Many of the handwritten recipe books (also called receipt books) in the archives also contain home remedies alongside their cookery recipes. They tend to be entered in no particular order, so the at-home cures for illness are written alongside recipes for pound cake and head soup. Not only are there remedies for human illnesses and complaints, but these books also contain home remedies for animals and for the home itself.
Each book contains remedies for common ailments of the time, such as rheumatism, cholera, and general illness, as well as instructions for taking care of injuries like burns or scrapes. The books also contain remedies for daily inconveniences, aches, and pains such as sore eyes, an unsettled stomach, or a stiff back. There are also receipts for topical remedies for skin ailments such as corns or dry hands.
The Medical Field in Early America and the Public's Attitude Toward It
The field of medicine in early America had a rocky standing in public opinion at best. Many physicians at the time were either hardly trained or untrained entirely, and as a result many untested theories and practices became commonplace in the medical field at the time. These practices included invasive and often painful procedures of bloodletting, including leech therapy and lancing, and purging of the body with emetics, and they often led to the deteriorating health or death of the patient. These practices coupled with improper sanitation techniques (or an entire lack thereof) resulted in an extremely high mortality rate in medical practice of the time.
Access to a well-trained and established doctor was a luxury difficult to find outside of urban and wealthy areas, and rural dwelling citizens often lived miles from the nearest country doctor. As a result many working class and rural citizens relied on folk medicine and homeopathy.
Shift to Folk Medicine
The time of Jacksonian democracy brought along with it anti-intellectualism and a negative cultural attitude towards learned professions, and this factor coupled with the reformation spirit of the 19th century resulted in the loss of caste of doctors and physicians. There was a marked turn from the field of traditional medicine to home medicine and homeopathy.
Home doctoring had a long and fastholding tradition in the history of early America, and the momentum of the spirit of reformation during the 19th century saw a new and increased popularity of home medicines and self-dosing amongst the American public. The founding of homeopathy in the late 18th century and the botanical movement of the nineteenth century resulted in a desire in the American public for natural, herbal cures. Many housewives brewed home medicines accordingly and kept notebooks to document the receipts of these folk remedies.
These household remedies historically came from two sources: those that were handed down orally through the family, usually from mothers to daughters or by women of the community to young women, and those that were taken from print sources such as almanacs and broadsides. The proliferation of print works on the merits of homeopathy and herbalism alongside the traditional works on medical advice added to the fervor of self-treatment. Common illnesses of the time included cholera, typhoid, dysentery, diphtheria, and tuberculosis, and cures for these epidemic ailments (or to ease their symptoms of rheumatism or stomach unrest) proliferate the home remedy books in this exhibit. The remedies in these home remedy manuals ranged from commonplace recommendations (such as to take honey in a tea for a sore throat) to the truly outlandish with no basis in medical fact.
Remedies for Animals
Many of the handwritten home remedy and receipt books contain not only remedies for people, but remedies for their animals as well. The entries deal with cures for farm animals, such as cows, horses, pigs, and chickens.
There were also patent medicines for animals! This humorous little booklet, titled "A Chicken Wedding," details the marriage and domestic life of a pair of chickens, named Billy Brown Leghorn and Dolly Dominique, and advertises the products of Dr. Hess & Clark. These advertised products include "Instant Louse Killer" and a "Stock Tonic" for cattle, as well as various other dips and powders for livestock and poultry. The prioritized product advertised in the book is "Poultry Pan-a-ce-a," a mystery powder that promises to cure all poultry ailments and guarantees your hens will lay more than ever before! Apparently Dolly Dominique's parents swear by it.
Home Remedies for the Home Itself
These books full of receipts and home remedies also contain remedies intended for the home itself. There are a variety of receipts for anything from paint to shoe varnish to timber stains.