Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article The Arkansas Historical Quarterly

Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt

Doctoring the South: Southern Physicians and Everyday Medicine in the Mid-Nineteenth Century. By Steven M. Stowe. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004. Pp. x, 373. Acknowledgments, notes, bibliography, index. $45.00.)

Doctoring the South fills a particular niche for the student of both southern history and the history of medicine. It seeks to locate the study and practice of medicine within the culture of the South during a critical period of history. Dr. Stowe uses the words of participants in the practice of medicine-patients, medical students, and physicians-to explore his themes. The book itself is thoroughly researched, reflecting a careful mining of manuscript materials and apposite publications. This is a book about men. Dr. Stowe makes clear the ways in which women were entirely marginalized in the Old South, the Civil War South, and the emerging New South, consigned to healing as midwives, folk healers, and caregivers within family and neighborhood networks. They had no role as practicing physicians.

Stowe divides the book into three sections: "Choosing Medicine," "Doing Medicine," and "Making Medicine." The first examines the reasons that young men found for undertaking the study of the healing art. The second and third sections take the reader on highly individualized rounds with a variety of southern physicians. These subjects are explored against a backdrop of race, slavery, sectional consciousness, and social relationships that differ from our own.

We meet young men uncertain about studying medicine. They express concerns about making decent livings as physicians. They worry about the morality of entering the bodies of the dead in the name of learning. They must go to cities whose clinics alone can offer the numbers of sick persons needed to support education. None of this sat well with sons of predominantly rural southern communities.

Doctoring the South follows the new graduates of medical schools into practice. It is important to remember that medical education at the time was modeled on a four-month course of formal lectures and demonstrations. Students typically attended two such courses in consecutive years. There were no formal prerequisites for study. One could also establish a practice with no formal education, relying for preparation entirely on practical experience as an assistant to a physician for preparation. It would require the exertions of Abraham Flexner and a generation of reformers to establish the outlines of present-day medical education. …

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