Friday, October 30, 2015

Tennessee's Library and Archives Can Cure What Ails You...

It’s the start of flu season in Tennessee, and we are reminded by a barrage of ads and commercials to get flu shots to prevent the virus. But the vaccine was not developed until the 1930s, so how did people deal with flu symptoms before then?

Folk medicine is part of a grand cultural tradition where recipes are passed down by word of mouth, or written and kept as reference for recurring symptoms. These home remedies go in and out of style, depending on societal trends and effectiveness. Some remedies do not have medicinal properties, but offer psychological relief. For example, there's the tradition of eating chicken soup to ease a cold. Other remedies utilize spices, vegetables, and other ingredients that can alleviate ailments or mimic chemical reactions similar to modern medicine.

Remedy for chills and fever, letter to Mrs. Wynne from E. Rucker, February 7, 1844.
Wynne Family Papers (THS), 1887-1973

In Tennessee records, folk medicine is not limited to humans, but extends to animals – particularly work animals for farming. It appears in correspondence, diaries, doctors’ notes, and even on simple scraps of paper. TSLA has many records that tell of home remedies and medicinal recipes for everything from sore throats and coughs to fever, rabies and diseases like consumption. Some diseases that frequently appear in Tennessee records include: yellow fever, typhoid, malaria, smallpox, influenza, measles, mumps, rubella, cholera, polio, and diphtheria.

“Pneumonia Cure,” from the Claybrooke and Overton Papers (THS), 1747-1894

We do not suggest trying these recipes at home, as some contain substances now known to be harmful, but by studying them, we can get a better picture of home life and home treatment throughout the history of our state, as well as gain a deeper appreciation for modern medicine.

“Remedy for Bite of Mad Dog,” from the Claybrooke and Overton Papers (THS), 1747-1894, includes directions to take the mixture nine days from the bite, or before the full and change of the moon. It provides dosages for humans and work animals.

“A memorandum of what will Cure the Consumption,” from the journal of J.M. Brewer (THS), 1802-1830. Brewer provides two cures.

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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