Post contributed by Jessica Chen. Jessica is a Duke undergraduate and was a participant in the Story+ program during Summer 2017.
This summer marked the first incarnation of Story+, a program for humanities research and dynamic storytelling sponsored by Duke University’s Franklin Humanities Institute. Each project team consisted of a few Duke undergraduates, one graduate student mentor, and a “client” such as the NC Justice Center, the Duke Classics Lab, and the Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History. As an art history major interested in archival work, I applied (and was hired) for a position with the Hartman Center’s “Race and Ethnicity in Advertising” project. The other students on the project included Lizzie Butcher, Cyan DeVeaux and our mentor, Meghan O’Neil.
Our assignment was to create a digital resource for students and researchers that would serve as a portal for the Hartman Center’s resources related to underrepresented racial and ethnic groups in the United States. At first I wasn’t sure what ‘humanities research’ really entailed. I also didn’t know what the Hartman Center was, and I was confused as to why the Rubenstein Library wasn’t a normal, circulating library. Luckily, Hartman Center staff gave us an overview of the Center’s collections and the process of requesting and reserving materials for research. In the reading room, we looked at collections that featured different perspectives in the advertising industry: personal and professional documents of people of color who worked in advertising, marketing research reports analyzing and interpreting minority groups as consumer segments, and depictions of race and ethnicity in print advertising. We met with Hartman Center staff to present both our research findings and our website design ideas. We also were trained in how to build a website using Omeka.
Besides links to the various pertinent collections and a gallery of images, our website includes exhibits that each of us created with material from the Hartman Center, allowing us to pursue our individual interests in more depth. Our exhibits varied widely in topic. Lizzie Butcher’s exhibit described the “Black is Beautiful” movement in the 1960s and its effect on print advertisements, while Cyan DeVeaux’s exhibit depicted the development of professionals of color working in advertising. My exhibit, which illustrated the evolution of marketing research focused on minorities, taught me how to piece a narrative together by showcasing items from the Hartman Center’s collections and incorporating secondary sources to provide the historical context.
Through the Story+ program and this project, I learned how to conduct archival research, work in a highly interdisciplinary team, and create a website with assorted features – skills I had always wanted to develop, but didn’t have the opportunity to do so before this summer. I look forward to doing more humanities research in the future and spending more time in the Rubenstein Library, as well!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Post contributed by Erin Ryan, Drill Intern for the Duke University Archives.
When I first signed up to do a Rubenstein Test Kitchen blog post, my plan was to do something from an early-to-mid 20th-century vegetarian cookbook in our collections. I’ve been a vegetarian since the mid-’90s.
But then, as I was browsing our library catalog, I came across 401 Party and Holiday Ideas from ALCOA (Aluminum Company of America, 1971) in our Nicole Di Bona Peterson Collection of Advertising Cookbooks. I was intrigued; my grandfather—my dad’s father—worked for ALCOA for about 35 years, until his retirement in the early ’80s.
Pretty soon, I was hooked.
This amazing book features the creations of one Conny von Hagen, who worked as a designer for ALCOA, still one of the largest producers of aluminum.
Conny was also behind 1959’s Alcoa’s Book Of Decorations:A Year-Round Treasury of Easy-to-do Decorations for Holidays and Special Occasions. According to the timeline on their website, ALCOA introduced aluminum foil to the U.S. in 1910—you can see some “Alcoa Wrap” next to Conny in the picture below. This introductory page also explains that her designs appeared on TV, in newspapers and in magazines.
401 Party and Holiday Ideas from ALCOA has ideas for 24 separate occasions, from Christmas and Hanukkah to “Teen-Age Party” and Election Day.
For this post, I decided to make (1) a food recipe; (2) a foil creation.
