Directions for Preserving Health in St. Louis, 1874

"Dr. C. H. Sanborn's Directions for Preserving Health in St. Louis, 1874." Osler Library Archives, P192

“Dr. C. H. Sanborn’s Directions for Preserving Health in St. Louis, 1874.” Osler Library Archives, P192

The Osler Library recently acquired a short manuscript booklet containing one doctor’s medical advice for patients moving out of town. Labelled “Dr. C. H. Sanborn’s directions for preserving health in St. Louis, 1874,” this tiny treatise provides advice and recipes for treating day-to-day complaints and guidelines for stocking the family medicine cabinet with the essentials.

Dr Charles H. Sanborn was a physician practicing in New Hampshire. Born in Hampton Falls in 1822, he graduated with an MD from Harvard Medical School in 1856 (1). He practiced medicine for over forty years in his hometown, where he also served as a Justice of the Peace and in local government (2). This autograph booklet appears to have been written by him for a family of three moving from New Hampshire to St. Louis, Missouri.

"The Pictorial Guide to St. Louis," 1877. From the .

“The Pictorial Guide to St. Louis,” 1877. From the Internet Archive.

During the second half of the 19th century, St. Louis was undergoing a population explosion that would make it the fourth largest city in the U.S. after New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Expanding sectors, such as the cotton industry, and new railroad connections attracted an influx of new residents, perhaps including Dr. Sanborn’s patients. The city was prone to cholera and had lived through an epidemic that killed more than 3,500 residents in 1866, just eight years prior to the writing of Dr. Sanborn’s pamphlet. (3)

Fittingly, Dr. Sanborn’s medical advice concentrates heavily on cholera and other, less acute gastro-intestinal complaints associated with moving to new climes. The first page of medical instructions deals with how to treat “Diarrhea, Dysentery or Cholera Morbus” in the youngest member of the family. Remedies include starch, castor oil, bismuth, and, in the case of feverishness, veratrum viride, a highly toxic plant sometimes used during the 19th century in the treatment of typhoid fever and yellow fever.

Up until the late 19th and early 20th century, the majority of medical treatment took place at home. Popular printed medical manuals would have been readily available for purchase and families would have expected to care for their sick themselves:

The skills, knowledge, and responsibilities of laypersons and physicians overlapped; trained physicians were in a functional sense always consultants–with the primary caregiver a family member, neighbor, or midwife.(4)

In the case of Dr. Sanborn’s patients, the father was perhaps the one responsible for making medical decisions and treating his family. Advice for particular ailments is oftentimes labelled “Baby” or “Self & Wife,” and includes detailed instructions for treating croup, “lung fever,” measles, the “Shakes,” “weakness sinking etc. etc.,” sore throat, painful menstruation, inflamed eyes, burns, and bug bites. A list in the back of the book ennumerates the items that should be kept on hand for medical usage.

SanbornBromoOne of the chemicals on this list attests to the persistence of the miasma theory of disease into the second half of the 19th century, even as germ theory was beginning to emerge in scientific circles around the same time. Disease, it was thought, was transmittable by poisoned air, marked by a bad smell. Dr. Sanborn suggests the use of bromo-chloralum, a harsh disinfectant, to “destroy most every poison in the atmosphere.” He urges it to be used liberally in the baby’s room and all around the house: “Don’t fail to use a pound of two in the first month or two.”


This pamphlet is now available for consultation in our archives. You can find it listed on the Osler Library Archives database. For more information, please contact the library.

Further reading:

W. F. Bynum, Science and the Practice of Medicine in the Nineteenth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

William G. Rothstein, American Physicians in the Nineteenth Century: From Sects to Science. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1972.

Charles E. Rosenberg. Our Present Complaint: American Medicine, Then and Now. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007.

Charles E. Rosenberg, ed. Right Living: An Anglo-American Tradition of Self-Help Medicine and Hygiene. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.



(1) Harvard University. Quinquennial catalogue of the officers and graduates, 1636-1930. (Cambridge, MA, 1930).

(2) Warren Brown, History of the Town of Hampton Falls, New Hampshire from the Time of the First Settlement within its Borders, vol. 1 (Manchester, NH, 1900.); The New Hampshire Register, Farmer’s Almanac, and Business Registry for 1871 (Claremont, NH, 1871).

