Keeping Victorian Preemies Warm: French Couveuse

Dr. Stéphane Étienne Tarnier, Courtesy of Wikipedia
Dr. Stéphane Étienne Tarnier. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Up to the late 1800s, it was difficult to keep a premature baby warm. This inspired the creation of infant incubators and although French Doctor Stéphane Étienne Tarnier did not invent the first infant incubator, he did invent what he called a “couveuse” or “brooder.” His baby warming device was inspired by devices used to incubate poultry. At the time, Dr. Tarnier was a well-respected obstetrician, and, today, he is often considered the doyen of French obstetrics of the late nineteenth century because of his many groundbreaking ideas related to this field. 

Prior to Dr. Tarnier’s invention of the couveuse or brooder, babies were kept warm by swaddling and were swaddled in the following manner:

Take a square baby-blanket and place it diagonally on the table or bed. Turn down one corner … four inches … to come up over the baby’s head. Spread over this blanket a lap of raw cotton. Have the baby’s napkin and binder on, and a flannel undervest. Make a cap out of the cotton, fitting it over the baby’s head and bringing it down … under the chin. Then roll the baby up in the cotton lap. Bring the blanket around this firmly, so as to hold it; the portion of the blanket on the baby’s right being brought over and tucked in on the left side, the portion on the left being correspondingly folded over toward the right. The corner of the blanket left at the feet is then folded up over the front, and the whole held in place by … a strip of muslin bandage or ribbon. The bandage is first applied beneath the chin, crossed under the back, again crossed in front, the end being brought forward [and fastened in a bow] … at the feet.[1]

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Battlefield Medicine and Triage Innovator Dominique Jean Larrey

battlefield medicine and triage innovator Dominique Jean Larrey
Portrait of Dominique Jean Larrey by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson, in 1804. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Battlefield medicine and triage innovator Dominique Jean Larrey was at one time forgotten as much as Napoleon was immortalized. Yet, Larrey’s contributions to military medicine and his care and compassion towards wounded soldiers on both sides while he served in Napoleon’s Grande Armée, enabled hundreds of soldiers to survive. It also resulted in him earning the envious title as “the first modern military surgeon.”

Larrey was born on 8 July 1766 in a small village named Beaudéan, in the Pyrenees. He was the son of a shoemaker, orphaned at 13, and raised by his Uncle Alexis Larrey, who was the chief surgeon in Toulouse. His uncle’s occupation set the stage for Larrey’s future as Larrey served a 6-year apprenticeship before going to Paris to study under the chief surgeon at the Hôtel-Dieu de Paris named Pierre-Joseph Desault. Continue reading

Mineral Springs and Watering-Places of Georgian Times

Mineral Springs and Watering-Places of Georgian Times
Unidentified Mineral Springs from the 1600s. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

From early times, mineral waters were used to remove or alleviate disease. Waters at watering-places were often ascribed to the occult and sometimes said to be miraculous in their abilities to cure disease, both chronic and acute. Some people had such belief in the mysterious agency of mineral waters they entertained exaggerated notions of their capabilities and power and used mineral waters whenever they were ill. However, other patients found that mineral waters did not alter or alleviate their sufferings, and these people tended to claim that such waters cured people because of a “mere change of air, scene, and mode of life.” Continue reading

French Midwife and Doctor Named Marie Boivin

French Midwife and Doctor Named Marie Boivin
Madame Boivin. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

Born Marie-Anne Victoire Gillain on 9 April 1773 at Versailles, Marie was educated by nursing nuns at a nunnery located about 29 miles from the center of Paris in a commune called Étampes. There she displayed medical skill, and, in fact, her skills were strong enough she attracted the attention of Louis XVI’s sister, Madame Élisabeth. Unfortunately, when the French Revolution broke out, the nunnery was destroyed.

After the nunnery was destroyed, Marie began studying anatomy and midwifery, but then, in 1797, Marie married Louis Boivin, stopped her medical studies, and had a daughter. Unfortunately, Madame Boivin’s husband died, and to support herself, she returned to her medical studies at the Parisian teaching hospital, Hôtel-Dieu, in the Hospice de la Maternité in 1796. Hôtel-Dieu was the largest public hospital in Paris at the time and considered one of the most well-respected obstetric hospitals, renowned for its school of midwifery. Continue reading

Cholera in France in the 19th Century

Cholera in France in the 19thcentury
Duke of Orleans Visiting the Sick at the Hôtel Dieu Hospital During the Cholera Outbreak, Public Domain

The first cholera pandemic began in 1816 in India and eventually reached China before receding in 1826. In 1829, a second cholera pandemic occurred in Russia. This time it marched slowly towards Poland before hitting hard in London where it became known as “King Cholera.” Parisians thought they might avoid the cholera pandemic altogether, but, unfortunately, it took its first victim when it reached Paris on 26 March 1832.

