Dr. G: Medical Examiner, Dr. Oz and somebody's kidneys and aorta.
This past weekend, we stopped by the Dr. Oz Health Expo in Millennium Park in Chicago. It was fun seeing Dr. Oz in person. Everyone had the chance to don the famous purple gloves and touch various organs, enter the Truth Tube, get free health screenings, and learn great recipes from celebrity chefs such as Oprah's former personal chef Art Smith. We didn't stay long, so we didn't have time to participate in much.
It got me thinking about health and fitness in the 19th century.
In the early 1800's, people were mostly rural. The everyday labor they needed to do kept them fairly physically fit and they didn't really need any formal exercise program. Of course, if they became sick, they knew nothing of germs or where diseases came from. A prevalent theory was that their body fluids were unbalanced, and that they needed a bloodletting. Another theory was that bad odors or "miasma" caused diseases. Sick people were treated at home by family members. Occasionally, a doctor was called. Doctors had very little training. And only the poor would ever be taken to a hospital, as they were for people who were indigent or had no family.
Henry Peach Robinson 1858. Fading Away.
The nineteenth century was known for the prevalence of patent medicines of questionable worth. They were touted by traveling salesmen and advertised through trade cards. The alcohol and other (often dangerous) drugs in these concoctions are what made people feel better!
Scientific advances in medicine began to make great strides when it became acceptable to open cadavers and learn about how our bodies work. Stronger microscopes and other scientific instruments gave doctors a better understanding of diseases and how to treat them.
Meanwhile, the Industrial Revolution put machines at the forefront and gave humans a back seat to physical labor. In the mid 1800's, Swedish and German exercise techniques and theories began to take hold in America. People realized they needed to stay physically fit.
Men had the advantage of playing sports in college and being able to engage in activity that was not considered "lady-like." Children, of course, played and ran around, but a young lady, especially with her corsets, could not participate in such things.
Some women's suffrage advocates put forth the notion that, indeed, women should be more active. They eventually worked toward developing "bloomers" in the 1850's, which never really caught on until the early 1900's when bicycling and gymnastics became popular.
When I was growing up, the public schools in Chicago required that we had gym class every day. In grammar school we did tumbling, races, calisthenics, kick baseball and worked with equipment such as Indian clubs, stall bars, ladders, rings, balls and climbing ropes. Everyone took the tests required by the President's Council on Physical Fitness. We also were required to go outside for recess to play. In high school, we swam, played team sports, danced and did gymnastics. I don't know if today's kids get that much exercise.
We are fortunate to live in the modern era of medicine, science and knowledge of the human body. We still have major diseases to cure, but we've made great strides. But, because of our free will, we can still decide to become obese, abuse drugs, smoke, become couch potatoes, or become anorexic. I guess it's up to each individual to learn as much as possible about our bodies, and to treat them with respect.
Visit these great links to find out more about the history of American health, fitness and medical care:
Early American Medicine and Health Care
Early Nineteenth Century American Medical Worldview