Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Guest Blogger Amanda Cabot Explains the Horrors of 19th Century Medicine

Excited to have with us bestselling historical romance author, Amanda Cabot! You may have seen my glowing review for the first book in her series, Secrets of Sweetwater Crossing, After the Shadows. Amanda has learned a thing or two about medicine in the nineteenth century. I'll let her share more.


If you’re one of my longtime readers, you may have wondered why a number of my protagonists are involved in the medical profession. The answer is simple: I’m fascinated – and yes, horrified – by the state of medicine in the 19th century, particularly the practice of heroic medicine.

Heroic medicine. That sounds like a good thing, doesn’t it? After all, the hero of a novel is a good guy, so heroic medicine must be good. The reality is, it was anything but good and was in fact considered to be one of the contributing factors in George Washington’s death. Yes, trusted physicians’ attempts to heal him may have actually hastened the death of the father of the American nation. Now that I’ve got your attention, let’s take a step back and define “heroic” so we can understand why that might have happened.

My dictionary has a number of definitions for “heroic” including “exhibiting or marked by courage or daring” and “supremely noble and self-sacrificing.” Those could apply to the heroes we all know and love. But there’s another meaning that’s less benign: “of great intensity, extreme, drastic.” That’s where heroic medicine comes into play.

In the eighteenth century and well into the nineteenth, physicians believed that the body had four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile – and that disease occurred when one or more of them was out of balance. The goal of all medicine was to restore the balance.

How did they do that? If you’re squeamish, you might want to stop reading right now. There were five elements to heroic medicine: bleeding, purging, vomiting, sweating, and blistering. Any one of those sounds gruesome to me, but when you combine them with the fact that this was heroic in the sense of extreme and drastic, you realize that the cure might well have been worse than the illness itself.

Bleeding was the most commonly used technique, and although it had lost popularity in the eastern United States by 1860, it was still used on the frontier. As you can guess from the name, the goal was to reduce the volume of blood either by applying leeches (shudder) or by cutting veins and letting large quantities of blood drain from the body (perhaps into the bleeding cup in the picture). 

Next came purging, which consisted of giving the victim … er, the patient … large quantities of calomel or jalap. You can guess what happened next.

If that didn’t work, the physician might try to induce vomiting, again by giving the patient ipecac and tartar emetics. In large quantities. Once again, I’m shuddering.

Sweating sounds as if it would be the most innocuous of the heroic procedures until you learn that it was induced by giving the patient Dover’s Powder, a concoction of opium, ipecac, and lactose, which served as a diaphoretic. (I couldn’t resist including that word, since it was a new one for me. As you may have guessed from the context, a diaphoretic is a substance that induces sweating.) I’m still shaking my head over the fact that opium was used so often, although considering the pain that must have been involved in these procedures, it was probably the kindest thing a doctor could offer a patient.

Lastly comes blistering. Hot plasters were placed on the patient’s body with the goal of producing blisters that could be lanced and drained. And, of course, since this was heroic medicine, it was done on a large scale.

This was the world of medicine well into the nineteenth century. Even though new techniques were being introduced, there were still old-timers who believed in the value of heroic medicine … or no medical treatment at all. Add that to the fact that many residents – both men and women – didn’t believe that women should be doctors, and you have the dilemma that confronts Louisa, the heroine of the second of the Secrets of Sweetwater Crossing books. She’s a midwife and doctor-in-training facing more than her share of challenges. Louisa’s story, Against the Wind, is scheduled to release on October 3 and is available for preorder at all the usual places.

Before I end this, I have a question for you. How do you think people will regard 21st century medical practices 150 years from now? Will they shudder when they read about some of our treatments? If yes, which ones do you think will disturb them the most?

Author Bio

Amanda Cabot’s dream of selling a book before her thirtieth birthday came true, and she’s now the author of more than forty novels as well as eight novellas, four nonfiction books, and what she describes as enough technical articles to cure insomnia in a medium-sized city. Her stories have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists, have garnered starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Library Journal, were a Woman’s World Book Club selection, and have been finalists for the ACFW Carol, the HOLT Medallion, and the Booksellers Best awards.

For more information about Against the Wind and buying links, click here

And to sign up for Amanda’s monthly newsletter and receive a special gift, click here

Tuesday, August 22, 2023

Save a Bundle, This Week Only

Okay, so I run sales once in a while. Maybe more than once in a while. I love to see books flying off the virtual shelves! So, this week only, August 21 through 25, 2023, I am putting an entire series bundle on sale for 99 cents.



If you haven’t tried the Spy Matchmaker series, this is your chance. The three-book ebook bundle generally costs $9.99, so this is 90% off cover price. What’s included in the series?

The Husband Mission (formerly published as Lord Borin’s Secret Love). Lord Borin cannot understand why he’s under surveillance, but it seems to be connected to the intriguing Katherine Collins. He’s been encouraged by England’s spymaster to marry, but what wife can compare to espionage? Unless, of course, she’s up for a little espionage too. “I highly recommend this book to all romance readers who like heart-warming, unique love stories with delightfully original characters.” Romance Fiction Forum

The June Bride Conspiracy (once a novella, now a full-length book). England’s top intelligence agent Allister Fenwick, Lord Trevithan, is shocked when a mysterious stranger attempts to stop his marriage to the sweet Joanna Lindby. Though he promised to leave espionage behind, he must take this case. Can a little espionage unmask hidden hearts in time for a June wedding? A Top Pick from RT Book Reviews.

