Friday, August 2, 2013

"Marrow of Tragedy"

Margaret Humphreys is a physician and historian of medicine at Duke University in Durham, NC. Her previous work has focused on the history of disease (malaria, yellow fever) and the health of black troops in the American Civil War. Her latest project explores the history of smallpox from its origins to the modern day.

Humphreys applied the Page 69 Test to her new book, Marrow of Tragedy: The Health Crisis of the American Civil War, and reported the following:
I have been researching the history of medicine in the Civil War for nigh on 15 years, but it was only in the final year or two of that process that I discovered something new to say about this topic which has been described by other writers. During the Civil War the sick, injured and wounded were out of place. Most had never been in a hospital, and instead home receiving care from their womenfolk. It was women who knew how to feed, tend, bathe, and otherwise care for the sick. Yet during the war men were in charge of hospitals with thousands of beds—and patients suffered when the female knowledge of patient care failed to be imported to those bedsides. Page 69 describes the origin of the United States Sanitary Commission, a Red Cross-like organization that brought the feminine influence to the ill or wounded soldier’s bedside.

From page 69:
Multiple aspects of the USSC were women’s work, and in many ways the organization embodied the female influence on the war effort. Inspired by Florence Nightingale, the USSC was a beacon for order, nurturance, and cleanliness. Cleanliness was traditionally the particular province of the mother inside the home; women expected tidiness, and men and boys were the sources of mud and disorder. The insistence on cleanliness was a feminine characteristic of the USSC, and even when the male USSC physicians inspected camps, it was with the fussiness of a mother scolding the menfolk for their disregard for hygiene. The USSC extended the female tradition of benevolence and charity, a local phenomenon before the war, into a national organization. Thousands of women’s aid societies in the North sewed quilts, made bandages and pads, boxed foods, and otherwise created what was needed…
While I don’t disregard the importance of amputations and skillful surgery (men’s work) , my emphasis is on those basic aspects of recovery—food, rest, cleanliness—that made such a huge difference in Civil War hospital effectiveness.
Learn more about Marrow of Tragedy at the Johns Hopkins University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue