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  • June 15, 2020 12:42 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Sarah Halter

    If you don't love history, it's because you haven't been properly introduced to it. Sometimes the stories that on the surface sound the most boring and the most relevant, turn out to be exactly the opposite.

    Case in point: the establishment of the Indiana State Board of Health

    Dr. Thaddeus Merrill Stevens was the fabulously awkward first Secretary of the Indiana State Board of Health. He's not a very well-known figure in Indiana's history, which is really a shame. You may be thinking, "Thaddeus Stevens, eh? I've heard that name...” Well, you probably have if you’re a big history nerd like me, but it's not the same guy. I'm talking about the Other Thaddeus Stevens…our Thaddeus Stevens. The Thaddeus Stevens you may remember was a US Representative from Pennsylvania and a leader of the Radical Republican faction of the Republican party in the 1860s. He was difficult to get along with for many, but he was also pretty interesting and progressive for his time-- an advocate for free public education, an opponent of slavery and of discrimination against African Americans, and later an advocate for African American rights during the Reconstruction period.

    OUR Thaddeus Stevens was that guy's nephew.

    Before the Indiana State Board of Health was established, there were a handful of local health departments in the Indiana. But there were no state-led efforts to promote or track the health of Hoosiers. We did have a state-wide medical society, and in 1855 that society formally proposed that a committee of members from all over the state should be established and meet regularly to collect vital statistics, address issues of epidemics, and make recommendations, etc. The State Legislature at the time had little interest in creating such a committee, so the idea was tabled. But in the 1870s, a new push was made to form a State Board of Health. Our Thaddeus Stevens, Thaddeus M. Stevens, MD, professor of toxicology, medical jurisprudence, and chemistry at Indiana Medical College, was very actively involved in these efforts. He delivered addresses stressing the importance of collecting and analyzing data, informing local boards of health and the public about health issues, and addressing the factors that lead to epidemics so they could be stopped before they began.

    After years of pleas and prodding by the medical field and years of indifference from the State government, what is now called the Indiana State Medical Association, grew impatient and took it upon themselves to create such a board on its own with Thaddeus Stevens as its chair. This committee didn't have much real power to execute health ordinances or force counties to collect, report, and track information. But they did force the State to take notice and recognize the value of such action.

    In 1881, a former Civil War surgeon-turned family doctor-turned State Senator from Marion County, the delightfully named Flavius Josephus Van Vorhis, proposed Senate Bill 93, which established the Indiana State Board of Health, now the Indiana State Health Department. SB93 passed the Senate in March, 39 to 3, and on the last day of session, it passed the House 56 to 20 and was signed by Governor Albert Porter. This new act of legislation provided a system of registration and reporting of vital statistics and sanitary statistics for most counties, townships, and cities, and it imposed penalties on violations. This Board consisted of five members, four of whom would be appointed by the Governor and did not have to be physicians. The fifth member, to be elected by the other members of the Board, was required to be a doctor. This was the Secretary of the Board, who would be known as the Health Officer of the State. The splendidly coifed Thaddeus Stevens (See for yourself above!), was the Board's first Secretary. He was considered by many to be the Father of Public Health in Indiana. He was considered by others to be a dreamer, rather peculiar, and even "a strange man."

    I think to understand what happened next, a little background information is helpful. There aren't a lot of surviving records of our Thaddeus Stevens’ early life. A later Public Health Officer, Thurman Rice, who was a bit of a controversial figure for reasons that we won't dive into here today, gave an account of Thaddeus Stevens' life and family in a book he published in 1946.* It goes something like this: Thaddeus Stevens' grandfather was a shoemaker in Vermont. He was also a champion wrestler and a "right merry fellow." He may or may not have been killed in the War of 1812, but he definitely disappeared. There were rumors he had just walked away. The family lore, again according to Rice who had been in contact with Stevens' descendants, was that he'd lost interest in shoes...grew tired of his family...and ran off to join a circus as a bear wrestler. His children suffered terribly because of their father's reputation and abandonment. They were bullied in school and grew up to be rather bitter, sensitive, somewhat childish adults. At least one of his sons passed these personality flaws on to his own children. The shoemaker's oldest son was that first Thaddeus Stevens, and another, Joshua Stevens, became the father of our Thaddeus Stevens.

