This surgical tool kit was made before physicians sterilized their equipment. The carved wooden handles and velvet-lined case created many spaces for germs, which would lead to infection. Surgeries in this time period were done as quickly as possible and usually were the last resort after trying other treatments.
Childbirth could be a dangerous event, resulting in blood loss, preeclampsia, infection, and other complications. When male physicians introduced tools such as these forceps, the risk of injury and infection increased.
These simple, spring-loaded devices were used in the 19th century to cut a vein, usually in the arm. At this time, there was no scientific understanding of disease and health was believed to be a balance of four humors: blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile. Doctors tried to restore health to a patient by bringing back the correct balance of their humors- often by getting rid of “excess” humors. Blood was associated with hot and wet symptoms (like a fever) and blood-letting was a very common treatment in a wide variety of illnesses.
Another way physicians purged the body of unwanted humors was to administer emetics and laxatives. A number of herbal and compound medicines were used, as seen here. However, some of the common ingredients of the time could be poisonous, like powdered antimony, mercury, or poke berries.
Most medicines that were sold over the counter were not deadly. There were some that were more dangerous than others, but most were simply mixtures of herbs and alcohol. They weren’t as effective as the medicines we use today, but they may have provided some relief from symptoms.
Cough syrups were especially dangerous at the turn of the century. Most of them used morphine, and later heroin, to calm coughs. In 1906, the Pure Food and Drug Act required manufacturers to list the quantity of alcohol, opium, morphine, cocaine, heroin, or chloroform used in their medicines on the packaging for the first time.
This “soothing syrup” was marketed to mothers as a way to relieve pain in babies and toddlers, especially when they’re teething. Its active ingredient was morphine sulfate. Cocaine, opium, morphine, and heroin were largely unregulated by the federal government until the Harrison Narcotics Act passed in 1914.
Medical devices were also popular at-home remedies, especially for patients weary of harsh medicines. This hand-cranked machine produced small amounts of electricity by spinning magnets. It came with two hand electrodes and one rectangular plate. When the current passed between any two of these attachments, it caused involuntary muscle spasms. It was marketed as a treatment for nervous diseases, toothaches, and foot pain.
These magnetic devices were marketed to restore or maintain health. They claimed to stimulate cells or react with the iron in your blood to increase the amount of oxygen it carried to your organs and tissues.
These electric devices were very popular at the beginning of the 20th century to treat skin problems like acne and dandruff, as well as bruising, inflammation, rheumatism and even bronchitis. They emitted ultraviolet rays, which are visible as a purple glow, and had several clear glass attachments. These attachments could be used on your hair, nostrils, or other surface areas of your body. Their use decreased after a stronger Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act was passed in 1938. This new law covered medical devices and required proof of their efficacy before they were sold.
**The Sutliff Museum will be temporarily closed beginning 9/7/2021 for inventory and construction. Stay tuned to our website and social media channels for updates and information for our upcoming programs during this closure.