The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

By Chris Enss | Go to book overview

FRONTIER MEDICINE

In the early 1850s, pioneers invaded the majestic plains west of the Mississippi, hauling with them every conceivable provision necessary for life on the new frontier. Among the supplies the emigrants brought along were tents and bedding, cooking utensils, furniture, tools, and extra clothing. Most, if not all, of the items listed could be abandoned if necessary to lighten the load and make room for essentials such as food and medicine.

Women on the wagon trains were responsible not only for preparing the food and making it last through the journey but were also in charge of overall healthcare for the others. Armed with herbal medicine kits and journals filled with remedies, women administered doses of juniper berries, garlic, and bitter roots to cure the ailing. These “granny remedies,” as they were called, were antidotes for a variety of illnesses from nausea to typhoid. They were a combination of superstition, religious beliefs, and advice passed down from generation to generation.

Not only did female doctors have to withstand prejudice against their sex, they also had to fight against barbaric remedies that had been passed down from generation to generation. Myths—such as believing a person could preserve his teeth and eliminate mouth odor by rinsing his mouth every morning with his

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