The food: Kerry Cake
I made Irish Apple Cake, or Kerry Cake, from the “Saint Patrick’s Day” chapter of 401 Party and Holiday Ideas. Criteria:It had to be vegetarian, and it had to be easy (I was pressed for time). I also wanted to serve it at my Easter family gathering. I didn’t like any of the Easter recipes, though. So a quick look through the rest of the book, and I settled on this:
My ancestry is mostly Irish, but I did not know anything about Kerry Cake until I read here that it is a traditional Irish apple bread that was baked in an iron cooking pot called a bastible, hung over the fire.
But this 1971 recipe just called for an 8-inch cake pan in a regular oven, and that’s what I used. I was making this in my mom’s kitchen, so I got to use the sifter that had belonged to her mom. Mom told me we had relatives from County Kerry, too.
I’m a pretty laissez-faire cook, in general. So I didn’t mind that the recipe didn’t specify what kind of apples to use, how big to cut the pieces, etc. I went for Granny Smith. They were pretty huge apples, so Mom and I decided I should just use two, to equal the “three medium” the recipe called for.
In all, it took me about 50 minutes to grate the lemon rind, cut up the apple, and put the batter together. I greased the pan with butter, baked it exactly according to instructions (30 minutes at 375), and it came out perfectly.
I whipped some heavy cream and served this cake at our Easter dinner. I was afraid it would be bland without spices, or that the lemon would taste strange. But it was delicious. Moist, not too sweet, and the lemon was exactly the right amount to accentuate the apples and butter. There were six adults at dinner, including a guest from Colombia, and everybody loved the Kerry Cake. Almost the whole cake was gone by the end of the night.
The foil creation: Sadie Seal
So many ideas here! It was tough to choose, but I settled on Sadie Seal, one of the circus animals on offer in the Kids’ Korner section.
In her introduction, Conny said to use things that were lying around the house to construct our decorations, so I rounded up a bunch of felt, foam balls, pompoms, and other supplies I had left over from a Halloween costume I never made. I already had a roll of heavy-duty foil in my cabinet. The instructions were not very detailed, as you can see from the photos below, but I did my best.
Making the “mouth” was not easy. Once I cut off the extra foil, I was left with a hard, solid lump of metal that was sharp and nearly impossible to shape.
No guidance either on how to make the flippers. My first attempt gave her absurdly long arms; then I shortened them so much they didn’t touch the floor; and then went with my imperfect third try. I pinned the flippers on the body, cut some eyes out of black felt and pinned those on too. I couldn’t find any ribbon for her neck …so … voila!
I was disappointed at first. It took me about 40 minutes to make this odd little bird-like creature and she didn’t look like the picture at all. But … I took her home on Easter weekend to show her to my gathered family. Once she had ridden with me in the car for 2.5 hours, looking at me with her little felt eyes, I felt like we’d bonded. Plus, everybody thought she was cute. (Mom thought she looked like a turtle.)
*I promise: all extra foil scraps from this project were duly recycled! But I’m not recycling Sadie any time soon. I’m pretty fond of her now. She’s staying on my desk.
“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.
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.
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
Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at theHartman Center.
Throwing a Mardi Gras-themed party this weekend? Then check out this gumbo recipe!
New Orleans Carnival season is in full swing with Mardi Gras fast approaching. My Twitter feed is full of images of brightly clad parade goers and heaps of dazzling beads. Scrolling through my feed the other day, nostalgia overwhelmed me. I had been missing New Orleans, the subject of my dissertation research. In that moment, I wanted one thing: gumbo.
With a goal to kick off the Rubenstein Test Kitchen in 2017, I thought I could make gumbo from a historic recipe, satiating my emotional need for it while also sharing my passion for the dish with wider audiences. There was one flaw in my plan, though. I had already written a blog post for the Devil’s Tale on Shrimp Gumbo Filé. As I pointed out in that post, however, New Orleans-style gumbo is anything but formulaic and reflects the complexity of New Orleans’ Creole food culture. There were an infinite number of combinations that I could draw upon to make a gumbo dish that would look nothing like the one I had made a few years ago.
So, I set out to look for a gumbo recipe that stood in contrast to the meaty seafood stew I had previously made from the Picayune’s Creole Cook Book (1916). Whereas I tend to gravitate towards roux-based stews with chicken, ham, and seafood, I knew that there were entirely different gumbo traditions—ones that drew upon ingredients that I have never tried in my gumbos.