Three days later, on 29 March, a mid-Lent masked ball was held at the Opera House in Paris. Some of the attendees at the ball decided to make light of the disease and appeared dressed as cholera. Later that same evening, around midnight, “suddenly … one dancer after the other fell to the ground with shrieks,” and, shortly thereafter, 50 victims were carried to Paris’s Hôtel Dieu Hospital, where a few hours later, many of those victims “were buried in their masquerade clothes.” Continue reading

Pioneering French Midwife: Angélique du Coudray

Pioneering French Midwive: Angélique du Coudray
Coudray Shrouded in Lace, a Furred Pelisse on Her Shoulders, and a Bouquet at Her Breast. Public Domain

The pioneering French midwife, Angélique du Coudray, gained fame in the 1700s. She was born in 1712, the same year as the King of Prussia (Frederick II, known as Frederick the Great) and the Enlightenment writer Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Little is known about Coudray’s early years. However, at twenty-five she graduated from the College of Surgery École de Chirurgie in Paris and completed her three-year apprenticeship that allowed her to become an accredited midwife.

Soon after Coudray’s graduation, schools began to bar women from gaining instruction in midwifery. Surgeons also began to expanded into the birthing field and this further reduced the medical community’s willingness to train female midwives. Women were upset and began to petition that they be allowed to receive proper instruction to become midwives.

Coudray was among those who supported female midwives. She argued that if proper training was not given to female midwives, midwives would continue to practice untrained and might cause harm to their patients. Moreover, she declared that without training, there would be shortage of midwives. Continue reading

Smallpox Inoculation in 18th Century France

Smallpox Inoculation
Smallpox Virus, Courtesy of Wikipedia

In France in the 1700s, there was great opposition to a person getting a smallpox inoculation. Part of the problem was doctors could not ensure the inoculations worked because of too many variables. For instance, to create an inoculation, doctors collected pus or scabs from someone infected with smallpox and then introduced this infected matter into a person by scratching the surface of the skin (usually on the person’s arm). If the person was lucky, the inoculation worked, and, if unlucky, the person developed a full-fledged case of smallpox. Continue reading

Masturbation Among Victorian Youth in Boarding Schools

Masturbation Among Victorian Youth in Boarding Schools: The Secret Companion
“The Secret Companion” by R J Brodie, 1845, Courtesy of Wellcome Images.

The term masturbation was first introduced in the 18th century. At the time, however, the terms onanism or self-pollution were more frequently used. Victorians later used those same terms to refer to masturbation. Additionally, in the 19th century, masturbation was more politely referred to as self-abuse or sometimes manualization, as it was done by hand. 

One article published in 1870 noted that the practice of masturbation among Victorian youth in boarding schools was “much more frequent than … generally imagined.” According to the article there was nothing more “detestable or ruinous.” Masturbation was also called a “baneful habit,” and it was noted that such a pernicious habit could easily spread from one student to another until the whole boarding school was affected. Moreover, the effects of it could supposedly result in the following:

“Health, intellect, morals — all purity, dignity, and self-respect — sink beneath it in promiscuous and hopeless ruin. When carried to excess it produces idiotism in the most deplorable and disgusting form, accompanied by impaired vision and hearing, paralysis, and other distressing infirmities, and terminates in death.”

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Regency Poisons

regency poisonsPoisons were an important topic in the 1900s. Because of the interest in poisons a lengthy article was published in 1828 that provide all sorts of information about Regency poisons, including class III poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons.” All of these poisons could be ingested or applied to the body and were reported to cause “drowsiness, stupor, paralysis or apoplexy, convulsions, and death when the dose [was] sufficiently large.”

Among this list of Regency poisons designated as “Sedative, or Narcotic Poisons” were nine items from the vegetable kingdom — camphor, hemlock, henbane, laurel water, opium, prussic acid, stramonium, strong scented lettuce, and tobacco — and one mineral sedative and narcotic poison known as carbonic acid gas. To understand these poisons and counter their deadly consequences, a list was provided. Here it is almost verbatim: Continue reading

Pierre Fauchard, Dentistry, and Urine in the 18th Century

Pierre Fauchard and Title Page to His Book, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France
Pierre Fauchard and His Title Page to His Book, Courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France

French physician Pierre Fauchard is widely credited as being the “father of modern dentistry.” He joined the navy in the late seventeenth century and quickly became interested in dental ailments due to scurvy affecting most sailors on ships. After leaving the navy, he began to practice at the University of Angers Hospital where he pioneered scientific oral and maxillofacial surgery, so that by the first decade of the 1700s Fauchard was considered one of the most skilled surgeons among his peers. Continue reading