CENTER FOR LOWELL HISTORY UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS LOWELL LIBRARIES

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150 YEARS OF HEALTH CARE: 
ANNIVERSARY QUILT AND 19TH CENTURY MEDICAL INSTRUMENTS
 
19th Century Medical
Instruments

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.

ABOUT THE DESIGNER

Cassandra Gordon, Lowell, Massachusetts, has been a quiltmaker for 15 years.  She has studied with Salley Palmer Field, Michael James, and Nancy Halpern.  She opened her studio at the Brush Art Gallery and Studio in 1986.  Her works have been exhibited at the Wenham Museum, Pollard Memorial Library, Garrison House, New England Quilt Museum, and are in private collections.  The Saint Joseph's Hospital 150th Anniversary Quilt combined her creative skills and her concerns and knowledge of Lowell History.

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