    Thurman Rice's account of Thaddeus Steven's early life paints him as a reserved, abstracted, and overly-sensitive young man who lacked people skills, was incredibly stubborn and relentless, and often seemed detached and in his own world. Based on events from his later life...things we know with more certainty...this seems like a reasonably accurate depiction.

    Joshua Stevens was an early settler in the Indianapolis area, and in 1829 he purchased land near what is now the intersection of Delaware and Washington Streets. He got married, had three children, became a widower, got married again, got divorced, and then died in 1858. Like his father before him, Joshua was...a bit strange. He was strongly-disliked and to some was a physically disturbing presence- enormous and club-footed. He was generally considered to be mentally deranged. When he died, his somewhat meager estate went to Thaddeus, who being "a very impractical man in his personal affairs," promptly squandered it.

    Young Thaddeus grew up, became a doctor, taught in medical school, and had a remarkably successful career...at first. He was married twice, and both wives died leaving him with small children that he was emotionally ill-equipped and possibly too busy to care for. He married a third time, though, and things worked out better. Not only did she outlive him by decades, she was also very supportive of his work and lived with his sons long after his death.

    Stevens graduated from the Indiana Medical College in about 1852. As early as 1856 he was a very active member of the Indiana Medical Society. He served on numerous committees and gave many papers at their meetings. He was an Indiana delegate at several American Medical Association annual meetings. And his papers were on a wide and interesting variety of topics including legal medicine, insanity, crime, toxicology, and public health. He was an active advocate not only for the establishment of the Indiana State Board of Health but also for asylum and prison reform, public hospitals, improved medical education, and so on. He was highly praised and respected, but at the same time was not well-liked personally by many and was pitied by some.

    In 1881, Thaddeus Stevens was elected Secretary of the new Indiana State Board of Health. This was a brand-new board governing a brand-new state agency, and no one really knew what to do or how to begin. Indiana was knee-deep in a smallpox epidemic. And county and town leaders were slow to implement the new reporting rules. In many places, the new rules and procedures were simply ignored. It was chaotic and confusing, and Stevens, as the administrating officer of the board, had a lot of trouble making anything happen. He became frustrated with the situation, but in trying to remedy it, he made things much worse. He was brilliant. He was a good doctor. He understood what was needed. But he lacked the leadership skills needed to bring others on board and to get things done. He lacked the communication skills needed to convey his ideas clearly and coherently. He was better at nagging and agitating than taking action. He'd always preferred theory to practice. So, you won't be surprised to learn that from the very beginning, there were clashes between him and the other Board members.

    Within a year, the Board decided they couldn't bear it any longer. They charged that Stevens was incapable of doing his job and determined to replace him. On March 15, 1883, after a secret meeting held without Stevens' presence or even knowledge, a report was filed removing Thaddeus Stevens as Secretary of the Board due to his "mismanagement and ...incompetency" and replacing him. Effective immediately Stevens was "ordered to deliver forthwith all books, papers and furniture, and all other property of the Board in his possession, to his successor" as soon as he'd been formally notified of his own removal. And the Board, God love 'em, decided that Steven's own replacement should deliver the bad news. The shock of all of this understandably angered Stevens, but his handling of the situation merely increased the tension.

    And this is where the story really gets interesting….stay tuned for Part Two.

    *Thurman B. Rice, MD. “Dr. Thaddeus M. Stevens- Pioneer in Public Health [Chapter XIV].” In The Hoosier Health Officer: A Biography of Dr. John N. Hurty, 57–60, n.d.

  • May 27, 2020 12:30 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Hannah Smith, IMHM Graduate Intern

    Image: Section I of Central State Hospital's Cemetery, 2020

    Around noon on November 21, 1848, Rev. Dr. Dowling asked a crowd of two thousand people in Long Island, New York, “Who would not prefer, rather than the crowded city burial place, to fix upon some spot amidst the solitudes of this Cypress Grove?” The people gathered for the new Cypress Hills cemetery’s dedication ceremony, which concluded with the voices of the American Musical Institute’s choir as benediction. Cypress Hills was one of the nation’s first rural, or garden, cemeteries.        

