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Student Exhibit: Medicine in Times Past

written by Rachelle Clukey

image of Bowdoin College in 1862

This is an 1862 Bowdoin College. Dr. Wilbur graduated from Bowdoin.

For 42 years Dr. Greenleaf Wilbur was a family doctor helping people all around Skowhegan. All in all he delivered over 1600 babies. Dr. Wilbur even delivered a woman's 16th child!

Dr. Greenleaf Wilbur was born in Sidney, Maine, August 4, 1820 and graduated from Augusta High School. He moved on to Colby College in 1846. Later he went to Bowdoin Medical College, and Jefferson Medical College in 1850. He settled in Skowhegan after he finished his schooling.

In his journal, doctor Wilbur mentions delivering a child, and shortly after, the mother had a "hardy laugh" with her new baby girl, leaned up on her elbow and died on the spot. She suffered from a pulmonary embolism which is a blood clot that went to her heart.

image of U.S. Hospital at Georgetown

This is the surgical floor of a hospital in Georgetown, D.C., also known as the Union Hotel.

I learned from an interview with Dr. Dubois that before there were official medical colleges, there were people called apprentices who worked under older people who knew more about treating patients. It was quite dangerous in the early years of medicine to be a doctor because the only technology they really had was the stethoscope. The contents of Dr.Greenleaf Wilbur's medical box, on display at the history house in Skowhegan, were identified by Dr. Dubois.

They had no anesthesia or pain relievers so they would either get their patients drunk or pour alcohol on the cut or wound to sterilize it. If you've ever heard the expression "Bite the Bullet" that's exactly what they did. Back then they would tell their patients to literally bite on a bullet to ease the pain!

image of Maine General Hospital surgical amphitheatre

The Maine General hospital has an ampitheater where you can see an operation while it is being performed.

During my interview with Dr. Dubois, I also learned about the past and present medicine practices, medical equipment, and colleges.

"What are some things that have changed from then and now in medical appliances?" I asked.

"The ones now are more fancier, and they're sterile." Dr. Dubois stated that "in being a doctor the most important and most helpful tool is your brain".

I wanted to learn more about midwives in the past because they were the ones delivering most of the babies. Martha Ballad was born in small town Oxford, Massachusetts in 1735. The remarkable story of her really begins in Hallowell, Maine.

image of Dr. Wilbur's Medical Box

This is Dr.Wilbur's Medical Box with instruments that he used on his patients. He practiced medicine in Skowhegan for 40 years!

Her diary is the only thing we have to tell her story. She started keeping her diary at the age of fifty. She married in 1754 at the age of thirty eight. She had nine children but unfortunately three of their children passed away in 1769.

Martha Ballad was a midwife who practiced medicine and delivered babies. Martha delivered 816 children between the years of 1785 and 1812. Martha was a respected member of the community, and was highly depended upon by the inhabitants of Hallowell, Maine from 1785 until her death in 1812. Martha lived during the American Revolution when many big changes were happening. When reading her diary you can get a good picture of the ordinary people that lived in her town. Her words and thoughts make you feel like you were right there during that interesting time.

Martha also had to deal with sickness like scarlet fever which gave the patients sore throat and rash and sometimes death. In her days she called it "canker rash". No antibiotics were around and people didn't even know about germs spreading the disease.

Without this journal, we would not know what it was really like for Martha as she went about everyday delivering babies and helping the sick and weak people of Hallowell.

image of home of Dr. Greenleaf Wilbur

This is Dr. Wilbur's home in Skowhegan, ME.

image of Colby College Campus

Colby College Campus as it looked when Dr. Greenleaf Wilbur graduated in 1850. Dr. Wilbur went on to receive medical degrees from two medical schools.

 

Rachelle Clukey is a seventh grader at Skowhegan Area Middle School.


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