Category Archives: History of Medicine

(CANCELLED) Trent Lecture Series, 2/21: Dr. Gerrit Bos on Moses Maimonides

Please note: this event has been cancelled due to illness. We hope to reschedule at a later date and will post updated event information on The Devil’s Tale.

Date: Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold,, (919)684-8549

Illustration of Moses Maimonides. From Medicine: An Illustrated History (New York: Abradale Press/Abrams, 1987).
Illustration of Moses Maimonides. From Medicine: An Illustrated History (New York: Abradale Press/Abrams, 1987).

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.

The event is free and open to the public.

A Cylinder from ‘On the Square’

This post is contributed by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, History of Medicine Collections

Purified talcum powder, 20th century
Morganton, NC: Spake Pharmacy
Item hbirdw0001
Warren Bird Collection Artifacts
History of Medicine artifacts collection, 1550-1980s

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.’”[1] 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.

Freeman’s Violet Talcum, 1900s-1910s
Freeman Perfume Co., Cincinnati. Text on reverse explains difference between talcum and face powders. Offer for a sample of Freeman’s Face Powder. For sale by G.E.B. Fairbanks Druggist, Providence, R.I.
Cosmetics Trade Samples and Sachet collection, 1890s-1930s
Box 1
Item RL11349-0024

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.

Ross, M. (1944). The 1944 Cat’s Tale, Vol. II. Morganton, NC: Morganton High School, 79.

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.[2] 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.”[3]


(September 1946). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXVII(9), 378.
Y.E. Spake appears as the first standing from left.

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.

[1]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.

[2]Named Manager of Spake Pharmacy. (March 1953). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXIV(3), 94

[3]Rx Oddity. (December 1951). The Carolina Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. XXXII(12), 581.

Engravings of Clemens Kohl

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator, History of Medicine Collections


Currently on display in the Josiah C. Trent History of Medicine Room are six engravings from Clemens Kohl, a prolific illustrator and engraver from the eighteenth century.  The engravings on display can be found in the work Die Welt in Bildern: vorzüglich zum Vergnügen und Unterricht der Jugend (The World in Pictures: Especially for the Pleasure and Instruction of the Youth) by Joseph Edlem von Baumeister. Published in Vienna in the late eighteenth century, the six-volume set was intended to give a younger audience a sense of the world through realistic images, which were designed by Johann Sollerer and engraved by Kohl.

While the Rubenstein Library does not retain the multivolume work of von Baumeister, we do have six engravings from Die Welt in Bildern that are medically themed and housed as part of the History of Medicine Picture File. The engravings depict different scenarios: Medicine/Physician, Afflictions/Disabilities, Diseases, the Pharmacy, the Hospital, and Death. Perhaps framed at one point, these hand-colored copperplate engravings would have made a stunning conversation piece.


And while you’re visiting the Trent History of Medicine Room, take some time to check out a new rotation of medical instruments and artifacts. From cupping glasses to glass slides with specimens as well as an apothecary boiler and pill roller, hopefully you’ll find an item, or two, to pique your interest.

October 31st: Screamfest V

Post contributed by Sierra Moore, Library Assistant for Research Services

Date: Tuesday, October 31, 2017
Time: 1:30-3:30 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room
Contact: Rubenstein Library front desk, 919-660-5822

As all Hallows’ Eve draws near there are a multitude of reasons why you might traipse through all places dark, gloomy, and strange. Here at the Rubenstein Library your travels will be far less perilous. Nonetheless, we have compiled samples from collections containing chilling texts and photographs certain to both entertain, enchant, and imbibe the type of intrigue you seek. Here is a brief preview of what we have in store:

The Duke Blue Devil in a clown-like costume, ca. 1930s

An early version of our very own Blue Devil mascot lingers before the Chapel.

Photo of our limited edition copy of Stephen King's "IT."

A copy of Stephen King’s IT, ca. 1986.

Photo of four Halloween postcards

From our Postcard Collection, a selection of Halloween postcards.

Photo of a page from “Puppets and the Puppet Theater" showing puppets.

Black and white images of puppets from Puppets and the Puppet Theater.

Please join us on Tuesday, October 31st from 1:30-3:30 PM for a most festive open house certain to rouse the spirits!

Oct. 25th: Race, Medicine, Authorship and the “Discovery” of Sickle Cell Disease in 1910-1911

Date: Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Time: 5:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, 153 Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold,, (919) 684-8549

Photo of Todd SavittPlease join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Todd Savitt, Ph.D. will present Race, Medicine, Authorship and the ‘Discovery’ of Sickle Cell Disease in 1910-1911.

The first two case histories of sickle cell disease (SCD) appeared in the medical literature within three months of each other in 1910 and 1911.  The very divergent stories of the first two sickle-cell patients and their physicians are told against the backdrop of a racially divided America and of a highly competitive scientific community. Dr. Savitt’s talk will discuss how race and class affected the discovery of SCD and how credit for the two discoveries were apportioned. Dr. Savitt will also talk about his own “adventures” in tracking down the identities and backgrounds of these first two SCD patients.

