Title Reviewed:
A Medical History of the State of Indiana

Author Reviewed:
G. W. H. Kemper; Alembert W. Brayton

L. E.


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 9, Issue 2, pp 113-115

Article Type:
Book Review

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A Medical History of the State of Indiana. By G. W. H. KEMPER, M.D. With an Introduction by ALEMBERT W. BRAYTON, M.D. Illustrated. Chicago: American Medical Association Press, 1911. Pp. xxi, 393.

[In this Department publications will be reviewed which deal with the history of Indiana and the Old Northwest, and also books on other phases of history and on political science written by Indiana authors.]

Like other fields of Indiana history, that of its medical history has remained untouched. Dr. Kemper has made the first attempt even in a meager way to sum up the work done by the medical profession in Indiana. Of the many phases of this work Dr. Kemper has given us an adequate treatment of only one.

In the early days any man, red or white, was allowed by the law to practice medicine. The practice was a strange confusion of science, herb nostrums and Indian sorcery. From this condition the trained physicians from the Eastern schools gradually lifted their profession till the Legislature provided for a licensing board in each medical district of the State. These boards were composed of the best physicians of the district, and, while they had no effective way of preventing one to whom they refused a license from practicing, yet the fact that one had been so refused greatly limited his uselessness. A diploma granted by one of these district boards is reproduced by Dr. Kemper, p. 329.

This first district organization, perhaps the earliest professional body in Indiana, had a powerful effect on the profession in the State. The growth of these organizations into the State Medical Society of 1849 would form an interesting chapter in medical history. Dr. Kemper has published many valuable descriptions of the work done by these early bodies, as remembered by some of the later members and printed in the Transactions of the Indiana State Medical Society, Chapters II, III, IV, V, VI, VIII, X, XI, XII, XIII, XIV and XV. From the files of our early newspapers many interesting side lights can be thrown on the subject of those chapters. The life of the early practitioner rivalled in hardships that of the circuit rider. His practice frequently extended over a territory twenty miles square. There were no roads, often not even bridle paths through the forest. Many doctors lost their lives swimming the streams on horseback. A glance at the biographies in the back of Dr. Kemper's book will show the hazards of the profession in the early days.

Another interesting phase of the medical history of Indiana is that of education. From the first lectures given by Vincennes doctors at the old Vincennes University, down to the present medical school maintained by Indiana University at Indianapolis, is an era of struggle and accomplishment by the leaders of the profession in the State that is worthy of a historian. Dr. Kemper has touched on this field only briefly, noticing the work of Laporte Medical College and the work of Dr. Bobbs at Indianapolis.

A third phase of Indiana medical history is that of prevalent diseases. Of these perhaps cholera would be the most striking. Several old-time physicians have left us good accounts of this disease and its terrors for the early Hoosiers. The newspapers during the ‘30's and ‘40's were full of news concerning the periodical ravages of this disease. It seems to have been brought to the State during the early summer by flatboatmen returning from New Orleans, or on steamboats running the Ohio and Mississippi. Naturally the river cities suffered most, but such inland cities as Salem were depopulated.

Almost as deadly as the cholera and more widespread in early Indiana was that strange disease known as milk-sickness. The popular belief was that it was contracted by drinking the milk of cows infected with the disease. It baffled the physicians both in diagnosis and treatment. Early settlers avoided a place afflicted with it as we would a community with bubonic plague.

Most widespread but not so much feared was the ague—the "ager" or "chills" of the good old days when half of Indiana was a swamp and the other half covered with the miasma and bogs. Many people regarded the chills as a joke. They were too often a prelude to the malarial fevers which carried off thousands of early settlers and which are not even yet unknown.

These diseases, together with smallpox, measles and others, once dreaded, have lost their terrors before the continuous warfare of the doctors.

The development of surgery, the restrictions of the law regulating medical practice, the construction of hospitals, the treatment of the insane, the increasing attention given to sanitation and medical inspection of school children are a few of the other phases of this subject whose treatment would be found interesting to many readers.

The volume under consideration is almost entirely biographical. Whatever else there is included in it may be regarded as incidental. The author lists about 750 doctors who have practiced in the State. Their biographies, covering 130 pages all told, vary in length from one line to half a page. This book has a good index.

From a professional standpoint, the great fact in the medical history of Indiana was the organization at Indianapolis in June, 1849, of the State Medical Society. The Transactions of this society, issued annually, form the best source for the historian. Dr. Kemper has used these freely. He has also made some use of the different medical journals of the State, but of the general newspapers he has made little or no use. Thirty-five portraits, many of them full page, add value to the book. On the whole, though Dr. Kemper's book by no means exhausts the subject, as a biographical dictionary of the profession in our State, it is very valuable and we hope it may stimulate others to examine further into this field.

Does not the author on page 5 refer to Hon. Charles B. Lassalle where he has the name Charles B. Lusdle? Dr. Key Kendall is the same as Kuykendall, the latter being the usual form, at the bottom of page 18.

L. E.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.