I found just the recipe I was looking for in an article published in a 1957 issue of Ladies Home Journal. This was a beef-based stew with tomatoes and okra, among other unfamiliar gumbo ingredients like basil and oregano. The recipe came from an article titled, “Main Dishes with a Southern Accent,” written by Dorothy James, a native New Orleanian.
Buy 2 pounds of either stewing beef or veal cut into 1” cubes. Put in a heavy kettle or Dutch oven along with 2 cups water, 2 cups chopped onion, ¾ cup chopped green pepper, ¾ cup chopped celery, 2 cloves garlic, crushed. Season with 1½ teaspoons salt, 1½ teaspoons gumbo filé, 1 teaspoon sugar, ½ teaspoon basil, ½ teaspoon orégano, 1/8 teaspoon pepper and a dash of crushed red-pepper flakes. Gumbo filé is innate to gumbo as far as Southern cooks are concerned, but it is not generally available in the North. It may be omitted, in which case add a little more red pepper and herbs. Simmer, covered, for 1 hour. Separate the meat from the broth and set both aside. Make a brown roux with ¼ cup flour and ¼ cup bacon drippings. Add the broth, 4 fresh tomatoes, peeled and quartered, and 1 cup tomato sauce. Cover and cook until the sauce is well blended. Then add the meat, cover again, and simmer gently about 45 minutes longer. Stir occasionally to prevent sticking. Wash and trim 1½ pounds fresh okra. Then cut into ½” pieces—there will be about 3 cups. (You can use two 10-ounce packages of frozen okra). Add to the gumbo and cook another 20-30 minutes, or until the okra is tender. Serve with rice. Makes 6 servings.
The final product was incredibly tasty. The gumbo, which had three kinds of thickener (filé powder, roux, and okra slime), had a decadent, creamy texture. The tomato was not overwhelming and provided a tangy, sweet undercurrent that blended nicely with the kick of the red pepper flakes. I had to add a bit more salt to balance the flavors in the dish to my liking. Overall, it was a satisfying meal that showcased both beef and okra beautifully.
As is the case with any recipe, there are tips, tricks, and “trade secrets” that are regularly left out. I’ve added some notes to help create the most flavor-packed gumbo possible.
I purchased a fatty beef brisket from the local grocery store. The more fat in the meat, the more flavorful the stock. I also patted my beef try with a paper towel (thanks for the tip, Julia Child) and browned it in 2 tablespoons of oil to start a nice faun on the bottom of the pan. After a few minutes, I pulled the beef out, added a bit more oil to the pan, and sautéed my vegetables for 5 minutes. Then, I added the beef back in along with the water and spices. I added an extra cup of water so that the beef was almost completely covered.
After letting the stew simmer for an hour, I separated the beef and broth, trimming the extra fat off the beef once the meat had cooled. In the meantime, I washed out my cast iron pot and prepped to make a roux, the base of most Creole stews. For a detailed lesson on how to make a roux, see my previous blog post on gumbo. This time, I decided to make a quick roux, in ten minutes or less. I heated up equal parts oil and fat over medium-high heat and stirred constantly. My roux went from butter yellow to Hershey’s chocolate bar brown in about 9 minutes. I poured the broth back in and then added the tomatoes and tomato sauce, and eventually the beef (watch for splatter from the hot roux).
Finally, I added in the okra, and allowed the gumbo to simmer for another 30 minutes, while I prepared rice.
Post contributed by Thomas Gillan, the Josiah Charles Trent Intern in the History of Medicine Collections.
Given its designation as the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, you might assume, correctly, that the library’s History of Medicine Collections consist primarily of books and manuscripts, but did you know that they also boast a large collection of historical medical instruments and artifacts? Some of these objects are reassuringly familiar. Others, however, can seem somewhat more baffling.
