19th Century Medical
Health Care in the 19th century consisted of physicians working with few effective medicines, basic surgical instruments, and limited knowledge of diseases. They were seen as the last resort after home remedies and patent medicines had failed. During the Civil War, when choices for even minor wounds were either amputation or letting nature take its course, over 500,000 men died. For many of those "saved by the doctor" via amputation, death was often viewed as a blessing rather than suffering with uncontrolled infection.
Physicians made professional visits on horseback with saddlebags full of vials of compounds, various instruments, leeches and other paraphernalia of their profession. Not always easily available, medicinal compounds were mixed in mortars and surgical instruments were handmade by the physicians.
The instruments in this exhibit may appear crude by our standards and expectations but they were the very best available to physicians in the 19th century. Interestingly, many of these early instruments and procedures such as leeching are being reintroduced into current health care practice in very specialized situations.