    In the 19th century, as the amount of space in church graveyards significantly decreased, city planners built rural cemeteries based on the idea of romantic art and sentimentalism. This came to be known as the Rural Cemetery Movement. A decade and a half before the establishment of Cypress Hills, the Massachusetts Horticultural Society laid plans for the opening of Mount Auburn Cemetery, the first garden cemetery in the U.S., just outside of Boston. At a meeting in September of 1832, the Horticultural Society declared that they wanted in a burial ground “whatever there was in nature which could give satisfaction to the mind,” “everything in the arts which could gratify a refined taste” and “lessons of the most exalted philosophy … and of the soundest morals.” Not only did rural cemeteries offer a solution to the need for more burial space, they also allowed for the “opportunity to experiment with landscaping” before the establishment of public parks. Planners like the Massachusetts Horticultural Society could channel Victorian and Romantic ideas into the art of landscaping through the creation of rural cemeteries.

    Communities benefited the most from the creation of rural cemeteries. Cemeteries like Mount Auburn and Cypress Hills, “nestled among the smiling landscapes and beautiful gardens” on the outskirts of cities appealed to visitors’ “sense of beauty.” In the garden cemetery, people could take walks or carriage rides and have picnics – it was a public place for anyone to enjoy the scenery. The cemetery parks not only allowed people a space to enjoy nature, but a more sentimental place to mourn the dead. Before the advent of the rural cemetery, people generally avoided the “old-style graveyards” and thus often “neglected or ignored” the “remains of the deceased.” Turning cemeteries into beautifully landscaped parks allowed people to spend time memorializing their loved ones, creating a relationship between the living and the dead.

    As the Indiana Medical History Museum (IMHM) works to identify the lost dead in Section I of Central State Hospital’s cemetery, we keep this notion in mind. Museum Director Sarah Halter said this about the IMHM’s cemetery project:

    We have always told the story of Central State Hospital and its role in the State, the development of psychiatry, the technology of the Old Pathology Building, and the research done there. But in recent years, we have worked hard to recognize the patients themselves and their experiences at the hospital with programs and exhibits that include their perspectives. Last year, we unveiled a new interpretation of the specimens in our anatomical collection to rehumanize them and give them back their identity and their voice.

    There is another group of long-forgotten patients whose humanity and significance we need to acknowledge – those buried unmarked plots in the oldest section of the hospital’s cemetery.

    We want to properly memorialize the patients buried there by marking each grave, but we also want to create a beautiful green space where the Indianapolis community can feel a sense of beauty and reflect on the lives of the people buried there, as well as those of living people affected by mental illness.


    Images: Central State Hospital patient choir (left); Group of patients on the grounds (right)


    Dearborn, H.A.S. “Horticultural: Massachusetts Horticultural Society.” The New England Farmer, and Horticultural Register (1822-1890) 11, no. 9 (September 1832): 65-69.

    Doerner, Paige. “Romanticism and Ruralism: Changing Nineteenth Century American Perceptions of the Natural World.” The Spectrum: A Scholarly Day Journal 3, no. 2 (January 2015).

    “Dr. Dowling’s Address: At the Dedication of the Cypress Grove Cemetery.” Christian Advocate and Journal (1833-1865) 23, no. 50 (December 1848): 1-200.

    Giguere, Joy M. “Localism and Nationalism in the City of the Dead: The Rural Cemetery Movement in the Antebellum South.” Journal of Southern History 84, no. 4 (November 2018): 845-882.

    “Mount Auburn Cemetery.” Zion’s Herald and Wesleyan Journal (1842-1863) 34, no. 51 (December 1863): 1.

    Quakenbos, George Payn, ed. “City Chronicle: For the week ending November 28th, 1848.” The Literary American 1, A.J. Townsend, publisher (December 1848): 1-496.

    Williams, Tate. “In the Garden Cemetery: The Revival of America’s First Urban Parks.” American Forests (Spring/Summer 2014). Accessed 18 March 2020, americanforests.org/magazine/article/in-the-garden-cemetery-the-revival-of-americas-first-ubran-parks/.

