Project Title: An Exploration of Home Remedy Use in Nineteenth Century Literature
Faculty Mentor: Nina Stoyan-Rosenzweig
Student: Christabel Thompson
Research Project Description:
Even now patients self-diagnose and self-administer treatments of varying efficacy, and as in the proportion of Americans currently using herbal medicines (6) or aspects of complementary alternative medicine (3), may parallel earlier home remedy use. But in times when the American population was more rurally dispersed, the medical profession was less standardized and care from a member of the household was standard, many relied on health guides and regional cures (8). Available research on this topic tends to be limited to the exploration of home remedies in relation to a particular population, complaint, or tradition of care rather than an overview or survey of trends (1, 9).
However, books of home remedies and guides to self-treatment dating to this period are widely accessible (2, 4, 5, 7). This body of materials can, when coupled with an analysis of fiction, memoirs and autobiographies depicting the application of this advice, illuminate the scope of home remedy use between 1812 – 1912.
Little research exists on the role of home remedies in medical treatment in the United States 1812-1912, despite the survival of many home health guides and the topic’s relevance to the history of medicine and the use of home remedies in modern times.
Of the relics of nineteenth century culture, novels are reasonably common and relatively significant. These books reflect the beliefs and practices of their times, including how people of the nineteenth century responded to injury and illness. Considering that such details were supporting facts rather than narrative structure or literary device, interpretation is straightforward.
Even more reliable as indices of thought and behavior from this time period are the many memoirs and autobiographies, the publishing of which was in vogue.
This project endeavors to analyze the pervasiveness of home remedy use in the United States between 1812 and 1912, summarize the role of home remedies in literature from that time, and categorize the results as a foundation for further study.
The purpose of this study is to explore the home remedies utilized from 1812-1912, both in their collected form in health guides and in their accepted use in literature from that time period. This project aims to increase understanding of historical medicine and highlight trends that have continued to the present day.
The intent is not another detailed examination of a narrow range of home remedy use as a facet of a topic of interest, but to instead focus on the usage of a broad range of home remedies filtered by their appearance in literature of that time.
This study will be a survey of not only home health guides from this time period, but also memoirs/autobiographies and fiction from the same period to substantiate accepted and actual usage of home remedies. Literature sources will be analyzed for accounts depicting the use of home remedies. These will be contrasted with what contemporary sources of health advice recommend.
Autobiographies and memoirs will be considered for inclusion if they:
- Describe the time period, though publishing can postdate.
- Offer a perspective significantly distinct from other selected works. For instance, it is unlikely that multiple accounts of life during the Civil war from the perspective of a confederate calvalryman would be included.
- Feature an injury or illness which was addressed by a household member.
- Accounts used are geographically located in the United States
Fiction will follow the criteria above with these additional limits:
- Some measure of realism is required: fantastical elements or magical realism, for instance, will be excluded.
- Must be in the format of a novel.
- The time period investigated must be within the author’s own lifetime.
Sources of medical advice will be screened by:
- Advice intended for persons who were not medical professionals
- Publishing date between 1812 and 1912.
- Originating in English-language countries
Online databases and archives will be the principle starting points for materials, and primary sources of historical interest are frequently available through public domain. Project Gutenberg, Internet Archive, and the Medical Heritage Library offer a rich supply of historical documents in all three categories of home remedies, fiction, and autobiographies/memoirs. Potential sources will be selected based on the methods criteria, then screened for accounts of the use of home remedies.
Organization of the results will depend largely on the nature of what is found. While categorization is anticipated based on both the origin of the account in regards to the areas outlined above and the details of the account itself, this will be revisited once data collection is completed.
Though performing under the supervision of a faculty mentor, the student is responsible for gathering and evaluating materials as well as generating some form of report for the results at the conclusion of the MSRP season. In this instance, the medical student will draw on a background of interest in nineteenth century literature to identify sources and prepare an analysis in the time limit of this MSRP, though the opening of further lines of research is expected.
- Arnold, W. C. (2013). Home Remedies, Folk Medicine, and Mad Stones. Southwestern Historical
Quarterly, 117(2), 132-142.
- Bull, T. (1840). The Maternal Management of Children, in Health and Disease. n.p. Project
Gutenberg: Retrieved January 13, 2020.
- Harris, P. E., Cooper, K. L., Relton, C., & Thomas, K. J. (2012). Prevalence of complementary and
alternative medicine (CAM) use by the general population: a systematic review and update.
International journal of clinical practice, 66(10), 924-939.
- Hutchinson, W. (1911). A Handbook of Health. 10th impression. Houghton Mifflin. Project Gutenberg:
Retrieved January 13, 2020.
- Pierce, R. V. (1895). The People’s Common Sense Medical Advisor in Plain English, or Medicine
Simplified. 54th edition. World’s Dispensary Medical Association. Project Gutenberg: Retrieved
January 13, 2020.
- Rashrash, M., Schommer, J. C., & Brown, L. M. (2017). Prevalence and predictors of herbal medicine
use among adults in the United States. Journal of patient experience, 4(3), 108-113.
- Ritter, T. J. (1921*). Mother’s Remedies, Over One Thousand Tried and Tested Remedies from
Mothers of the United States and Canada. Also Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, Diet, Nursing,
Treatments, Etc., of Every Known Disease. Poisons, Accidents, Medicinal Herbs, and Special
Departments on Women, Children, and Infants. Detroit, Michigan: G. H. Foote. Project
Gutenberg: Retrieved January 13, 2020.
*The first copyright of this manual was 1915, however, it stands as an excellent example of its kind.
- Rosenberg, C. E. (1998). The book in the sickroom: A tradition of print and practice. Retrieved April
- Sullivan, G. (2010). Plantation medicine and health care in the Old South. Legacy, 10(1), 3.