Dr. Savitt is a medical historian and professor in the Department of Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Studies in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

All are welcome to attend.

New Acquisitions – Wonderful Wunderkammer

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator, History of Medicine Collections

In the sixteenth century, printed works depicting early museums and personal collections of physical objects began to emerge. Such collections were curated overwhelmingly by men of a certain standing in society, including a number of physicians.  Personal collections included items such as shells, gems and minerals, coins, sculptures, fossils and animals, and more. Rooms showcasing such objects were stuffed with as much as could be displayed, including mounting crocodiles on ceilings and finding a place for the unicorn horn (or rather, the tooth of the narwhal, an arctic whale).

These cabinets of curiosities, or wunderkammer, provided a space for visitors to see objects from the world within one room – objects that were both natural as well as man-made.  In many ways, these cabinets of curiosities were precursors to modern day museums, and printed works from the sixteenth through eighteenth centuries provide text as well as stunning images of the legacy of wunderkammer.


The History of Medicine Collections has recently acquired a magnificent work of wunderkammer, a work by German physician Michael Bernhard Valentini (1657-1729), titled Museum Museorum, printed in 1714. This three volume set, printed in two volumes, includes catalogs from other such curiosity collections as well as a list of all known museums at the time (of which he notes are around 159). Numerous copper engravings are found throughout the text, including six extra-illustrated engravings printed on blue paper. Along with providing a survey of museums and details on collecting, Valentini also covers topics including animals, plants, minerals, and their medicinal use, along with shells, fossils, physics, and natural philosophy.

These volumes and other printed books related to cabinets of curiosities are available for researchers in the Rubenstein Library.

“Who’s looney now?”: John Armstrong Chaloner’s fight to prove his sanity

Post contributed by Dr. Paul Sommerfeld, Rubenstein Graduate Intern for Manuscripts Processing and one of Duke’s newest PhDs in the Dept. of Music.

By the age of 26, John Armstrong Chaloner (1862-1935)—or to his friends, Archie—had amassed a fortune of $4 million and seemed poised to live the privileged life the wealthy elite of New York City enjoyed in the late nineteenth century. In 1897, however, his family had him involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital. Chaloner spent the next 22 years fighting to prove his sanity. His papers, a mixture of correspondence, legal documents, and writings by Chaloner himself, offer not only a fascinating portrait of Chaloner but also a snapshot of attitudes toward mental health in the early twentieth century.

In the 1890s, Chaloner became interested in psychological experiments. He believed that he possessed a new sense, which he termed the “X-Faculty.” Among many claims, Chaloner stated that the faculty provided him a profitable stock market tip, would turn his brown eyes gray, allowed him to carry hot coals in his hands unharmed, and caused him to resemble Napoleon.

Newspaper clipping with Chaloner and Napoleon
Milwaukee Free Press, Oct. 1911

Chaloner’s family regarded his claims—in addition to his blasé attitude toward the scandal of his divorced wife, the novelist Amélie Rives—as evidence of insanity. Chaloner continued to live near Rives’ estate in Albemarle County, VA, and even befriended her second husband. Chaloner’s brother reportedly labeled him as “looney.” In response, Chaloner’s family had him committed to the Bloomingdale Hospital in White Plains. On 12 June 1899, a New York court declared him insane and ruled that he be permanently institutionalized.

Letter from Chaloner to attorney, 3 July 1897
Letter from Chaloner to attorney, 1897 July 3

But Chaloner had other plans. He believed his family had him committed to seize his fortune and stop his experiments. Bitter sonnets composed during his time at the asylum reflect his anger and desire to clear his name. In November of 1900, he managed to escape to a private clinic, whose doctors declared him able to function in society. Thereafter, Chaloner plotted strategies to both overturn the New York verdict and change lunacy laws in America.

During his legal challenges, Chaloner became immortalized by the phrase “Who’s looney now?.” In the summer of 1910, Chaloner’s brother married the opera singer Lina Cavalieri and signed over control of his property to her. The marriage soon broke down, and Chaloner wired his brother the pithy catchphrase. Four years later Chaloner even titled one of his many books The Swan-Song of “Who’s Looney Now?” (1914), drawing on the phrase’s subsequent popularity.

Newspaper clipping about Chaloner's brother
New York City Evening Mail, 1910 Oct. 4

Chaloner’s correspondence, copious notes, and book drafts speak to his dedication in clearing his name. Filled with legal strategy and instructions to attorneys in New York, North Carolina, and Virginia, his letters trace his maneuvering within the legal system, reaching even the U. S. Supreme Court in 1916. In Chaloner v. Thomas T. Sherman, Chaloner sought damages for the withholding of his estate and fortune. Chaloner argued that because he was a resident of Virginia, New York had no jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court affirmed the U. S. Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision.

U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals legal brief
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals legal brief, 1914

Yet the courts of Virginia and North Carolina had declared Chaloner sane in 1901, allowing him to live and maintain business interests in both states. New York continued to declare him legally insane until 1919, when his family no longer challenged the petition and reconciled with Chaloner.

