Our current exhibit explores the many methods of treating injury and disease used during the 19th century, and the changes in medicine brought about by advances in science and technology. The title refers to treatments used under the "heroic medicine" philosophy: that the body needed to be rid of bad blood, ill humors, and imbalance of bodily fluids. Local doctors prior to 1850 would likely have used some "heroic" methods such as bleeding or purging to treat a patient no matter the symptoms.
The exhibit also displays a wide range of herbal preparations including many of the patent medicines that were widely used and available until the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 required makers of these nostrums to tone down their cure-all claims. All early patent medicines, in addition to various herbs, contained a high percentage of alcohol, and many contained narcotic ingredients before they were classified as controlled substances.
The Civil War and its need for surgical expertise brought about medical advances that would not have been possible without the necessity caused by thousands of casualties. The Northern blockades were so effective, the South was forced to rely on many herbal preparations for anesthetics and pain relief. The exhibit has numerous Civil War amputation sets and instruments, including the saws and scalpels necessary for removal of limbs. There are also period dental instruments and various medication vials filled with colorful herbs and chemicals. Although little has been publicized about it, Harrisonburg was the location of an important Confederate General Hospital that had a 250-patient capacity in addition to 15 field hospital tents.
Church of the Brethren minister John Kline was a Thomsonian or herb doctor, as were others in the county. They believed that the body needed to be sweated and purged to rid itself of disease. In addition to material about Thomsonian medicine, there are displays of pharmacy equipment and local physicians equipment including items from Dr. William Jennings and Dr. A. W. Graves of Lacey Spring, Dr. J. T. Clark of Mt. Solon, and Dr. S. W. Brewer of Singers Glen.