Current and Coming features detailed information about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania. Originated as “Currents.” Retitled “Current and Coming,” Winter 2003, and then retitled “Out and About,” Fall 2005. Revived as “Current and Coming,” Winter 2013. Ran regularly, Spring 1984 to Spring 2008, and then occasionally, Winter 2013 to Spring 2015.

Doctor! Doctor!

During the eighteenth century, and throughout much of the nineteenth cen­tury, most Americans attempted to heal themselves, as their ancestors had for centuries. Professional medical assis­tance was either too far away, too expensive, or both, and even affluent and urban families usually engaged in some sort of home health care before the doctor was summoned. Such care was usually administered with the aid of self-help literature.

Books and pamphlets aimed at helping men and women manage their bod­ies in both good and poor health have long been a marketable commodity. From the late colonial through the ante-bellum years there was a golden age for these guides, a period when formally trained physicians could not begin to treat all the ills and anxieties Amer­icans experienced. In these decades it was assumed­ – as it had been since antiq­uity – that the bulk of medical practice would remain in uncredentialed hands. It was also assumed that those hands would often be guided by advice from the printed page.

The American history of self-improvement works begins with colo­nization itself. Throughout the first century of American independence, the writing and compil­ing, publishing, and use of books in domestic practice increased steadily, reflect­ing technical, economic, and cultural change. Cheaper paper, transportation, printing, and binding led to larger and more accessible books, while sub­scription sales and national distribution opened a new kind of mass market in printed consumables. Books were also more likely to be illustrated by the mid­-nineteenth century; physicians and drug manufacturers used illustrated books, broadsides, advertising, and advertising premiums to promote their services and goods.

Self-help literature arrived at a novel stage in the Civil War era with the avail­ability of cheaper paper, printing, and binding, and with the related develop­ment of increasingly national markets. One of the characteristic aspects of pop­ular medicine during this period was the original dominance of British ideas and texts, a dominance displaced in the first third of the nineteenth century by the growing prominence and diversity of American authors and the elaboration of reader­-specific genres. Works cre­ated for particular seg­ments of a literate yet eco­nomically and socially diverse market included inexpensive pamphlets sim­ply listing remedies and “cures”; longer, more dis­cursive guides, regimens, and therapeutics; almanacs and other advertising pieces designed to sell products; manuals targeted to women and focused on midwifery and childrear­ing; and books aimed at understanding and manag­ing the emotions, including an interesting subgenre of books addressed in the 1840s, 1850s, and 1860s to the sexual needs and anxi­eties of a growing middle class. The creators were as varied as their literary products, and although most were written by male physicians, some were compiled by lay women, and others were issued by sectarian opponents of reg­ular medicine.

An exhibition tracing the beginnings of self-help health care literature in America, from the colonial period to 1865, “‘Every Man His Own Doctor’: Popular Medicine in Early America,” is currently on view at the Library Company of Philadelphia. The exhibit’s title is also the title. of the earli­est American family home medical advi­sor, published in the 1730s, the ancestor of familiar books such as Dr. Benjamin Spock’s enormously popular The Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care (1946) and Our Bodies, Our Selves: A Book by and for Women (1973) by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective.

“‘Every Man His Own Doctor'” illustrates how during the nineteenth century more and more families chose one of the many new systems of med­ical treatment, such as hydrotherapy, homeopathy, or – most popular of all­ – botanic medicine, which had its roots in traditional herbal and folk medicine. The exhibition demonstrates how books promoted these systems to the public and also how print was used to adver­tise a wide variety of medical services and patent medicines. The Library Company of Philadelphia holds one of the largest institutional collections of these books, but this exhibit draws on several prestigious private collections as well.

The exhibition features materials on midwifery, women’s health, nursing, birth control, sex, lifestyle, mental hygiene, and phrenology. Each of the eight categories is highlighted by a case full of basic books, supplemented by posters and broadsides promoting a variety of proprietary medicines and services. The exhibition also addresses the history of medical advertising.

Accompanying “‘Every Man His Own Doctor'” are informal talks by exhibition curators which are open to the public. On Saturday, October 3 [1998], a symposium entitled “Medicine in the Home: Popular Medicine in the Anglo­-American World” will be co-sponsored by the Library Company and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia (see “The College of Physicians of Philadelphia: ‘Not for Oneself, But for All,'” by Thomas A. Horrocks in the Winter 1987 edition).

“‘Every Man His Own Doctor’: Popular Medicine in Early America” will continue through Wednesday, November 25, 1998. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated cata­logue. Admission is free.

Additional information may be obtained by writing: Library Company of Philadelphia, 1314 Locust St., Philadelphia, PA 19107-5698; or by tele­phoning (215) 546-3181.

 

Northern Exposures

Peter’s Mountain, Halifax, Lykens, Wiconisco, Berrysburg, Mahantongo Mountain, Weiser State Forest, Fisherville. These are the place names and sites of northern Dauphin County, just an hour’s drive from the capital city of Harrisburg. The county’s northern reaches, known throughout the locale simply as Upper Dauphin, is an area rich in diversity and no single description conveys its heritage. The region is noted for its fecund farmland, its verdant val­leys, and its commercial coal mining operations.