(3) History of St. Louis, (1866-1904)

(4) Charles Rosenberg, ed. Right Living: An Anglo-American Tradition of Self-Help Medicine and Hygiene. (Cambridge, 1992), 4.


Osler Library Renovations April-October 2014

A major renovation of the McIntyre Medical Building’s HVAC infrastructure is underway. This project, funded through the Knowledge Infrastructure Program, involves extensive roof work directly above the Osler Library as well as a replacement of the heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems throughout the Library and the McIntyre Building.

In order to protect the Osler collection, the rare and circulating collections from the Osler Library of the History of Medicine will be relocated to a secure, environmentally controlled storage area. The Library and the collection will be inaccessible from April 1 to October 2014. Library users are encouraged to borrow circulating materials needed for research or teaching purposes and to request any rare materials prior to April 1st. The requested rare items will be temporarily moved to McGill Library’s Rare Books and Special Collection and made accessible to researchers in the reading room.

After April 1st, McGill users may request material through Interlibrary Loans. Osler staff members will also help to find alternative material.

Please note that the Osler Library will continue to offer other services to researchers and students during the renovations, including reference and course support.

For more information please call 514-398-4475 ext. 09873 or email

We apologise for any inconvenience.

New archival collection: the Joseph Stratford Fonds


The library has finished processing the papers of Dr. Joseph Stratford. Dr. Stratford was born in Brantford, Ontario, in September of 1923. He began his studies in science at McGill University in 1943 and was the President of the McGill Osler Society and graduated from medical school in 1947. After training in England at the National Hospital in Queen Square, he completed his residency at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) under Dr. William Cone. In the 1960s, Stratford joined the Montreal General Hospital as Director of the Division of Neurosurgery at the behest of Dr. Rocke Robertson. There, Stratford participated in the development of a neurological intensive care ward, the McGill-MGH Pain Centre, and the Palliative Care Task Force.

This fonds consists of medical agendas and professional correspondence between Stratford and colleagues from the Montreal General Hospital, Montreal Neurological Institute, and elsewhere. It also includes personal research materials on the causes and treatments of pain, publications and drafts of publications, and daily appointment books.

For more information, please feel free to contact the library at Find out about other McGill physicians through our archival database.

Missed our guide to using the archives at the Osler Library? Have a look here.


Researcher profile: Justin Rivest

We recently had the pleasure of welcoming PhD candidate Justin Rivest as an Osler Library Travel Grant recipient. Justin grew up on a farm in southwestern Ontario and did his Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees at Carleton University. His MA is in History (Early Modern Europe) and he is currently a PhD candidate at the Institute for the History of Medicine at Johns Hopkins. Here’s what he had to say about his recent trip to the Osler Library.

Title-page of Albumasar’s De magnis conjunctionibus . Bibliotheca Osleriana 1760.

Title-page of Albumasar’s De magnis conjunctionibus. Bibliotheca Osleriana 1760.

My work at the library grew out of my MA thesis, which was a study of French almanacs and prognostications from the 1490s-1550s and led me to an interest in the links between astrology and medicine. While my dissertation has come to focus on a different topic (proprietary remedies in seventeenth century France), Renaissance astrology has remained a persistent research interest. I’d been looking for an opportunity to spend some time with a good collection of Renaissance astrological texts, with the goal of better understanding how almanacs and prognostications were produced. I was pleased to find good collection of early printed astrological treatises at the library, including a copy of the Ephemerides Magistri Johannis de Monte Regio, a series of celestial ephemerides for the period 1492-1506 produced by the 15th century German mathematician Regiomontanus, which was probably the most interesting and useful thing I was looking at during my visit. Ephemerides were one of the most important tools available to Renaissance astrologers, furnishing the raw data and tables of planetary movement needed to create astrological charts, birth horoscopes, or annual prognostications of the general conditions in the coming year, such as are found in almanacs.