The Heiress Objective (formerly published as The Bluestocking on His Knee). Heiress Eugennia Welch is stunned when charming Corinthian Kevin Whattling proposes marriage. Once a spy, Kevin is deep in debt. But as he tries to convince Jenny he is besotted, he falls for her. When danger threatens, can they trust each other to win a love greater than any fortune? “A very entertaining story with a fresh approach.” Rendezvous

You can get the ebook bundle

Directly from me 


Amazon (affiliate link) 

Barnes and Noble 


Apple Books 


Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Show and Tell Again

As I’ve done in past posts, I have a couple of new additions to my dance card/aide memoire collection that I had to share with you, because they’re such delightful confections…

Aren’t they?

The silver one on the left is a dainty two and a half inches long, with the chain and ring for wearing adding another six inches. The ring and chain indicate that this was intended to be a dance card and not just a note pad. There is a tubular holder for a pencil, now missing, and six thin leaves made of what looks like bone.

And the filigree! I’m not sure if it’s sterling or not—there does seem to be a tiny hallmark on one edge—but the intricate looping is marvelous.
The one on the right is four inches long and made of bone or ivory with silver edging (also hallmarked) all around on both covers and elaborate silver ornamentation with room for a monogram.

This one still has its tiny pencil for writing on the six bone leaves, which are held together by a silk ribbon woven through them. A delightful confection to carry to a ball…but what is even more delightful is the pencil inscription it still contains.
Reading across the leaves, from the leftmost leaf to right, it says
14th August 1897
Wishing you many many
returns of the day

So some lucky young woman received this as a birthday present exactly 126 years ago yesterday. This inspires so many thoughts—who was she? Had she just made her entrance into society? Was it a gift from a family member, or a suitor? Did she treasure it so much that she refused to erase the message (there are signs that the other sides of the pages have been used and erased)?
What do you think?

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

The Pleasures of Devices

Devices and conveniences of various sorts are on my mind at the moment. My washing machine of 33 years finally died, and I am told by our mechanic that our car is terminal. My daughter-in-law is breaking in a new laptop. My husband had to replace his cell phone. We live in a world of conveniences. Our nineteenth century counterparts might be jealous.

Or not.

The Regency era saw the birth of the Industrial Revolution, but it would be some years before the new technological wonders appeared in the homes of the middle and lower class. Here are a few things we might take for granted today that they didn’t have:

Ovens. It is amazing to think, but ovens in homes were very high end in Regency England. Only a few wealthy houses had them. For the rest of us, you baked in the hearth or had a baker cook everything from bread to your Christmas turkey. You picked up the food from the baker and brought it home (and I can only wonder how warm it was by then!).

Sewing machines. I can sew basic patterns, well enough to make myself pillow shams and clothing. Marissa is more skilled. But while the first sewing machine was patented in England around 1790, it was never built, and the first widely available sewing machines wouldn’t arrive until the 1870s. Generally, a Regency lady sewed what she wanted by hand herself or employed someone to do it for her.

Shavers. My husband uses a disposable razor, and my father used an electric one. Our Regency gentlemen had only a strap and a long wicked blade. Small wonder so many wore beards!

Public transportation. The more my car grumbles, the more I eye our local bus. I’ve also used busses, trams, and trains to get around my neck of the world. Londoners didn’t have the option of public transportation until 1829, when horse-drawn omnibuses began trundling through the streets.

So, despite my current woes, I’m very thankful indeed! May all your devices be well behaved and useful!

Tuesday, August 1, 2023

Summer Cape-r


Another delightful offering from La Belle Assemblée…may I present a most delightful Morning Walking Dress, from the June 1810 edition?


No. 2.— Morning Walking Dress

A round dress of thick fine India muslin, made high in the neck, with long sleeves, which are trimmed at the wrists with a narrow edging of lace; a lace let in round the bottom of the dress between four rows of small tucks. A light sky-blue mantle, lined with pale buff, with elastic collar, which is formed with letting-in lace, and has the appearance of a full collar, but will, if required, by drawing over the head, form a very pretty and becoming bonnet; a cape of the same materials crosses the back, which is confined at the bottom of the waist, on the inside, with a pale blue or buff ribband, tied with a bow in the front; it is entirely trimmed round with [a] narrow edging of lace. A bonnet of straw, and pale-blue ribband, with plaiting of lace, worn underneath, tied under the chin; with a yellow rose in the front, and hair in ringlet curls, completes the dress. Gloves of pale-buff. Boots of the same colour, calashed and laced with pale blue.

Hmm, there’s a lot going on here. The dress itself seems straight-forward; it’s the mantle that is so noteworthy. I’m intrigued by the “elastic collar” that can be drawn up in a sort of hood: it sounds almost like an 18th century calash or calèche, a type of head covering with stiff ribs that could be folded down or drawn up over the fashionable high coiffures of the era. The crossed-over flaps of the cape are an unusual touch, I think—lending visual interest to the back rather than the front.

The bonnet is appro-priately light and airy, a not-too-extreme poke style (though a bit more of a brim might have been welcome to prevent freckles when out walking…) 


Also of interest are the boots, described as “calashed.” I’m not sure how that term applies to boots—as we’ve seen, a calash describes millinery, not shoemaking. Any guesses out there? The blue shoelaces on the buff boots are a lot of fun, though.

I know that all faithful NineteenTeen readers will rush right out to their modistes to have this ensemble made for their own morning walks…right?

Well, maybe not this summer.