Letter congratulating Chaloner on his legal victory, 1919 July 8
Letter congratulating Chaloner on his legal victory, 1919 July 8

Like his dogged legal challenges, Chaloner’s book drafts, including Four Years Behind the Bars of “Bloomingdale,” or, The Bankruptcy of Law in New York (1906) and The Lunacy Law of the World: Being That of Each of the Forty-Eight States and Territories of the United States, with an Examination Thereof and Leading Cases Thereon; Together with That of the Six Great Powers of Europe—Great Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Austria-Hungary, and Russia (1906), are also filled with annotations and revisions that fill every bit of available white space. Not even a calendar from the University of Virginia escaped unscathed.

Calendar with Chaloner's notes, 1906
Calendar with Chaloner’s notes, 1906

Chaloner’s papers offer a fascinating portrait into the mind of a determined, if eccentric, man, while also simultaneously portending the burgeoning changes toward psychiatry in both medicine and the law that developed throughout the twentieth century.

The John Armstrong Chaloner Papers are available for research.

Technology, Hope, and Motherhood: What We Can Learn from the History of the Infant Incubator

Date: Tuesday, April 11, 2017
Time: 5:00 p.m.
Location: Rubenstein Library Room 153 (Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room)

Professional headshot of Jeff Baker
Dr. Jeffrey Baker

Join the Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series for our next talk by Jeff Baker, M.D., Ph.D., on Technology, Hope, and Motherhood:  What We Can Learn from the History of the Infant Incubator. At the turn of the last century, a new medical invention known as the infant incubator captured the imagination of physicians and the public.   The device became a public sensation and appeared in settings ranging from hospitals to world fairs midway side-shows (complete with live infants).   But in the process it set off a great controversy regarding whether so-called premature and weak infants should be rescued in the first place, and whether their care should be entrusted to mothers, physicians, or scientifically-trained nurses.

Dr. Baker is the Director of the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & History of Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics in the School of Medicine at Duke University. He is the author of The machine in the nursery : incubator technology and the origins of newborn intensive care (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996) and a leading authority on the history of neonatal medicine.

The talk will be held in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, of the Rubenstein Library at Duke University. All are welcome to attend.  Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections.

A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Health Advice for Scholars and Students

19th century illustration showing two school boys sitting opposite one another at a table. According to the image's caption, the one on teh left is showing poor writing posture, while the one on the right is showing the proper posture.
Calvin Cutter. A Treatise on Anatomy, Physiology, and Hygiene: Designed for Colleges, Academies, and Families. Philadelphia, 1852.

“It is an old complaint,” wrote the eighteenth-century Swiss physician Samuel-André-Auguste-David Tissot, “that study, though essentially necessary to the mind, is hurtful to the body.” Student health is the subject of a new exhibit entitled “A Sound Mind in a Sound Body: Health Advice for Scholars and Students,” now on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room.

Photograph of the title page of the book "The Haven of Health"
Title page to Thomas Cogan. The Haven of Health… London, 1612.

Since antiquity, scholars and students have been bombarded with warnings about the potential health hazards associated with a life of sedentary study, the medical side effects of which have been said to range from a loss of vision, cramped posture, and consumption to melancholia, bad digestion, and even hemorrhoids. Heeding these warnings, scholars and students have for centuries turned to medical guides for advice on how best to counteract the effects of “hard study.” While such guides often vary as to specifics, all commend some form of attention to diet, exercise, and regimen as means to a long and healthy life, urging adherence to an ancient ideal: mens sana in corpore sano, a sound mind in a sound body.

Image in honor of W.W. Card, director of athletics at Trinity College. Image includes 11 photographs of Card in various athletic poses.
“Health and Strength,” Wilbur Wade Card Papers, Duke University Archives, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.

The items in the exhibit trace the history of medical advice written specifically for scholars and students and reflect the wide range of approaches to scholarly health.  The exhibit, on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, runs through July 16, 2017.

A Sound Mind in a Sound Body is curated by Thomas Gillan, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern

We’ve Got Brains!

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator of the History of Medicine Collections

Brains are really neat
Not just for zombies to eat
Come, give books a peek!

In honor of Brain Awareness Week, we’d like to remind everyone of our History of Medicine Collections which includes over 400 years of research, writings, and illustrations of the brain.

Fritz Kahn. Das Leben des Menschen…. Stuttgart : Kosmos, Gesellschaft der Naturfreunde Franckh’sche Verlagshandlung, [1926-1931]. Bd. 4.
Animated GIF showing the different layers of the brain
George Bartisch. Ophthalmodouleia. Dresden : Matthes Stöckel, 1583


Charles Bell. The anatomy of the brain: explained in a series of engravings. London : T.N. Longman and O. Rees [etc.] 1802.
Johann Dryander. Anatomiae, hoc est, corporis humani dissectionis pars prior. Marpurgi : Apud Eucharium Cervicornum, 1537.


The Society for Neuroscience states that while Brain Awareness Week is officially March 13-19, there are ways to be involved throughout the year. Similarly, we invite you to visit our History of Medicine Collections and other collections in the Rubenstein Library all year long, not just this week.