Modern day readers might typically associate almanacs with farmers and weather, but early modern almanacs were often produced by learned physicians and contained important medical information. The positions of celestial bodies and the moon were understood to affect the human body. While a birth horoscope could tell a physician about an individual patient’s humoral complexion, medical almanacs gave doctors and barber-surgeons general information for tabulating propitious days for therapeutic interventions such as bloodletting. For example, a common piece of advice was never to let blood from a part of the body if the moon was in its associated sign, e.g. Aries for the head or Pisces for the feet. This medical information would be placed alongside other things such as the dates of new and full moons, feast days, etc. that we would normally associate with a calendar. Almanacs of this type were initially circulated in manuscript form, but the advent of print vastly expanded the audience for almanacs and provided increasing numbers of astrologers with the astronomical resources (like Regiomontanus’ ephemerides) needed to produce them.

Depiction of Saturn from Albumasar’s Flores astrologiae. B.O. 7410.

Depiction of Saturn from Albumasar’s Flores astrologiae. B.O. 7410.

By the end of the fifteenth century, almanacs were drawing on data about the planets and signs of the zodiac to predict everything from warfare to drought and plague, based on sets of associations drawn from natural philosophy. The five known planets and the twelve signs, for instance, were associated with the four qualities of hot, cold, wet, and dry, the four elements, the four humours, the four seasons, and even the classes of society. Saturn, for example, was associated with the rich, religious men, farmers, and the old, so the state of Saturn in the heavens could affect their conditions on earth.

As for what led me to this topic: in general I’m fascinated by the medieval and Renaissance view of an integrated cosmos, designed by a provident creator to be full of associations and sympathies. The associational framework of astrology, with its harmonies between the heavens, the elements, and the human body, strikes me as one of the most beautiful manifestations of this view of the cosmos.

Read more about Justin’s work in the latest issue of the Osler Library Newsletter and stay tuned for another upcoming entry on Renaissance astrological tables.



Bartholinus Anatomy

Born into a Danish family of physicians, Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680) was influenced at an early age by his relatives’ forays into anatomical science and medicine. He traveled widely throughout Europe before receiving his medical degree at Basel in 1645, and subsequently made significant contributions to 17th century anatomical knowledge, particularly concerning the discovery of the lymph vessel system as well as first recognizing the thoracic duct in humans. A prolific writer, his work was published both in Leiden and London and translated into several different languages. Like his father, Caspar Bartholin the Elder, Thomas wrote several anatomical treatises which became rather popular textbooks. This 1668 English translation of his most famous work, Bartholinus Anatomy, has recently made its way into the Osler Library. Published in London by Nicholas Culpeper and Abdiah Cole, the anatomical treatise contains 153 copperplate engravings (4 of which are fold-out plates).


The text is a later adaptation of his father’s Anatomicae Institutiones Corporis Humani (1611), which was, for many years, a standard textbook on the subject of anatomy. Caspar’s work was revised and illustrated by Thomas who published the new edition, Anatomia, in 1641. Following his observations on the human lymphatic system (along with some criticism from fellow anatomists) Bartholin updated his Anatomia, publishing a revised and augmented edition in 1655.

The younger Bartholin’s textbook differs from that of his father with the addition of references to the writings of contemporary anatomists, such as William Harvey and Gasparo Aselli. The work of these two physicians is explicitly referenced in the book’s appendix: two letters from Johannes Walaeus to the author, “Concerning the Motion of the Chyle and Blood” and “Of the Motion of the Blood.” The accompanying illustrations likewise updated the original edition. These engraved plates, roughly inserted within and often overlapping the book’s text, supplement Bartholin’s discussion of the human body. Most of these images were not original, but rather were based on the work of Vesalius, Casserio, Vesling, and other famous anatomists.


Bartholin’s Anatomy was one of the most popular anatomical texts of the 17th century. Separated into four books and four “petty books” detailing distinct sections and systems of the human body, the exhaustive work was central to the early modern study and development of the anatomical sciences.


Some new titles for June

OslerNiche_BooksSmaller copy

Summer vacation may be upon us, but the library is still hard at work collecting new titles. Take a look at a selection of June arrivals…


Quack medicine : a history of combating health fraud in twentieth-century America / Eric W. Boyle. Santa Barbara, Calif. : Praeger, 2013.

