medicine in history
The Casualties of Women's War on Body Hair
In the 1920s and ’30s, women used pumice stones or sandpaper to depilate, which caused irritation and scabbing. Some tried modified shoemaker’s waxes. Thousands were killed or permanently disabled by Koremlu, a cream made from the rat poison thallium acetate.
By Nadine Ajaka
This is gonna be my black history month recognizinition thread. I'll try to add someone/something new everyday for the month.

“The medicine, the pills, the shots, the vaccines and all that—it’s all good, you know.  But there’s that other piece it doesn’t touch… your soul, your heart, your mind, your feelings.” 

- Dr. Lucy Reifel (Lakota)

Portrait by her son, Charles Her Many Horses

Learn more about Native American women healers of today & America’s first Native doctor

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.

Coca Does Not Equal Cocaine

Use of coca leaves, the leaves which can be used to make cocaine, is traditional in the Andes. In fact, its consumption dates to the very earliest of ancient South American cultures. We have evidence that coca was consumed in what is today Ecuador as early as the 8000s BCE. This is hardly surprising. Coca is extremely useful.

The leaves contain a powerful alkaloid which acts as a stimulant. Its effects include raised heart rate, increased appetite, and suppressed hunger and thirst. Its muscle-relaxing properties mean coca leaves are great for menstrual cramps. And that also helps treat altitude sickness, by opening up the respiratory tract and relieving the feeling of shortness of breath and tightness in the chest. Further, coca leaves have antibacterial and analgesic properties. It also aids in digestion and preventing constipation. Finally, the leaves themselves are nutritionally beneficial. They are rich in iron, vitamin B, and vitamin C. No wonder coca leaves continue to be a large part of Andean culture through today.

Sancho I, king of Leon in the north of Spain, was overthrown by rebel nobels in 958 CE. In what is likely a never-before-and-never again accusation in history, the nobles accused Sancho of being unable to rule because he was too fat. His grandmother, Queen Toda Aznar of Navarra, sought help from the Muslim caliphate Cordoba in southern Spain. Again, extremely oddly, Queen Toda asked for two things: military aid to regain the throne, and medicinal aid to “cure” her grandson’s morbid obesity. Jewish physician Hisdai ibn Shaprut put ex-king Sancho on a strict diet. Once he was slim enough to ride a horse properly, Sancho reclaimed his throne with Muslim troops’ aid. (The portrait above is probably based on his post-diet look.) In short: a king was deposed because he was too fat, and got his throne back because he lost enough weight! Truth is stranger than fiction.

Anna Morandi Manzolini (1714-1774) was an internationally renowned anatomist, lecturer at the University of Bologna, in a time when access to education and the academic world was very limited for women. She started lecturing as a substitute for her ill husband, but soon became a teacher in her own right, and was invited to many royal courts for her extensive knowledge and talent.

She was particularly skilled in creating detailed, accurate anatomical models out of wax, being the first person to ever reproduce minute details such as blood vessels and nerves using this method. Her work became the prototype for countless models used in the teaching of anatomy.

In old-timey Europe, enemas became less about going on psychedelic anus trips and more about literally blowing smoke up your ass. We know we just used the word “literally” there, but we’re afraid you still think we’re kidding. Have this picture for daring to doubt us.

The anal trumpeter in the illustration is actually using his mouth to blow tobacco smoke up the poor bastard’s ass as a form of popular 18th century cure. Back then, tobacco in all of its forms was used to treat basically anything from colic to vomit, hernia, rheumatic pains, and an excess of dignity.

Even crazier, the entire practice of blowing smoke into someone’s rectum comes from Native Americans, who used this method to resuscitate drowning victims (we wish we could go back and talk to the first guy who suggested this, because we have many questions for him). American settlers then borrowed this technique for bringing people back from the dead (sans their anal virginity) and with time started promoting it as the new cure-all throughout the New and Old worlds.

7 Real (And Totally Insane) Medical Practices From History

The Silk Road Spread Sickness?

There is new evidence of something that researchers have long suspected: along with people, goods, and ideas, the Silk Road also transported infectious diseases. Studying preserved poop in a latrine at a Silk Road waystation, which was in use from 111 BCE to 109 CE, researchers discovered four species of parasitic worm. One particularly interesting find is the Chinese liver fluke. It is a parasitic worm which causes diarrhea, jaundice, and liver cancer. It’s life cycle requires time in well-watered, marshy areas. The way station is in the eastern end of the Taklamakan Desert. Therefore Chinese liver fluke could not have been picked up at the way station. In fact, the fluke’s closest habitat today is around 1,500 kilometers from the way station where the fluke was found.

Put together, the evidence suggests the unfortunate infected traveler must have come from quite a distance, carrying the parasite with them. Other infectious diseases might have been carried along the Silk Road in a similar way.

Mary Edwards Walker (1832-1919) is the only woman to have ever received the Medal of Honor in the United States. She was a surgeon during the American Civil War, and served in a hospital in Washington, D.C. even though women were generally considered unfit for the task.

She was renowned for refusing to conform to gender standards and wearing male clothing, which proved much more suitable for her work than the cumbersome female garb. She persevered in this despite widespread ridicule and even violence. At first, she was only allowed to be a nurse, but later became a field surgeon behind Union front lines. She was also a devoted advocate of female suffrage, even though she died before she could see her dream fulfilled.