Long-time volunteer, Ernie Ellison, worked in the Special Collections of The Filson Historical Society many years ago. After his death, the family offered The Filson the opportunity to purchase items from his personal collection. It was an offer that curator Jim Holmberg was quick to accept. “Ernie had a large assortment of books, photographs, maps, and documents that spanned many subject areas, including travel, geology, biographies, medicine, Kentucky history, and more. The items selected enrich our collection through their topics or rarity. We’re very grateful to the Ellison family for this opportunity to expand our resources.”
Among the 160+ books acquired were several excellent additions to our medical collection. One, in particular, stood out to me: Woman: Her Diseases and Remedies. A Series of Letters to his Class, by Charles D. Meigs, M.D. This 1859 textbook describes in graphic detail many of the medical conditions experienced by women, particularly regarding reproductive organs. I had no idea that medical knowledge about women had advanced so much by 1859. In my studies of the social history of women during the mid 19th century, invalidism, hysteria, and melancholy appeared to be the primary diagnoses of women’s ailments. It was very enlightening to learn that doctors of the era were as aware of a woman’s physical condition as they were of her supposed mental state.
Before I give the impression that the mental state was not emphasized, let me say that there is an entire chapter on Hysteria. What surprised me about the chapter was the fact that Dr. Meigs suggested that hysteria could be experienced by men as well as women, thus questioning the origins of the condition as being not from the womb, as had been previously thought, but from some other source.
You never know what you’ll find or learn about at The Filson!