history of medicine

This is gonna be my black history month recognizinition thread. I'll try to add someone/something new everyday for the month.

A curious herbal containing five hundred cuts, of the most useful plants, which are now used in the practice of physick engraved on folio copper plates, 

By Blackwell, Elizabeth,
John Nourse.
Samuel Harding.
Publication info
London : Printed for Samuel Harding, 1737-1739.
BHL Collections:
Blog Features
Missouri Botanical Garden’s Materia Medica
Missouri Botanical Garden’s Rare Books Collections

Drawing in oil of a 16 years old girl, showing effects of congenital syphilis.
The teeth are ‘pegged’ and the bridge of the nose is flattened. Both eyes are affected with interstitial keratitis and the right, which is also affected with kerato-globus, was absolutely blind. Large patches of necrosis of the cranial bones are exposed by ulceration of the scalp.

Mary Beatrice Kenner

She changed the world of feminine care with the invention of the sanitary belt, the precursor to the self-adhesive maxi pad. She also has five patents covering various household items, including an improved version of the bathroom tissue holder. What else did she invent?

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Photographs of William W. Keen’s successful operation to remove a brain tumor from a 26-year old patient, 1887. The patient was a carriage maker who exhibited symptoms of severe headaches, seizures, and partial blindness; he also had a history of a head injury and was prone to aphasia.

Owing to Keen’s demands at that proper antiseptic measures were taken for the operation (including removing the carpet and cleaning walls and ceiling), the tumor was removed after a two hour operation. Despite some complications with wound closure and cerebrospinal fluid leak, the patient lived for thirty years, even donating his brain to his surgeon for anatomical study.

Journal of the American Medical Association, 1918.

X-rays … I am afraid of them. I stopped experimenting with them two years ago, when I came near to losing my eyesight and Dally, my assistant practically lost the use of both of his arms.
—  Thomas Edison. The first known human to be killed by X-rays was Clarence Dally who had spent a number of years working on Thomas Edison’s X-ray light bulb. After years of work, his hair fell out and his skin erupted in lesions that wouldn’t heal. While Edison cancelled the bulb, Dally continued working with X-rays. Burns on his hands became cancerous, and he had both of his arms amputated. He died in 1898 at the age of 39.
Lloyd Hall

Meet the man responsible for helping to make the modern preservation of food and other products a reality for billions of people across the world today. While his research helped to combat spoilage and rancidity in food, he earned 59 U.S. patents too. Oh, and also improved the bacon-curing process (you’re welcome for that one). So, what else did he do?

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Fleming’s mold wasn’t able to produce penicillin in large enough quantities to be useful. Early researchers had to grow entire forests of mold on every available surface of their laboratory in order to extract enough penicillin to treat one single infection. If scientists found a cure for cancer today, but it took the entire crop yield of Kansas to grow a single dose, would it matter?

Enter Mary Hunt, a lab assistant who worked with penicillin molds. She went shopping at a local fruit market and bought a cantaloupe covered in a strange looking golden mold. She decided to take it back to the lab to test it and found a hitherto undiscovered strain capable of producing 200 times the amount of penicillin. By the next year, hundreds of millions of units of penicillin were being produced in the United States, medical science became radically more effective, and that fruit market probably still kind of sucked.

Regardless, this chain of events allowed the USA to produce 2.3 million doses of penicillin just in time for the invasion of Normandy. They reached over 600 million doses by the end of the war. The rates of death from bacterial infections dropped from 18 percent in WWI to 1 percent in WWII, which allowed the Allied forces to keep their manpower – already in short supply – on the field and engaging the enemy. It may not have won the second World War on its own, but it sure gave the Allies a boost. You’re not reading this in German today because some small-time produce salesman looked at one particularly gross cantaloupe and said, “Eh, some jerk’ll probably still buy this.”

5 Coincidences That Made The Modern World


These color lithographs illustrating amputation are from Jean Marc Bourgery’s monumental Traité complet de l'anatomie de l'homme.  This work was originally published in eight volumes over the course of twenty-three years (1831-1854); Bourgery himself died before it was completed.

The illustrations were done by Nicholas-Henri Jacob, a student of the renowned French Revolution era painter Jacques Louis David.

Sit Down and Listen Up, Because We’re Going to Learn How Hippocrates and Galen Affected Medieval Medicine

Firstly, we need to outline what Hippocrates and Galen actually did. Neither lived in the medieval times, but what they discovered/taught carried on until then.