Take, for instance, the objects identified in the collection guide as “Perkins’s tractors.” At first glance, they are often mistaken for horseshoe nails. Historian James Delbourgo, who has written extensively about these so-called tractors, notes that they “were disarmingly simple things. A set consisted of two three-inch metallic rods made of brass and iron, and they sold for twenty-five continental dollars in North America, five guineas in Britain.” According to Delbourgo, their very simplicity was what made the tractors so appealing. At a time when doctors regularly resorted to such “heroic” measures as bleeding, blistering, vomiting, and purging, Perkins’s tractors offered a painless alternative, one that was less invasive but no less controversial.
The man behind these seemingly strange instruments was one Elisha Perkins of Connecticut. Born in 1741, Perkins received his medical training from his father, a physician in Norwich, before establishing his own practice in Plainfield. There, in the course of his practice, Perkins “discovered that, by drawing over the parts [of the body] affected in particular directions certain instruments which he formed from metallic substances into certain shapes, he could remove . . . most kinds of painful topical affections, which came under his care and observation.”
Perkins, it turns out, was quite the salesman. In 1796, he patented his tractors. Thereafter, Perkins and his son took to promoting them. Together, they published a series of pamphlets touting the tractors’ efficacy. These pamphlets invariably included testimonials from satisfied clients. Prominent among them were Jedidiah Morse, a Congregational minister; John Marshall, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court; and Josiah Meigs, professor of natural philosophy at Yale. Even George Washington himself is reputed to have owned a set.
Like other novel medical therapies, such as Galvanism and Mesmerism, Perkins’s were the subject of much popular attention, not all of it positive. Most regular physicians were skeptical of Perkins’s claims, so much so that in May of 1797, the Connecticut Medical Society expelled Perkins on grounds of quackery. Still other physicians sought to make sense of the tractors’ mysterious workings.
One such account can be found among the Benjamin Waterhouse papers. In a letter dated February 1, 1802, Abijah Richardson, a physician in Medway, Massachusetts, wrote to Benjamin Waterhouse, then a professor of medicine at Harvard, relating “an account of a Young Lady’s Case, who was relieved of a painful disorder by the use of a Metelic tractor.” In 1796, Richardson explained, he had been “called in to see Miss P.T. about eighteen years of age” who for several years “had been subjected to fits of the head-ach.” Having heard of Perkins’s tractors “being efficacious in relieving painful disorders,” Richardson decided to put the tractors to the test.
Without access, however, to a real set of tractors—he apparently did not have a set of his own—Richardson offered up “an artificial magnet which I supposed was of similar efficacy with the points.” After obtaining his patient’s consent, Richardson proceeded to draw “light parallel strokes from the temple & forehead above the right eye down to her neck & top of her shoulder.” Richardson here followed the method laid out by Perkins himself of “drawing the Points of the Tractors over the Parts affected, and continuing them along on the Skin to a considerable Distance from the Complaint, usually towards the Extremities.” Richardson went on to recount how, in the course of her treatment, his patient’s pain, following the strokes of the tractors, “gradually abated & left her.” From this, Richardson “was led to suppose that the tractors relieved pain by attracting & conveying heat from the pained part.”
In 1800, John Haygarth, a physician in Bath, England, published the results of an experiment that cast doubt on the tractors’ efficacy. In 1799, having “contrived two wooden Tractors of nearly the same shape as the metallick, and paints to resemble them in colour,” Haygarth set out to test whether these “fictitious tractors” could produce the same effect as “the true metalliack Tractors of Perkins.”
Much to his surprise, both sets of tractors “were employed exactly in like manner, and with similar effects,” leading Haygarth to conclude that the “whole effect undoubtedly depends upon the impression which can be made upon the patient’s Imagination.” Haygarth’s experiment was one of the first documented demonstrations of what later came to be known as the placebo effect.
Despite their critics, Perkins’s tractors continued to be commercially successful, even after the death of their inventor in 1799. They even went on to become the subject of a poem satirizing the medical profession.
