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Dr. N. W. Ames medical journal gives health remedies of 1890s

March 12, 2011

By Ruth Morgan
For the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum

The journal of Dr. N. W. Ames in the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum contains some very interesting information concerning the health of our county over 120 years ago.
Dr. Ames was the first chief health officer for Oktibbeha County for 15 years (1883-1898).
One of the completed forms was for the commitment of Elizabeth Miers to the lunatic asylum. Mrs. Miers was a 53-year-old mother of 12 when she was admitted for being “sullen” and “morose” and so despondent she “refused to get out of bed.”
Dr. Ames journal revealed in those days, sometimes the treatment proved to be more deadly than the disease. He most often recommended “purging” as an antidote for most diseases. Dr. Ames noted that “of course opium,” was a treatment for diabetes, that “a spray of ether to the epigastric region” would stop “hiccoughs,” that inhaling “belladonna and strychnine” would cure bronchitis, and that inhaling mercury would cure diptheria.
Dr. Ames suggested to cure mastitis, putting ice in a beef’s bladder and applying it to the inflamed breast. To retrieve a foreign object from the ear, he said to dip a pencil in thick glue and hold it in the ear until it sets; then pull the pencil and the object stuck to it out of the ear.
Today people no longer die of gout, croup, small pox, polio and pertussis. These have basically been eradicated from our country but when our ancestors lived it was quite a different story.
A recipe for a cure of eczema of the hand included these ingredients: bicarbonate of soda, bicarbonate potash, glycerin, and tincture of opic. Amounts were given for the cure, and a notation was made for its use as a lotion. The hand was to be kept wet with the solution by using towels or linens.
Dr. Ames’ 1891 Annual Report provides a clear picture of life in Oktibbeha County in the 1890s. He reported that the county had been free of epidemics and contagious diseases that year, except for an outbreak of measles in the Sturgis area. There had been the “usual appearance of Malarial affections during the summer and fall months. The winter months were milder than usual and there were fewer cases of pneumonia observed than usual.” There had been no cases of Yellow Fever, Small Pox, Cholera, Scarlet Fever, Whooping Cough, or Diphtheria. However, “Grippe again visited our community and county in January of this year (1891) and perhaps victimized more people than the year before when it first appeared. There were several deaths, confined…to children and old people…”
The county had “the ordinary Intermittent and Typho-malarial cases of chronic chills and malarial poison.” Dr. Ames reported the fever was “familiar to every Southern physician.”
There were cases of Typhoid in the Turner family. Dr. Ames reported that a Mrs. Tumbleson who had been visiting from South Carolina had introduced it to the family. However, no one died.
In his report, Dr. Ames complained that there was no method of keeping vital statistics for the county. In fact he wrote there was “no method known to me where practicing physicians can be induced to make reports of the births and deaths in their practice.”
However, Dr. Ames admitted that even if the reports were made by area physicians, “numbers of children are born yearly unknown and unattended by physicians and…many die having never received medical treatment.”
Dr. Ames also discussed sanitary conditions. He reported that in Starkville there was only one meat market and the slaughter of hens was done “remote from town” so there could not “exist under the circumstances anything to produce sickness.” Drinking water was obtained from cisterns “and with the exception of being contaminated with Lime,” the water was pure. The lime problem came from cisterns hollowed out of soft limestone.
“There is but one public hall used for theater performances (sic) located in Starkville,” Dr. Ames wrote. “Watts Hall is not properly ventilated and has no way of escape in case of fire—except the front entrance.”
“The school houses in the county are pretty well ventilated and comfortably heated and lighted…the county jail is well heated and ventilated and kept in fair condition. Sicknesses in the local jail during the previous year included a case of Dyspepsia and one of Lumbago.
Ames reported that the Poor House had only one occupant during the year”…an old man with hemilegia (Dorsey). Sanitary condition very good.”
Dr. Ames kept a ledger of unpaid accounts that began in 1881. His handwriting was clear and legible. Although the ink has faded, it is fascinating, nevertheless.
Balances due were of varying amounts and were duly noted. A few of the accounts date back to 1879-1880. Some of the amounts charged back “during the good old days” were as follows, Hugh Montgomery owed $70 and “paid” was written beside the total; George E. Critz owed $45, William Winston owed $5 and W. W. Scales had a bill of $17.
Visit the Oktibbeha County Heritage Museum Tuesday through Thursday from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. to see the Medical Display which includes Dr. Ames journal.

Sources: Dr. Ames Journal and paper written by Judy Jacobson, former board member and hostess at the museum.

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