Situated at the base of the Blue Mountains of the Appalachian Range, Upper Dauphin proved attractive to early settlers who found its land fertile and its scenery panoramic. In time, farm­ers grew familiar crops such as potatoes. Anthracite was discovered about 1825, a discovery that forever changed the land­scape and the way of life for many, par­ticularly in the Lykens Valley. Canals, such as the Wiconisco Canal, and later the railroads, including the Lykens Valley Railroad, made important connec­tions and linked villages and towns, spurring the region’s economy. Also playing a significant role were ferries, among them the historic Millersburg Ferry, whose double-wheeled paddle boats still ply the broad Susquehanna River to this day.

Proving that the time-honored adage, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” still holds true, more than one hundred and twenty rare and vintage images of northern Dauphin County are showcased in an exhibit mounted by the Historical Society of Dauphin County in Harrisburg. “Northern Exposures: Images of Upper Dauphin County” fea­tures historic photographs, post cards, and advertising images dating to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The exhibition dramatically depicts the era when coal was king, the horse and buggy were still the most prevalent way of traveling, and trolleys were just begin­ning to arrive on the scene. “Northern Exposures” includes photographs of coal breakers, steam locomotives, floods, local landmarks, parades, street scenes, and canal, mine, and textile workers.

Pieces in the exhibition were selected from the Raymond E. Holland Regional and Industrial History Collection, Allentown. The collection contains thou­sands of photographs and ephemera from throughout Pennsylvania, with an emphasis on its eastern counties. Among the holdings of the Holland Collection are large mounted photographs, stere­oviews, panoramas, cartes de visite, cabi­net cards, postcards, family albums and portraits, and industrial photographic records.

“Northern Exposures: Images of Upper Dauphin County” will remain on view at the historical society’s headquar­ters, the John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, through Saturday, September 5 [1998]. There is an admission charge.

For additional information, write: Historical Society of Dauphin County, John Harris-Simon Cameron Mansion, 219 South Front St., Harrisburg, PA 17104; or telephone (717) 233-3462.

 

Fighting Fire

When fire broke out in Philadelphia in the nineteenth century, it was volunteers, not professional firefighters, who quelled the blaze. From 1800 until 1871, the year when a paid, professional department replaced volunteers, Philadelphia’s fire companies learned to express widely held ideals of civic responsibility and mascu­line virtue through the fighting of fires.

An exhibit encompassing the excite­ment, controversy, and color of Philadelphia’s early volunteer firemen recently opened at the Mercer Museum in Doylestown, Bucks County. “To Save Our Fellow Citizens: Firefighting in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia” explores the world of these citizen-fire­men as they battled not only flames, but sometimes each other, in the city’s con­flict-ridden neighborhoods and wards of the 1840s and 1850s. Showcasing numer­ous artifacts, objects, and works of art, “To Save Our Fellow Citizens” tells the story of how firemens’ ideals were challenged, compromised, and transformed during their years of service. The exhibit relates the stories of individuals – fire­fighters, insurers, industrialists, politi­cians, even thugs – as they battled over the future of fire protection and the very meaning of citizenship.

For years, Americans have been entranced by the romance, the lore, and the legend of fire-fighting, from the tales of early bucket brigades to eyewitness accounts of city-wide conflagrations. Since the organization of the country’s first volunteer fire company, the Union, in Philadelphia in 1736, the saga of fire fighters has grown epic. The city’s earliest fire companies included the Fellowship (1738), the Hibernia (1752), the Northern Liberties (1756), the King George the Third (1761), the Harmony (1784), the Good Will (1802), and the Neptune Hose Company (1805). It was not long until artists began depicting the work of fire­fighters racing to a Eire, battling the blaze, saving a child, and returning home. By the third-quarter of the nineteenth centu­ry, such scenes were being mass-pro­duced by lithographers, the most familiar of which, Currier and Ives, issued an entire series entitled The Life of a Fireman. A lithograph created by P.S. Duval of Philadelphia depicts members of the Hibernia Fire Engine Company, Number 1, assembling for a parade in 1857.

“To Save Our Fellow Citizens: Firefighting in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia” features a selection of pho­tographs, mementos, and commemora­tive items collected by the old Volunteer Firemens’ Association of Philadelphia which, in 1919, donated much of its hold­ings to the Mercer Museum. The main section of the exhibition examines the long and fascinating history of volunteers’ service. The museum’s recently conserved 1851 Neptune Hose Company carriage with its painted decoration and silver and brass ornamentation is on dis­play, as are parade banners, paintings, and unusual examples of nineteenth-cen­tury firemens’ works of art.

Accompanying the exhibit is a video focusing on the technology of early firefighting, and on the transition from hand­-pumped engines to steam-operated fire apparatus. The pivotal event explored in the film is the Great Engine Contest of 1855, when two of Philadelphia’s hand­-engines triumphed over a steam pumper brought from Cincinnati, Ohio. Despite the victory, several of Philadelphia’s fire companies decided to commission the construction of their own steam engines beginning in the late 1850s.

“To Save Our Fellow Citizens: Firefighting in Nineteenth-Century Philadelphia,” supported in part by a grant from the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, will continue through Spring 1999. Special programs and activities will be held throughout the exhibition’s run.

For additional information about the exhibit and related special events, write: Mercer Museum, 84 South Pine St., Doylestown, PA 18901; or telephone (215) 345-0210.

The Mercer Museum is administered by the Bucks County Historical Society. Admission is charged.