  • Lived from 460 B.C. to 370 B.C.
  • Created the Hippocratic Oath; these made doctors vow to work for the people, not for money or other personal reasons, which was important because it made people trust doctors.
  • Wrote and collected the Hippocratic books; a collection of books that were the first to have a set list of what to do to treat patients; doctors used them for centuries.
  • Invented the four humours; you might’ve heard of the terms “sanguine”, “phlegmatic”, “melancholic”, and “choleric” used in the context of personality tests, but what you might not know is that these are based on Hippocrates’ idea of the four humours — blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile. The theory was that an imbalance of these as the cause of all disease; for example, too much of the blood humour caused heart disease so they would use leeches to drain your blood, too much of the phlegm humour caused flu, meaning that they would restrict all fluids that you drank (we now know that this is A BAD IDEA), too much of the black bile humour caused stomach ulcers, so laxatives were the solution, and too much of the yellow bile humour caused jaundice, so the cure was obviously something like ipecac to make you throw up.
  • Created the observational method; this was when doctors were encouraged to first observe the patient and try to figure out what’s wrong before treating them. This sounds rather intuitive but was new at the time.
  • Told doctors to look for natural treatments rather than praying to the Gods for help.


  • Lived from 129 A.D. to 216 A.D.
  • Performed a dissection on a live pig.
  • Proved that the brain, not the heart, was at the centre of the nervous system by cutting up the nerves of a pig.

Note how Galen never did a dissection on a human being. Dissections of humans weren’t actually allowed until well into The Renaissance except for educational purposes, and even then the case often was one person doing the dissection while a team of students looked on, never engaging in the dissection themselves. In British medicine during the medieval times, the Church was very strict in keeping corpses to their graves, not dissection tables, which heavily influenced the development of medicine at the time.

Galen’s work was still important, even if his major downfall was not dissecting a human, as he still made important discoveries, like the one mentioned about the brain being the centre of the nervous system. Without Galen’s initial interest in dissection, revolutionaries such as the likes of John Hunter, who helped to improve our understanding of human teeth, gunshot wounds, and child development, or William Harvey, who was the first to work out how the circulatory system works through his fascination with human anatomy, especially the heart, which he used pumped blood around the “wrong way” to discover valves.

Hippocrates’ observational method is still used today, and the Hippocratic books (as I said earlier) were used for hundreds of years. Otherwise, his four humours are pretty much only used when learning about historical medicine and for those personality tests that I was talking about (which are completely fake but are fun to do).

Now for how they affected medieval medicine; to be honest, they pretty much were medieval medicine. The Church banned any dissections that weren’t approved by them, and at the standards that I mentioned, meaning that medicine didn’t really progress at all until The Renaissance when they started to allow it (even the Pope went to go and see a live one in 1537). Medicine at the time was so abysmal that “barber surgeons” — untrained barbers that were basically only allowed to do surgeries with the reasoning, “Hey, they already know how to use a pair of scissors!” — actually existed. Roger Bacon (a 13th-century priest) tried to suggest that doctors should go and carry out their own research instead of piggy-backing off of Hippocrates and Galen, and HE WAS SENT TO JAIL FOR HERESY. It was absolute madness.

And what’s even worse is that during the medieval times, some medical advancement was being made, just not in Britain. In the Middle East, Ibn Sina (also called Avicenna) wrote Canon of Medicine, which listed the medical properties of 760 different drugs and Ibn Al Haytham discovered how eyes and lenses work, leading to the invention of the camera much later. Their communication was MUCH better as well, with The House of Wisdom, a massive library and study centre for scholars, being set up by Caliph al-Mamun in his father’s library. The reason why these FREAKING AMAZING DISCOVERIES didn’t make it to Britain was that the Catholic Church rejected all ideas that weren’t Christian, so any ideas originating from Islam and The Middle East weren’t allowed anywhere near the island.

So, in conclusion, Hippocrates and Galen affected medieval medicine by pretty much being medieval medicine, even though it was well after their times. Medieval medicine was so outdated that we’re lucky that The Renaissance was such a time of innovation, or we’d be nowhere near the levels of technological advancement that we’re at now.

Today is a good day to remember Dr. Joseph “Joe” Medicine Crow. Dr Crow was as American as heroes come. He was the last Warchief of the Crow Tribe having completed all 4 necessary acts of bravery. During the Second World War he disarmed an enemy without killing him, captured an enemy, led a successful war party and, needing only one more to complete the set he stole nazi officers’ horses. He’s said to have ridden the 50 horses out of the camp wearing his feathers and singing his war song and so surprised the soldiers that nobody knew what to do. 

He went into battle with his eagle feathers and face painted and came home to receive a masters degree and honorary doctorate. He studied the history of The Crow Nation and was the last person to talk to someone who had been at Little Bighorn/greasy grass. He founded health and education centers for his tribe and fought for the preservation of the Grizzly bear’s habit, he called the bears his brothers. As befits a man who distinguished himself in every aspect of his life, Dr. Medicine Crow received the medal of freedom from president Obama. He passed away a year ago today.

We should all count more coup on fascists and learn more Native history and generally try to be more like Dr. Medicine Crow #native #history #nodapl