To explore these and other items from the History of Medicine Artifacts Collection, check out the collection guide, which contains descriptions and images for many of the items. Also, stop by the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room at the Rubenstein Library to see a rotating selection of items from the collection on permanent exhibit.
 James Delbourgo, A Most Amazing Scene of Wonders: Electricity and Enlightenment in Early America (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2006), 240.
The Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture recently acquired 47 copies of The Ladder (1956-1972), more than doubling our run for a total of 79 issues of the publication spanning the years 1957 to 1972. We are especially excited about this opportunity to expand our holdings of this ground-breaking publication sixty years after the first issue was released.
The Ladder was the first nationally distributed lesbian periodical in the United States. Preceded only by a local Los Angeles newsletter titled Vice Versa, The Ladder began in October 1956 as the small publication of the group Daughters of Bilitis (DOB). The DOB was founded in 1955 in San Francisco as a social group for lesbians who wanted to avoid public scrutiny and the violence of bars that were often the target of police brutality. As their numbers grew, DOB chapters formed in cities across the country, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The DOB evolved into a highly influential lesbian activist organization providing a “feminine viewpoint,” educating women about “female homosexuality and positive self-image.” The DOB worked closely with groups that were primarily focused on gay men, such as the Mattachine Society and ONE, Inc.
Partners Phyllis Lyon and Del Martin, the co-founders of DOB, both had educational backgrounds in journalism and worked as reporters. Lyon decided to publish The Ladder as a way to advertise the group—since they were forbidden from doing so in newspapers—as well as to spread awareness about social issues affecting the wider lesbian community. The mission statement of the DOB was printed inside every cover of the magazine:
According to some sources, the magazine was titled “The Ladder” to symbolize a way to escape the “well of loneliness,” a phrase popularized by Radclyffe Hall’s influential novel of the same name. The first issues featured a hand-drawn cover with two people standing beneath a ladder ascending into the clouds. There were only 175 original copies made of this issue, which were given to friends and mailed to professional women in the San Francisco telephone book and around the country. By 1957, the second year of publication, there were hundreds of subscribers on the mailing list, and the magazine was available on select newsstands in major cities. By the publication of its last issue in 1972, it had a subscription of over 4,000 worldwide. It is difficult to estimate total readership, however, because the issues were frequently shared and read aloud at gatherings.
Early content included information from DOB meetings, “Lesbiana” literature reviews, prose and poetry, social experiments, etiquette advice, community events, and reader responses. The editors avoided including any overtly sexual content, but quickly began rallying around political issues and publishing news about the Homophile movement.
The Ladder was published monthly from 1956-1970 and bi-monthly from 1971-72. Over that time span, the magazine underwent drastic changes. The first major transformations began after Barbara Gittings, DOB New York chapter president, became editor in 1963. Gittings added the subtitle, “A Lesbian Review” to the cover in 1964, signifying the word “lesbian” as something that was no longer unspeakable. She changed the magazine’s size and publication quality, increasing issues from 12-15 pages to 27 and moving from a mimeographed copy to professionally printed pages. Kay Tobin Lahusen, a photojournalist who was Gittings’ partner and assistant editor, began using photographs of lesbians, rather than the illustrations typical of past issues. Regardless of the changes in its appearance, The Ladder was issued in a brown paper covering for the duration of its existence.
The last issue was published in September, 1972. In 1975, Arno Press released a nine-volume compilation of The Ladder in hardback as part of their series “Lesbians and Gay Men in Society, History, and Literature.” The Ladder was a lifeline for those women who read it, providing one of the first formal spaces for lesbians to come together in dialogue and artistic expression. Today, it stands as an important artifact of 20th century lesbian and feminist movements and a valuable resource for scholarship.
Post contributed by Valerie Szwaya, intern for the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.
Post contributed by Thomas Gillan, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.
Among the 20,000 books and 4,000 manuscripts that together comprise the History of Medicine Collections at Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library—not to mention the collection’s hundreds of medical instruments and artifacts—is a large, leather-bound account ledger in folio kept by Hugh Mercer, an apothecary in Fredericksburg, Virginia, from 1771 to 1775.
