During the eighteenth and much of the nineteenth centuries, most Americans healed themselves, as their ancestors had for centuries. Professional medical assistance was either too far away, too expensive, or both. Even wealthy urban families usually attempted some sort of home health care before the doctor was called. This care was usually administered with the aid of books and pamphlets such as those discussed here and displayed in the exhibition.
Today these books are important for what they tell us about how medicine was practiced not in hospitals or laboratories, but in the home, where most practice took place, whether lay or professional. They are also important for the insight they provide into popular ideas about health as well as disease, about diet, exercise, prolonging life, sex, mental health - everything, in short, relating to our bodies and our selves. These concerns are universal, and books about them were ubiquitous then as well as now.