White Paper: Medical Care in 19th Century America

At the turn of nineteenth century America, debilitating illness and death were as common for children and young adults as for elders with life expectancy hovering between 30-40 years of age. Now-curable diseases represented serious threats if left untreated. Accidents occurred frequently and treatment options limited considering that bandages were unsterile rags or old clothes.

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Practicing in cities and towns, doctors were rarely accessible in rural areas and only called when all else failed. Additionally, some medical cures were undeniably questionable. This latest white paper describes how fragile life was for Americans in the country’s early days.

To get first-hand accounts of the challenges illness presented to this young country, we turn to Accessible Archives databases for in-depth representations of the medical realities found throughout American history. Accessible Archives’ rich newspaper, periodical and book collections provided abundant primary resources for this white paper.

About the Author

Barbara Chen has been in the information industry for her entire professional career, beginning at the H.W. Wilson Company as an indexer and departing 23 years later as Associate Director of Indexing Services for periodical indexes. In 2001, Barbara joined the Modern Language Association as director of bibliographic information services and editor, MLA International Bibliography. MLA took advantage of her large skill set and allowed her to use her creativity to bring this leading humanities database into the 21st century. She received an NFAIS honorary fellow award in 2019 after retiring from the MLA. Barbara is currently providing her expertise by consulting in the industry, most notably for Unlimited Priorities.


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Bob Lester
Unlimited Priorities LLC

All images included in blog posts are from either Accessible Archives collections or out of copyright public sources unless otherwise noted. Common sources include the Library of Congress, The Flickr Commons, Wikimedia Commons, and other public archives.

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