Tag Archives: Medical History

Colonial Medicine: Treating George Washington


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1787 Portrait of George Washington by James PealeLast week, I summarized the medical issues of a military and political figure in the American colonial period: George Washington (1732 – 1799). Today, I’ll describes briefly how each of those issues was treated.

At the time of the American Revolution, the biggest menace wasn’t the enemy in red coats – it was disease. Despite a rapidly expanding urbanization in the American colonies, virtually nothing was known about food, aerosols, close contact, fleas and mosquitoes as the sources of contagion. Without any protective measures or effective treatments, any day could bring a debilitating and often fatal illness to anyone, and sometimes to a whole family. Life – in a word – was tenuous. Continue reading

Colonial Medicine: A Case Study


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sickbedWe learn much about diseases in the 18th century and the way they were treated by looking at a well-documented case history.

The soldier and statesman described here lived a long life but had to endure many serious medical issues. While he was an ‘out-of-stater’, he was in New York for many years during the Revolutionary War and through the first critical years of the founding of a new government. Continue reading

Medical History: Saranac Lake’s Mirror Girl


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NYH02AColonel Walter ScottHis work with children’s hospitals convinced Colonel Walter Scott that there might be help for Jessica Ferguson despite her negative prognosis and seemingly hopeless situation.

New and exciting progress had been made, especially by Dr. Russell Hibbs of New York City, whose surgical innovations helped change the face of medicine. Hibbs was the first to perform a spinal fusion, and made great advances in treating tuberculosis of the spine and hip. Continue reading

The Mirror Girl of Saranac Lake


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NYH01AColonel Walter ScottMirror Girl. What an intriguing term. In the past it has been applied to the prettiest coeds in sororities, cute girls in general, and particularly vain women. But in this case, it addresses one of my favorite historical stories linked to the Northern New York’s years as a tuberculosis treatment center. The patient was a young woman, Jessica “Jessie” Ferguson, born in 1895 in Mount Pleasant, New York, north of Tarrytown on the Hudson River. Her parents, James and Anna, were both natives of Scotland, a fact that becomes key to the story.

The young girl’s difficulties began in her early twenties when her father died, and Jessica was diagnosed with tuberculosis of the bone, affecting her spine. In 1918, she lost the ability to walk. Doctors placed her in a cast that forced Jessica into a permanent reclining position. Continue reading

A Civil War Medicine Lecture At Seward Institute


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Natl_library_of_MedicineOn March 19, 2015 at 7 pm, renowned authority on Civil War medicine Carolyn Ivanoff will present a lecture entitled “Myths, Maggots, Minie Balls, Gangrene and Glory”. Ivanoff will explain, among other things, how Civil War surgeons saved lives despite horrific conditions and discuss the subjects of nineteenth century hygiene, military medical practices and surgical innovations. Continue reading

Historic Saranac Lake Hires Programs Coordinator


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Historic Saranac lakeHistoric Saranac Lake (HSL) has announced that Chessie Monks will serve as the new Public Programs Coordinator for the Saranac Laboratory Museum. Monks has a master’s degree in Library Science with a concentration in Archives Management from Simmons College in Boston.

In a statement to the press HSL Executive Director Amy Catania said, “The addition of Chessie to the staff will allow us to better connect with the public through improved exhibits, additional programming, and increased hours of operation. We’re so pleased that Chessie is joining our team and know that her enthusiasm and experience will serve us well.” Continue reading

One of America’s Most Prominent Doctors


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Alfred Loomis Oval (1)It was Saturday, January 26, 1895, and throngs of mourners were gathered at the Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan for the funeral of one of America’s most prominent doctors.

Dr. Alfred Lebbeus Loomis, who had revolutionized the way tuberculosis was treated in this country, had died on January 23rd, just two days after his own personal physician had ordered him confined to bed because of a spiking fever.   Dr. Loomis, diagnosed with tuberculosis some thirty years earlier, had contracted pneumonia, and would never recover.  Continue reading

New York History’s Most Famous Nurse?