This history of quackery discusses the various historical attempts (and mostly failures) to regulate between fraudulent and legitimate medicines and therapies. Anybody lucky enough to be in and around Washington DC that day can hear Eric Boyle discuss the topic at the National Museum of Health and Medicine on July 23rd!


Breast cancer in the eighteenth century / by Marjo Kaartinen. London ; Brookfield, VT : Pickering & Chatto, 2013.

From the publisher’s website:

Early modern physicians and surgeons tried desperately to understand breast cancer, testing new medicines and radically improving operating techniques. In this study, the first of its kind, Kaartinen explores the emotional responses of patients and their families to the disease in the long eighteenth century. Using a wide range of primary sources, she examines the ways in which knowledge about breast cancer was shared through networks of advice that patients formed with fellow sufferers. By focusing on the women who struggled with the disease as well as the doctors that treated them, much is revealed about early modern attitudes to cancer and how patients experienced – and were considered to experience – the cancerous body.


Medicine and society in Ptolemaic Egypt / by Philippa Lang. Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2013.

Philippa Lang uses the microcosm of the medical world of Hellenistic Egypt to explore various aspects of its society and culture, including “how linguistic, cultural and ethnic affiliations and interactions were expressed in the medical domain.” (more here)


L’épopée des gants chirurgicaux / Michel A. Germain. Paris : L’Harmattan, c2012.

From the series “Medecine à travers les siècles”, Michel Germain charts the history of gloves and their usage in medicine and surgery beginning in the 18th century. You can find a review by Stéphane Héas of this book on the online social sciences journal Lectures.


Negotiating insanity in the southeast of Ireland, 1820-1900 / Catherine Cox. Manchester : Manchester University Press, 2012.

From the publisher’s website:

This study uses the Carlow asylum district in the southeast of Ireland – comprised of counties Wexford, Kildare, Kilkenny and Carlow – to explore the ‘place of the asylum’ in the nineteenth century. It assesses medical, lay and legal negotiations with the asylum system, deepening our understanding of protagonists’ attitudes towards the mentally ill and of institutional provision for the care and containment of people diagnosed as ‘insane’. The book also provides insights into life in asylums for patients and staff, while, uniquely, it expands the analytical focus beyond the asylum to interrogate the impact that the Irish poor law, petty sessions courts and medical dispensaries had upon the provision of services. Drawing on a diverse and under-utilised range of source material this book is an important addition to the historiography of mental health in Ireland.


P.S. Ever wondered how to search for *only* our recent acquisitions? Go to the Classic Catalogue and click on the “Sub-catalogues” tab at the top. Select the link “New Titles” and from there you can by keyword, collection, or date received.



Archival updates

ArchboxesWe’ve made a few additions to our archival database so far this summer and have a couple newer fonds described.

Two fonds have been updated to include recent accruals: the Canadian Health Libraries Association/ Association des bibliothèques de la santé du Canada fonds and the Osler Society of Montreal fonds.

The Jonathan Campbell Meakins fonds now has an online, searchable inventory list! The old (handwritten!) item-level descriptions are still available in the library if you need more detailed information, but we hope the online version will make things easier to discover. J. C. Meakins was Dean of the Faculty of Medicine at McGill from 1941-1948, among various other positions, and author of “The Practice of Medicine.”

Added to our collection of medical student notebooks is the Clement C. Clay fonds. Clement Clay was a native of Birmingham, Alabama, and a graduate of McGill. During World War II, he served as a Lieutenant and later Commander in the medical corps of the United States Naval Reserve. In 1943 and 1944, he was sent by the Surgeon General to North Africa, Italy, and England on a special mission to study the handling of casualties and gather other information on military medical service in these countries. In 1944 he was able to study infection control measures during an outbreak of typhus in Naples.

And finally, we have a new collection of World War I letters in the Helen Drake fonds. She trained as a nurse at the Royal Victorian Hospital School of Nursing, graduating in 1907. The fonds contains many letters written while she was in Europe with the Canadian Army Medical Core from McGill during the war.


For more information, please feel free to contact the library at

Missed our guide to using archives at the Osler Library? Have a look here.

