Treatment of ills in Lincoln’s day




When I was a boy living in Detroit, our family doctor made house calls. His name was Dr. Volks. I don’t know if I ever knew his first name. Anyway, whenever my brother or I got sick and couldn’t go to school, the family would call the doctor. I still remember him as a kindly old gentleman. He would have his black leather “doctor bag” with him. After he did the “usual” doctor stuff, we had to stay in bed all day. The rule was that if one was sick enough to miss school, then there would be no playtime at home. Oh well…

I was glancing through the book Citizen of New Salem by Paul Horgan. He describes treatment of ills in Lincoln’s day like this:

“Medical care was largely home-made, though Doctor Allen might be at hand with his Dartmouth learning. Wives treated cold and sore-throat with a piece of peppered fat meat fastened about the neck. To break a fever they set a bag of pounded slippery elm over the eye. If an eruptive disease was slow to break out, they fed a dose of “nanny tea,” which was compounded of sheep dung.”

Mr. Horgan goes on to list a few more of the common home-made treatments of that era, but you get the picture. Funny thing is, those treatments probably worked! I’m sure young Lincoln was familiar with them and had been treated with them himself. Reading about that, I’m thankful for modern medicine. Dr. Volks might have written a prescription and advised to “get plenty of rest and drink clear fluids” -but he wasn’t giving out anything made with sheep dung! I’m not knocking the pioneer treatment of ills-I’m just saying “thank you Lord” for modern day aspirin.-and good old chicken noodle soup!

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