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Portrait_of_Lillian_WaldThere are several claimants to the title of New York’s most famous nurse. That distinction probably can be laid at the feet of Long Island native Walt Whitman, though it was not his nursing skills during the Civil War that garnered him his fame. Some might argue it is the still not positively identified nurse who was photographed in Times Square celebrating the surrender of Japan in 1945 through a passionate kiss from a sailor. Again, though, it was not her skills as a nurse that earned her recognition. Another contender was Mary Breckinridge, whose Frontier Nursing Service brought healthcare to poor rural America. While her fame came about as a result of her nursing, she was born in Tennessee and gained her fame in Kentucky, only acquiring her nursing education in New York.

I happen to believe the title of New York’s most famous nurse belongs to Lillian Wald. Though born in Cincinnati, her family brought her to New York as a girl. She would spend the rest of her life there, gaining fame for her work in bringing healthcare to the poorest of New York’s immigrant population. Even after her death in 1940 her impact on New York continued to be felt, and her legacy lives on to this day. Continue reading

New Exhibits, Film Planned at Historic Saranac Lake


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PastedGraphic-1Amy Catania, Executive Director of Historic Saranac Lake has announced that the Saranac Laboratory Museum has received a major grant from the Will Rogers Motion Pictures Pioneers Foundation to support exhibit renovations.

The $20,000 grant, with the possibility of a small additional grant to be announced later, will support the design and installation of two new exhibits to open in 2015. The grant also supports the production of a short film on Will Rogers Memorial Hospital. Continue reading

The Fracking Report In Historical Perspective


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George Bellows - Up the Hudson (1908)Governor Andrew Cuomo’s decision in December to ban the use of hydrofracking in New York State was politically astute. The governor asserted he is merely following the recommendations in a new report from the State Health Department, A Public Review of High Volume Hydraulic Fracturing for Shale Gas Development.

That report, based on four years of research, is also politically judicious. It avoids condemning hydrofracking or sensationalizing its potential health risks. Instead, it concludes that “the overall weight of the evidence from the cumulative body of information” studied for the report demonstrates that there are “significant uncertainties about the kinds of adverse health outcomes that may be associated with HVHF [High Volume Hydraulic Fracking], the likelihood of the occurrence of adverse health outcomes, and the effectiveness of some of the mitigation measures in reducing or preventing environmental impact which could adversely affect public health.” The 184-page report is buttressed by 74 references, mostly well-documented studies and reports from the past few years. Continue reading

Remembering Goldwater Hospital in NYC


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Goldwater Hospital from the Queensboro Bridge in 1938The digging, crashing, smashing and clanging will echo over the East River for a couple more years, as Cornell Tech builds a new campus on Roosevelt Island where the Goldwater Hospital stood since 1939.

The patients, many confined to wheel-chairs, have been moved to Coler Hospital at the North End of Roosevelt Island, or to the renovated old North General Hospital in Harlem (now the Henry J. Carter Specialty Hospital and Nursing Facility). Continue reading

Amsterdam and the Flu Pandemic of 1918


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newyork001When the world-wide influenza pandemic struck in 1918, Amsterdam had its share of disease and death.

The flu became more deadly in the fall of that year, near the end of World War I. From October 1918 through January 1919 there were 176 deaths in Amsterdam from flu or pneumonia, half of one percent of the city’s population.

Amsterdam had 23 cases of influenza in September and eight people had pneumonia. In October the number of flu cases jumped to an astounding 3,386; 255 people had pneumonia. Amsterdam had 43 flu deaths in October and 77 deaths from pneumonia, which often followed the flu. Both St. Mary’s and City Hospital were filled to capacity. Continue reading

An Infamous Criminal’s Connection To Monticello


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RulloffEdwardH[1]Edward H. Rulloff was one of the most famous American criminals of the 19th century, believed responsible for multiple murders and sundry other crimes, and eventually being publicly hanged in Binghamton, New York. He was also a brilliant savant, obsessively seeking respectability and the approval of what he deemed “good society.”

And if not for this obsession, his crime spree would have without a doubt included the National Union Bank in Monticello, the County Seat of Sullivan County.   Continue reading

A First Lady’s Failed Adirondack Cure


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cottageIn the summer of 1892, the wife of President Benjamin Harrison, Caroline Scott Harrison, became extremely ill. She primarily suffered from tuberculosis, but experienced complications from pleurisy and the accumulation of fluid in her chest. Medical treatment of T. B. at the time mainly amounted to having the patient rest. For this reason, it was felt that a stay in the Adirondacks offered the best chance for restoring the First Lady’s health.

Early in July, the journey from Washington, D.C. to Loon Lake was undertaken, via a special train. The Troy Daily Times dutifully reported on the train’s progress. It arrived in Troy in the wee hours of the morning on July 7, then proceeded to White Creek, Rutland, Vermont, Rouse’s Point, and Malone, reaching the latter place at 10:30 am. There, a crowd that included some local officials met the two-car train, but the President asked that they refrain from cheering, so as not to disturb his sick wife. Continue reading

Washington’s Headquarters:
The Death of Jonathan Hasbrouck


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George Washington-Library of CongressThere are many stories circulating about Newburgh’s Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck (better known today as Washington’s Headquarters). Some are believed true, such as Tryntje Hasbrouck sitting in “sullen silence” when told that her home was chosen as Washington’s Headquarters, and some are simply made-up. One such story involves Washington’s stay at the house from 1782-1783.

General Washington loved horses. In fact he loved to go for rides on his favorite mount whenever possible. The story told to me, after a lecture, involved General Washington, Col. Hasbrouck and Hasbrouck’s sons. They would sometimes go horseback riding together. A favorite stop was the vast Hasbrouck family orchards. Washington, the story goes, loved peaches. Hasbrouck, his sons, and Washington spent hours picking peaches. When enough peaches were picked the Hasbroucks and Washington delighted in feasting on them. This story is obviously false for one simple reason; Colonel Jonathan Hasbrouck had died in 1780. Continue reading

Merger Recalls Nyack Medical History


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NSL150_Nyack-Hospital-Revised-397x600In June, Nyack Hospital and Montefiore Health System issued a joint press release announcing a merger. When the process is complete, Nyack will have a medical institution informed by over two centuries of history in health care. Will the philanthropic and progressive impulses that characterized the creation of nonprofit hospitals in nineteenth-century America endure?

A moment of reflection seems to be in order. Here’s a snapshot of the origins and early days of each health care institution that may provide some prologue and set expectations for what will follow. Nyack Hospital was incorporated in 1895. Initial funds were raised by an initiative called “Kirmess,” that drew inspiration from medieval festivals that used merrymaking to accomplish good. Continue reading

Sullivan County: Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’


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adWhile Sullivan County was not officially formed until 1809, the region’s history as a popular healing environment dates back considerably before that.

From the earliest visits of the Lenape, who constructed their sweat lodges among the willow trees on the banks of the Delaware to the tuberculosis sufferers who searched for a cure in the cool mountain climate, hundreds of thousands of people have visited the area because of its clean air and pure water.

From about 1890 to 1915, the county enjoyed a prosperous period of tourism—today called the Silver Age— based almost entirely on those concepts of fresh air and pure water. In fact, for decades the Ontario & Western Railway’s promotional campaign for the area was based on the slogan, “Doctors Say ‘Go to the Mountains!’” This was often followed by the trident reminder ‘pure air, pure water, pure milk.” Continue reading

Mount Lebanon Heritage Herb Festival Planned


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PostcardHerbFest copyThe third annual Mount Lebanon Heritage Herb Festival celebrates the illustrious past of herbs in town history as well as the Native American and Shaker traditions in the heart of the Lebanon Valley of New York, considered the birthplace of the herbal pharmacy in the United States.

The event takes place on Saturday, June 7, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on the historic grounds of Darrow School, at Mount Lebanon Shaker Village.   More than eighteen talks, walks and workshops explore the role of herbs in food, gardens, medicine and health from the early days of the Native Americans to current practices. Continue reading

Charlotte Friend: A Pioneer in Cancer Cell Biology


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charlotte friendThe story of Charlotte Friend is a true New York story.  Friend was a noted microbiologist who made important contributions to the study of cancer.  She was an advocate for women’s rights and worked hard to improve the position of women in science.

Charlotte Friend was born March 11, 1921 in New York City, a city she loved.  She received a Bachelor’s degree from Hunter College in 1944 and then entered the Navy, where she was assigned to help direct a hematology laboratory in California.  She left the Navy in 1946 and began graduate work in microbiology at Yale University.  By the time she received her doctorate in 1950, Dr. Friend already had a position in the laboratory of Dr. Alice Moore at the Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York City. She stayed in New York for the rest of her life. Continue reading