March 1953). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXIV(3), 94.
Named Manager of Spake Pharmacy. (March 1953). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXIV(3), 94
Rx Oddity. (December 1951). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXII(12), 581.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University