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‘Every Man His Own Doctor’: Probing Public Health and Medical Quackery in U.S. Historical Newspapers and Government Publications

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On February 3, 1920, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported on a surgeon who was “grafting the intestinal glands of a goat into human beings to cure those treated of sterility.” The report continues:

Within the past two years, by means of such operations, Dr. Brinkley has made it possible for three men and one woman to become parents. In all four cases the glands of a male goat were used. In each instance a baby boy was born.

In his most recent case Dr. Brinkley used the gland of a female goat.

“I do not say this woman will have a girl baby,” said Dr. Brinkley today, “but I am experimenting. It may be merely a coincidence that all the babies so far have been boys.”[1]

 

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The notorious career of medical mountebank John Brinkley—including years of goat-gland experiments—can be traced through hundreds of articles in Early American Newspapers. Three days after the Fort Worth Star-Telegram story appeared, Brinkley, who had no formal medical education, expanded his claims, as seen in The San Diego Union and Daily Bee:

‘Every Man His Own Doctor’: Probing Public Health and Medical Quackery in U.S. Historical Newspapers and Government Publications

“Thy Chains Are Broken, Africa, Be Free!”: Highlights from Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920

The April release of Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920: Imprints from the Library Company of Philadelphia includes a collection of observations on tropical medicine, an anthology of poems by James Montgomery, and an assemblage of laws pertaining to the British West Indies. 


Medical and Miscellaneous Observations, Relative to the West India Islands (1817) 

By John Williamson, M.D.  

Dr. John Williamson was a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh, and had served as a surgeon for the Caithness Highlanders, a regiment of the Highland Fencible Corps.

In 1798 Williamson traveled to Jamaica where he remained for over a decade. Williamson writes about encountering specific ailments: “The yaws have been long a loathsome and disgusting disease, as well as an immense source of loss to proprietors.” And describes the need for reforming the administration of the island’s health services: “The hospital management of negroes being defective, improvements are suggested, to place these establishments on a foundation consistent with the comfort and welfare of mutual interests.” 

“Thy Chains Are Broken, Africa, Be Free!”: Highlights from Caribbean History and Culture, 1535-1920

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