  • May 18, 2020 9:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Hannah Smith, IMHM Graduate Intern

    Currently, across the blooming medicinal plant garden, in the small brick building that used to be the Dead House, are the entire contents of Dr. Marion Scheetz’s home office. Dr. Scheetz graduated from medical school in the early 1930s and went on to become a general practitioner and country doctor out of Lewisville, Indiana. The contents of his office include an x-ray viewer, surgical and medical books, an exam bed, and his desk. Among other things on his desk – like a mid-century stethoscope – there lies a thin book with blue binding titled Physician’s Record of Prescriptions. The book is courtesy of the American Medical Spirits Company and provides instructions and regulations for prescribing patients alcohol for medicinal purposes during Prohibition.

    The era of Prohibition (1920-1933) typically brings about images of speakeasies, bootleggers, and mobsters, but there was another way to get your hands on a pint of whiskey (or rum, vodka, gin, brandy, beer or wine): through your friendly neighborhood physician. When Congress signed the Volstead Act – the law that enforced the 18th Amendment – it allowed any physician “holding a permit to prescribe liquor” after a “careful physical examination” of the patient.[1] Curiously, Congress added this section despite the American Medical Association’s (AMA) dismissal of “therapeutic” or medicinal value of alcohol. The AMA may have discouraged the use of alcohol to treat illness, but doctors across the country prescribed more alcohol than ever before during Prohibition.[2]

    Indeed, because of loopholes in the laws and regulations, physicians found financial gain in the business of prescribing alcohol during Prohibition. Americans paid $3 – the equivalent of almost $50 today – for a prescription, and another $3 or $4 to fill them.[3] For some physicians, who both wrote and administered prescriptions, that was money in their pockets. While the law required doctors all across the country to mark down justifications for prescriptions, some doctors found loopholes for prescribing alcohol such as simply writing “debility.”[4] And according to Physician’s Record of Prescriptions, “emergency prescriptions” could be administered for “the saving of human life, the amelioration of great pain, or where delay would aggravate a serious ailment.”[5] Not only could doctors prescribe alcohol for ambiguous reasons, patients could also gain access to it quickly.

    Ultimately, in 1933, Prohibition came to an end. It was clear to lawmakers and the public that the 18th Amendment was a failure. Organized crime related to bootlegging increased, but also the federal government needed the tax revenue from liquor sales during the Great Depression.[6] The ratification of the 21st Amendment meant no more lucrative prescriptions for physicians (at least for alcohol), but it did not mean Americans ceased self-medication with booze. In fact, one of the most significant and long-lasting unintended consequences of Prohibition was that more Americans were drinking alcohol, and drinking in larger quantities.[7]

    Hannah Smith is a first-year Public History MA student at IUPUI and graduate intern at the Indiana Medical History Museum. She enjoys working with archives and collections, writing, and reading books of all kinds.

    [1] Volstead Act, Sixty-Sixth Congress, Sess. I, CHS. 81, 82, 85 (1919), https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/66th-congress/session-1/c66s1ch85.pdf.

    [2] Jennie Cohen, “Drink Some Whiskey, Call in the Morning: Doctors & Prohibition,” History (original: 17 January 2012; updated: 29 August 2018), https://www.history.com/news/drink-some-whiskey-call-in-the-morning-doctors-prohibition.


    [3] Paula Mejia, “The Lucrative Business of Prescribing Booze During Prohibition: Those looking to self-medicate could score at the doctor’s office,” Atlas Obscura (15 November 2017), https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/doctors-booze-notes-prohibition; CPI Inflation Calculator, Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 22 April 2020, https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl.

    [4] Mejia.

    [5] Physician’s Record of Prescriptions, form 1402, Treasury Department: Bureau of Industrial Alcohol, The American Medical Spirits Company (Louisville, KY: revised May 1931).

    [6] Christopher Klein, “The Night Prohibition Ended: Look back at America’s surprising reaction to the end of Prohibition,” History (original: 5 December 2013; updated: 10 December 2018), https://www.history.com/news/the-night-prohibition-ended.

    [7] Michael Lerner, “Unintended Consequences,” PBS,Prohibition: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/unintended-consequences/.

  • November 14, 2018 9:21 PM | Deleted user

    Books. We have a lot of them. Nearly 6,000 to be precise. Including pamphlets, photos, and movie reels, the museum has an amazing historical library!

    While impressive, unique, and even rare, our books are not accessible. The reason is simple; because the collection is so large and has been collected over so many years, starting back when this was still a Pathology Building, it needs to be organized and fully cataloged.

