Date of Award

Summer 1959

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts




Until the latter part of the nineteenth century,the medical profession suffered from a basic lack of knowledge concerning disease and infection. The Civil War, during which thousands or men died of infection following wounds and operations was a monument to that lack of knowledge. Wounded and injured soldiers were doomed to a ,slow death .from gangrene caused by unclean operating methods and poor hospital sanitation. The number of lives that might have been saved by better techniques will never be known,but a fairly safe assumption would be that at least eighty percent of the wounded who actually came.under's care .would have survived if even a rudimentary knowledge of the modern medi­cal profession's aseptic standards had been possessed.

In addition to the loss of life from poor operative and hospital cleanliness,there was a fairly high death rate due to diseases of both an individual and epidemic nature. Both of these, and particularly the epidemic diseases could have been prevented by even a casual observance or sanitary requirements. The living conditions of the soldiers of both the Northern and Southern.armies have been adequately described by many authors. Suffice it to mention that the men lived in very close proximity,not only to each other but to their latrine and cooking facilities.They drank polluted water and ate diseased and rotten meat and vegetables. The real wonder is that enough soldiers survived their living conditions to give battle to their enemy.

Related to the quack and posing almost as great a problem was the incompetent physician, product of an inferior medical school. This person differed from the quack in that he had no panacea for the cure of mankind's diseases, he was merely inept through lack of knowledge caused by improper or incomplete training.

Although the problem of quack medicine and poorly trained physicians has probably existed trom the very begin­ ning of medicine it did not become acute in the United States of America until the latter part of the nineteenth century. During this period the situation became intolerable to the competent practitioner. The efforts of these men in the South,and particularly in Virginia, to effect some control over the quacks and incompetents is the subject of this paper.

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