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Revolutionary Medicine

Revolutionary Medicine: The Founding Fathers and Mothers in Sickness and in Health

Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 314
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  • Book Info
    Revolutionary Medicine
    Book Description:

    Before the advent of modern antibiotics, one's life could be abruptly shattered by contagion and death, and debility from infectious diseases and epidemics was commonplace for early Americans, regardless of social status. Concerns over health affected the founding fathers and their families as it did slaves, merchants, immigrants, and everyone else in North America. As both victims of illness and national leaders, the Founders occupied a unique position regarding the development of public health in America.Revolutionary Medicinerefocuses the study of the lives of George and Martha Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John and Abigail Adams, and James and Dolley Madison away from the usual lens of politics to the unique perspective of sickness, health, and medicine in their era.For the founders, republican ideals fostered a reciprocal connection between individual health and the health of the nation. Studying the encounters of these American founders with illness and disease, as well as their viewpoints about good health, not only provides us with a richer and more nuanced insight into their lives, but also opens a window into the practice of medicine in the eighteenth century, which is at once intimate, personal, and first hand. Perhaps most importantly, today's American public health initiatives have their roots in the work of America's founders, for they recognized early on that government had compelling reasons to shoulder some new responsibilities with respect to ensuring the health and well-being of its citizenry.The state of medicine and public healthcare today is still a work in progress, but these founders played a significant role in beginning the conversation that shaped the contours of its development.Jeanne E. Abramsis Professor at Penrose Library and the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver. She is the author ofJewish Women Pioneering the Frontier Trail: A History in the American West(NYU Press 2006) andDr. Charles David Spivak: A Jewish Immigrant and the American Tuberculosis Movement, as well as numerous articles in the fields of American, Jewish and medical history which have appeared in scholarly journals and popular magazines.

    eISBN: 978-0-8147-6035-2
    Subjects: Health Sciences

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Health and Medicine in the Era of America’s Founders
    (pp. 1-32)

    The literature about America’s early leaders continues to proliferate, but instead of placing the usual emphasis on the political roles of the nation’s founders or their personal relationships, this book will focus a lens on their experiences with health, illness, and medical treatment. The lives of America’s founding mothers and fathers demonstrate that today’s preoccupation with good health and illness is not a new one. Abigail Adams fretted over her family’s health and particularly that of her husband throughout the American Revolution as well as John’s days as president, although ironically Abigail was by far the more fragile of the...

  5. 1 George and Martha Washington: Health, Illness, and the First Family
    (pp. 33-78)

    In his many portraits, America’s first president and “Foundingest Father,”¹ George Washington, is depicted as a tall, commanding figure, with an elegantly slim but strong, muscular physique. Indeed, at a little over six feet, Washington towered above most of his contemporaries, and by all accounts was a revered and imposing man who commanded great respect. However, noticeably absent from the paintings are the lightly pockmarked skin, which remained with him through adulthood as a result of smallpox contracted in his teens, the sunken cheeks that resulted from the eventual loss of all of his teeth due to decay, which was...

  6. 2 Benjamin Franklin: A Founding Father of American Medicine
    (pp. 79-118)

    Benjamin Franklin has become an iconic figure in American history as a highly versatile and visible revolutionary leader and statesman, skillful diplomat, sage writer, successful businessman, and innovative scientist, but few today realize that this multidimensional Renaissance man was also a pivotal player in the development of medicine in early America. An avid student of the Enlightenment, Franklin focused his prodigious intellect on the use of reason to advance progress for the benefit of civilization. Scientific curiosity that emphasized observation and experimentation, coupled with pragmatic benevolence, drove Franklin’s work on disease prevention, health care, and the broader subject of medicine,...

  7. 3 Abigail and John Adams: Partners in Sickness and Health
    (pp. 119-168)

    Abigail Smith Adams, born on November 11, 1744, in Weymouth, Massachusetts, was no stranger to illness, so it is not surprising that the subject of health and disease occupied such a prominent place in her life. Recurrent childhood illnesses, especially rheumatic fever, which would also later haunt her as an adult, kept Abigail from attending school in her home town. As a determined but delicate young woman, she also suffered periodically from insomnia and headaches, which also troubled her in later years. Weymouth was then a small town with a population of about twelve hundred, located about fourteen miles from...

  8. 4 Thomas Jefferson: Advocate for Healthy Living
    (pp. 169-198)

    In 1766, 23-year-old Thomas Jefferson traveled from Virginia by horse-drawn carriage nearly three hundred miles to Philadelphia to be inoculated for smallpox. Jefferson was at the time a tall, fit, lanky young man in fine health, but he undertook the then-controversial treatment to prevent contracting an acute future case of the devastating disease. Inoculation was illegal in Virginia at the time, as many feared the procedure would spread infection. Jefferson was encouraged to undergo variolation, as the procedure was popularly termed, by his old friend and former classmate at the College of William and Mary, Dr. George Gilmer. Gilmer introduced...

  9. 5 Thomas Jefferson: The Health of the Nation
    (pp. 199-230)

    As president, Thomas Jefferson used his considerable influence to advance American medicine, most notably in his unwavering support of the Jenner method of smallpox vaccination and his insistence that the Lewis and Clark expedition gather information about Indian diseases and treatments as part of its mission. His republican philosophy had long influenced his underlying belief that the health of individuals and the overall health of the nation were interconnected and that a democratic republic was the form of government best suited to physical and mental well-being. Jefferson’s most celebrated accomplishment during his first term was the Louisiana Purchase, which doubled...

  10. Epilogue: Evolutionary Medicine
    (pp. 231-240)

    Not only were America’s founders political actors on the stage of the eighteenth-century world, but on multiple levels they contributed to advancements in American medicine, illustrating the complex links between politics and health. This was perhaps most visible in the manner in which intellectual leaders like Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison used their positions to influence public health and disseminate knowledge about better health practices to their families, communities, and citizens in the nation at large. Their numerous personal encounters with illness and loss made them acutely sensitive to issues surrounding medical practices and disease. Certainly they all believed...

  11. NOTES
    (pp. 241-276)
    (pp. 277-288)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 289-305)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 306-306)