    But how do you organize 6,000 books, let alone keep track?

    This year, the Indianapolis Public Library has partnered with the museum thanks to a matching grant to organize, digitally cataloge, and preserve our entire collection. The books in our collection will be searchable via the Indy Public Library Shared System, which is used schools and now museums across Indianapolis.

    We want to make our historical library accessible to the public but need help matching our grant. This year for #GivingTuesday, on November 27th, the museum hopes to raise $7,500 within 24 hours. All gifts will go towards making the historical library accessible to all. Please help by reading more about our story here, donating to our cause, or by spreading the news using social media, posting, or email sharing! Remember to use #imhm, #GivingTuesday, and #imhmuseum when talking about us!

    We look forward to the future and our continued growth as not only a museum, but also a center for research!

    Help us spread the word! 

    Facebook     Twitter     Instagram      LinkedIn

  • August 08, 2018 2:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Partnerships are great for a museum of our size and they can result in unexpected opportunities. We have a wonderful partnership right now with the Indiana University School of Medicine. Med students can take an elective here at IMHM to learn about medical history. It expands their understanding of their professional roots and how medicine has changed over time. Each student in this class does a special project and one of those projects has resulted in us being able to display an interesting medical history item for the next few months.

    Scott O’Brien did his project on anesthesia and the devices used over the years to administer it. During the course of his research, he found a connection to a device left in his grandfather’s garage. Before Scott’s grandfather, Francis Eugene O’Brien, became a medical doctor himself, he served in the army in World War II. During that time, he came into possession of something called a Kreiselman Resuscitator.

    The Kreiselman Resuscitator was used to revive patients in an era before mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It used a bellows to force air into the lungs with a special stop mechanism to prevent too much air pressure. It could be used with a patient on their back or side and with or without a supplemental oxygen supply. It was developed in 1943 by Joseph Kreiselman, an anesthesiologist who served as a medical consultant to the US Army Surgeon General. It was designed to be easy to use, easy to carry, and cheap to produce for the US military.

    As an anesthesiologist, Dr. Kreiselman was familiar with respiratory masks and “positive-pressure inhalation” (forcing air into the lungs). These kinds of devices were common in the early twentieth century for administering anesthetic gases.

    Although the Kreiselman device was a step forward in resuscitation practice, it was still flawed. Using it took some training and skill and it was somewhat cumbersome to set up. It never caught on in the same widespread way that the “Ambu bag” would when it was invented in 1957. The Ambu bag design is light, easy to use, and still in use for resuscitation today.

    Dr. Kreiselman’s career, however, extended far beyond the reach of his military resuscitator. Kreiselman’s main interest was in neonatal and obstetric anesthesia. This adult resuscitator was just one of his inventions. He developed many devices for infant resuscitation and anesthesia and was considered a leading professional in his field in the mid-twentieth century.

  • August 08, 2018 2:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Indiana Historical Bureau has approved a historical marker that commemorates an important event in the medical history of Indianapolis— Lincoln Hospital 1909-1915.

    In the early twentieth century, African-American doctors were barred from treating their own patients and performing surgery in Indianapolis’ hospitals. In 1909 with no access to a safe environment for performing surgery and a black population that was understandably dissatisfied with the poor conditions in segregated hospital wards, a group of black physicians established their own hospital in a converted two-story residence on the northeast corner of 11th Street and Senate Avenue. With 19 rooms and a surgery suite, the physicians had the ability to fully practice their profession. The hospital also provided a nursing school for young black women who were excluded from schools because of racial segregation.

    The new marker recalls the challenges of these dedicated physicians and young women from other cities in the state who trained there. It will also include information about two other small hospitals of the era--a private clinic opened by Joseph Ward, MD and Charity Hospital, operated by the Sisters of Charity, a philanthropic black women's club.

    The marker will be installed and dedicated in October. The Aesculapian Medical Society of Indianapolis endorses the project and monetary donations to help pay for the marker are welcome. If you’d like to help, contact Norma Erickson at nerickson@imhm.org.

  • August 08, 2018 2:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Indiana Medical history Museum Blog! Here we'll be sharing pieces of medical history from our collections as well as announcements of some of the things we're working on here at IMHM!

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