Medicine in the Victorian Age

The beginning of the Victorian age was characterized by steady population growth with a new look on medicine and a fresh approach to science.

During the Victorian age, physicians used the new science of optics in the form of microscopes to confirm the existence of bacteria, the main cause of many deadly illnesses.

Numerous educated people began to believe the presence of bacteria and germs and started taking preventive measures. Various paradigms, ideas, concepts, theories and philosophies were systematically tested for the first time by the large number of inquisitive and qualified physicians educated in the new schools of this time period.

The Victorian medicine enhanced the not only the level of comfort and quality of life during this period, but also blazed a new path for the upcoming generations.

During this era, the surgeons and doctors frequently received high rank and prestige in any society.

Elizabeth Blackwell, the first college educated female physician in Western history graduated in this time, and Florence Nightingale revolutionized the field of nursing.

Even with all this new medical knowledge being discovered at high speed, most of the people in the Victorian age still relied on home remedies, herbal treatments and homemade prescriptions.

Health suggestions were given either by a household manual or by word of mouth. Matrons, heads of households and frequently servants had adequate medical knowledge and remedies for minor ailments.

Even in affluent neighborhoods where the residents could afford doctors at will at least one member of any household would be well versed in herbal medicine.

People would frequently lance boils, sooth coughs and make poultices for wounds at home.

This home-grown confidence and knowledge served both as an alternative to and ongoing support for professional aid.

Common treatments given to people during the Victorian age included bleeding, purging, plastering, sweating, amputation and blistering.

These techniques are not often found in use today, but at the time helped many people alleviate symptoms of a variety of painful disorders.

Plastering was a treatment that used a paste made from a range of ingredients including mud or plaster and then applying such substances in the affected area of the patient to relieve internal pain or cold.

Bleeding was done in an attempt to relieve high blood pressure, sweating was thought to expel poisons from the body, and amputation was possible for the first time as a viable alternative to gangrene.

Poultices were also used for bites, boils and wounds. Poultice ingredients could be as commonplaces as milk and bread to exotic herbs and cow manure.

Purging involved providing a patient with heavy dose of emetics or laxatives to expel “poisons” from an individual’s body.

Surgery in the Victorian age became more sophisticated and safer through the usage of antiseptic medicines and the beginnings of aseptic technique.

However, during this time while these developments were welcomed, many remained dependent on household manuals for everyday medical treatment.

These historical home remedies occasionally even offer symptom relief from various chronic ailments even today.