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Making Connections: 9 Everyman his Own Physician

Walker Library / Special Collections / Making Connections

Everyman his Own Physician

Anatomy and human disease have been studied since ancient times, but until access to professionally trained physicians became the norm, most ordinary folk didn’t benefit from this knowledge. Local amateurs provided medical advice and treatments but, by the 19th century, printed books became a primary home resource. Medical books tend to fall into two basic categories: texts, like the famous Gray’s Anatomy, written for medical students and practitioners, and popular books produced for a general audience. The broad representation of medical works across our diverse holdings reflects the various ways health affects daily life, family duties, work, and general well-being.

Titles in this case include Carter’s Botanic Physician, a comprehensive handbook, one of the first printed in Tennessee, full of practical, up-to-date advice and information for household use. By the 19th century, patent medicines and cures for chronic disease were frequently marketed to the public. Who wouldn’t be convinced, after reading Dr. Mortimore’s pamphlet advertising his prodigious successes, that the good doctor had a treatment for their consumption, dyspepsia, epilepsy, and scrofulous. Medical topics become moral issues in the late 19th century. Guides to health portrayed human behaviors, especially alcohol consumption, as a source of ill health and social discord. Medical topics in equine books usually focus on veterinary aspects but Ghislani Durant wrote instead about riding and its effect on human well-being.

This micro-collection of medical books wouldn’t be complete without including at least one “fun” pop-up book which represents both innovative, contemporary advances in book design and production but also the age-old study of human anatomy.

Collections: Distilling, Fermenting, and Brewing; Early Tennessee Imprints; Warden Collection for Equine Studies; Dimensional and Artists’ Books



Richard Walker and Rachel

London. 2018

Sixteenth century anatomy books were some of the first books to utilize movable elements, specifically flaps, which allowed the reader to “dissect” the body by lifting layers of skin and muscle to reveal the organs underneath. At first, these movable books were produced for a select circle of anatomists and physicians but by the 19th century, flap books were common teaching tools used by aspiring medical practitioners as well as laymen. Today, pop-ups add a new, three-dimensional element to popular anatomy books designed for children and adults. This Victorian inspired example utilizes unique, interlocking folded layers combined with simple flaps to create a complex, deep dive down into the workings of human physiology.


Catharine E. Beecher

New York. 1858


Rezin Thompson

Germantown, Tennessee. 1860

Early 19th century publishing in Tennessee included numerous examples of practical medical works. Although he doesn’t reference Samuel Thomson’s botanicism specifically, Carter was clearly a proponent of his plant-based, populist approach to medicine. If it is true, as Carter states in his introduction, that “the same earth which yields our food, produces our medicine,” then his book’s materia medica section and dispensatory with more than 200 recipes should prepare anyone with plain common sense to follow instructions and create their own remedies. Thompson’s Medical Adviser, like Carter’s work, addresses a broad audience but he drops the botanic emphasis and provides a much more substantive discussion of human diseases.


New York. 1878

The Warden Memorial Equine collection contains a plethora of work on horse health and well-being, but this small volume addresses the medical status of the rider, not the horse. Exercise is an obvious benefit of riding. Durant goes further, explaining its salutary effect on circulation of the blood, respiration, digestion, and perspiration. His list of diseases for which riding is therapeutic includes anemia, syphilis, gout, diabetes, and fever.

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