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1725, Mercer went on to study medicine at Marischal College, graduating in 1744 before taking up a post as an assistant surgeon in the army of Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.
With the Scots’ defeat at Culloden in 1746, Mercer fled to America, arriving in Philadelphia in 1747. Mercer settled in what is now Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine for eight years. During the Seven Years’ War, Mercer served in the British army, where he met and befriended Colonel George Washington. Following his service, Mercer resettled in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a decision no doubt influenced by Washington.
It was in Fredericksburg that Mercer, along with his business partner and fellow physician Ewen Clements, opened his apothecary shop. On May 28, 1771, in the Virginia Gazette, Mercer and Clements, “partners in the practice of physic and surgery,” announced that they had “opened a shop on the main street, opposite to Mr. Henry Mitchell’s store, furnished with a large assortment of drugs and medicines of the best quality, just imported from London; where Gentlemen of the profession and others may be supplied at easy rates, for ready money.” Together, Mercer and Clements compounded and dispensed medicines, diagnosed patients’ disorders, and prescribed and administered treatments.
The ledger kept by Mercer, which documents the history of his practice from 1771 to 1775, is a microcosm of the social and intellectual worlds of eighteenth-century Virginia. It contains entries for more than three hundred different accounts. Below each entry, Mercer meticulously documented his visits with patients, the medicines he dispensed, the treatments he prescribed, as well as the fees he charged.
Among Mercer’s many patients were Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother; Betty Washington Lewis, George Washington’s sister, and her husband Colonel Fielding Lewis; Thomas Ludwell Lee; John, Henry, and William Fitzhugh; and Mann Page. Mercer often noted the occupations of his patients, who ranged from merchants, planters, and gentlemen to tradesmen, schoolmasters, undertakers, and stage players. A number of women, many of them widows, kept their own accounts with Mercer. Also among Mercer’s patients were the enslaved men, women, and children whose visits were charged to their masters’ accounts.
Mercer offered a range of treatments and services to his patients, from bleeding, purging, and pulling teeth to blistering, vomiting, and setting broken bones. He likewise dispensed a variety of compounds and medicines. These included saline mixtures, purging pills, febrifuge drops, liquid laudanum, balsam honey, magnesia, glauber salts, and stomach elixirs. In keeping with the medical science of his day, Mercer’s treatments were aimed at restoring the delicate balance of his patients’ four humors—black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood—and ensuring equilibrium among the body’s solids and fluids.
In all, Hugh Mercer’s ledger offers a unique window into the prevailing medical beliefs and practices of eighteenth-century Virginia society and represents only a sample of the Rubenstein Library’s rich collection in the history of medicine.
The Duke University Archives recently received the Joseph Mitchell Papers on Max Wicker, a collection of letters, news clippings, and other documents that culminate in a 2006 paper, The 1954 Firing of Max Wicker and Two Other North Carolina Student Directors, Jimmy Ray and J.C. Herrin, by Duke alumnus Joseph Mitchell.
Max Wicker, a 1952 Duke Divinity School graduate, was president of Duke’s Baptist Student Union (BSU) in 1953. After graduation, he was hired to work at Duke by Jimmy Ray, secretary of the statewide BSU.
Later that year, Baptist student leaders began planning their annual BSU conference, to be held in November 1953. Ray invited Christian theologian Dr. Nels Ferré, a Congregationalist who taught at Vanderbilt University, to be the conference’s main speaker. But some on the N.C. Baptists’ general board had heard that one of Ferré’s books cast doubt on the doctrine of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Ferré’s speech was canceled.
The general board then began an investigation of the programs and leadership in the Baptist Student Union throughout the state—as TIME magazine’s April 12, 1954 issue put it, “digging into charges that the Baptist student pastors have been guiding their young congregations independent of regular church supervision.” By 1954, the board had scheduled a hearing for three student leaders—Ray, 39; Wicker, 29; and J. C. Herrin, 39, the secretary of the UNC-Chapel Hill BSU chapter.