Some new titles for May

OslerNiche_BooksSmaller copyInterested in some historical summer reading? Here are some ideas from our new acquisitions from last month:


Ways of regulating drugs in the 19th and 20th centuries / edited by Jean-Paul Gaudillière and  Volker Hess. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York : Palgrave Macmillan, 2013.

The essays assembled in this volume share the perspective that the historiography of science, technology, and medicine, therefore, needs a broader approach toward regulation; an approach taking into account the distinct social worlds involved in regulation, the forms of evidence and expertise mobilized, and the means of intervention chosen in order to tame drugs in factories, offices, consulting rooms and courts. Focusing on case studies, the volume explores the ‘ways of regulating drugs’, which surfaced in the 19th and 20th century, and play a central role in the present world of science, market and medicine.

Includes a contribution by McGill Social Studies of Medicine prof Alberto Cambrosio (with Peter Keating and Andrei Mogoutov ): “What’s in a Pill? On the Informational Enrichment of Anti-Cancer Drugs.”


The identity of the history of science and medicine / Andrew Cunningham. Farnham, Surrey, England ; Burlington, VT. : Ashgate Variorum, c2012.

From the publisher’s website:

In these essays, Andrew Cunningham is concerned with issues of identity – what was the identity of topics, disciplines, arguments, diseases in the past, and whether they are identical with (more usually, how they are not identical with) topics, disciplines, arguments or diseases in the present. Historians usually tend to assume such continuous identities of present attitudes and activities with past ones, and rarely question them; the contention here is that this gives us a false image of the very things in the past that we went to look for.


The great Manchurian plague of 1910-1911 : the geopolitics of an epidemic disease / William C. Summers. New Haven : Yale University Press, c2012.

The  Manchurian plague (or “third pandemic”) was a severe episode of bubonic plague that began in southwest China in the 1850s. Check out a review of this book from the Journal of the History of Medicine and Allied Sciences 68, no. 2 (April 2013) [McGill users only]


Remèdes, onguents, poisons : une histoire de la pharmacie / sous la direction d’Yvan Brohard ; préface et postface d’Axel Kahn. Paris : Université Paris Descartes : Éditions de la Martinière, 2012.

Full of anecdotes and alchemy! Find a discussion with the author Yvan Brohard on the history of pharmacy and medication on the radio show La tête au carré on France Inter.


Inventing intelligence : how America came to worship IQ / Elaine E. Castles. Santa Barbara, Calif. : Praeger, c2012.

Written by a clinical psychologist, this book traces the rise of the IQ test as the key measure of mental capacity, as well as describing historical initiatives to quantify intelligences (phrenology, anyone?). Have a look at a more detailed description on the publisher’s website.


Homöopathie in der DDR : die Geschichte der Homöopathie in der Sowjetischen Besatzungszone und der DDR 1945 bis 1989 ; Hans-Walz-Preisschrift / Anne Nierade. Essen : KVC Verlag, c2012.

This book uncovers the history of homeopathy in the German Democratic Republic. Published as the 2011 winner of a book prize in the history of homeopathy sponsored by the Institute for the History of Medicine of the Robert Bosch Foundation in Germany, this book explores homeopathy as a popular lay medical tradition.


P.S. Ever wondered how to find book reviews? Find some tips here.


Walter de Mouilpied Scriver Fonds

The library has a couple new archival materials of Walter de M. Scriver. Dr. Scriver was born in Hemmingford, Quebec, and received his B.A. from McGill University in 1915. He served overseas from 1915-1918, returning to Montreal to earn his medical degree from McGill in 1921. He was Professor Medicine at McGill’s Faculty of Medicine from 1952-1957 and physician-in-chief at the Royal Victoria Hospital. He specialized in the field of pharmacology and had a research interest in diabetes and kidney diseases. He was instrumental in founding the Quebec Division of the Canadian medical association and served as a member of its Executive Committee from 1947-1957.

The fonds includes a copy of No. 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill), 1914-1919 owned by Walter de M. Scriver and ephemera relating to Canadian General Hospital No. 3. It also contains a handwritten poem (in 4 cantos) entitled “Tune of T’anks,” composed by Scrivner for his family and dated France, 1915.


For more information, please feel free to contact the library at Find out about other WWI physicians linked to McGill through our archival database.