The hearing lasted six hours, ending just after midnight on March 31, 1954. Wicker delivered a three-page statement to the board explaining his faith. (TIME magazine quoted him as saying to the board, “I do not deny the virgin birth, and I do not affirm it. My mind is still open.”) In the end, the board dismissed the three leaders from their jobs with the BSU. According to TIME, students at the meeting dissented, but “most of the 500 Southern Baptists present thought that the board was right, and that the young ministers were too ‘interdenominational’ for comfort.” The results of the hearing appeared in front-page stories in newspapers around the state.
After the BSU dismissed him, Wicker continued at Duke—where he remained employed—for a few months as a chaplain, then resigned and became a Methodist minister.
Joseph Mitchell had met Wicker while they were both at Duke Divinity School. (Mitchell graduated in 1953, and later returned to Duke for his doctorate in religion in the 1960s.) Mitchell was also a Methodist minister. After he and his wife Norma retired, they moved to Durham in 2001. There, they lived near Wicker and his wife Ann, and Mitchell began researching the nearly 50-year-old case of his friend’s dismissal to tell his story.
During my tenure as the Research Services Graduate Intern at the Rubenstein Library, I had the great fortune of exploring the fascinating history of the four humors, a topic that is far afield from my doctoral research on the culinary history of New Orleans. Setting aside my copy La Cuisine Creole, I picked up a first edition of Henry Peacham’s Minerva Britanna (1612) and paged through whimsical woodcuts that featured long swordsmen, lions, and laurelled lutenists. Although New Orleans’ history is bedazzled by myth, that of the four humors seems surreal, emerging out of a world occupied by dragons and vengeful gods. What resulted from my foray into this cosmos is a new exhibit in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room, entitled, “A Delicate Balance: Understanding the Four Humors.”
The four humors were a means of analyzing a person’s disposition as well as her physical, mental, and emotional health. Within this belief system, every person had a unique humoral composition that shaped her behavior, appearance, and interactions with the broader world. Visualized as bodily fluids whose levels were constantly in flux, Hippocrates named the four humors black bile, phlegm, yellow bile, and blood. Each humor was paired with one of the four elements of earth, water, fire, and air and was assigned qualities of cold, moist, dry, and hot. Their influence on the body changed with external factors like the time of day, the season of the year, and the age of a person.
The origins of this medical philosophy and practice are attributed to the Indian Ayurveda system of medicine as well as ancient Greek, Roman, and Islamic physicians. This holistic approach to human health was pervasive in the Medieval and Early Modern periods and remained a common means of assessing and treating the human body until major advancements transformed medical practices in the mid-nineteenth century.
Prior to these innovations, medical practitioners sought to help ailing patients by restoring the delicate balance of the humors and did so through techniques such as bloodletting and herbal remedies. The new exhibit features a bloodletting fleam that a physician would have used to lance open a vein to remove excess blood from the body so as to bring equilibrium to a patient’s internal fluids. In the United States, doctors employed bloodletting through the Civil War to treat soldiers suffering from infection and fever.
Consumption also played a major role in balancing the four humors. Throughout Early Modern Europe, for example, physicians kept gardens with plants that were assigned to a particular humor. They believed that patients could restore their bodies to full health by consuming carefully crafted herbal remedies comprised of stems, leaves, fruits, and nuts. Practitioners organized gardens to represent the potency of medicinal plants. Some of these historic gardens still exist today. The circular Minerva Garden in Salerno Italy, for example, is divided into four quadrants representing the four humors with the most potent plant life at the center of the garden. This garden is a physical embodiment of the healing powers ascribed to plants within the humoralist system.
In the next few weeks, I encourage you to visit the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room on the first floor of the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library so as to glimpse into the rich history of the four humors and their impact on medical practices in the Early Modern period through today.
Post contributed by Ashley Rose Young, a Ph.D. candidate in History at Duke University and the Business History Graduate Intern at the Hartman Center.
Dispatches from the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Duke University