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  • May 18, 2020 9:46 AM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    by Hannah Smith, IMHM Graduate Intern

    Currently, across the blooming medicinal plant garden, in the small brick building that used to be the Dead House, are the entire contents of Dr. Marion Scheetz’s home office. Dr. Scheetz graduated from medical school in the early 1930s and went on to become a general practitioner and country doctor out of Lewisville, Indiana. The contents of his office include an x-ray viewer, surgical and medical books, an exam bed, and his desk. Among other things on his desk – like a mid-century stethoscope – there lies a thin book with blue binding titled Physician’s Record of Prescriptions. The book is courtesy of the American Medical Spirits Company and provides instructions and regulations for prescribing patients alcohol for medicinal purposes during Prohibition.

    The era of Prohibition (1920-1933) typically brings about images of speakeasies, bootleggers, and mobsters, but there was another way to get your hands on a pint of whiskey (or rum, vodka, gin, brandy, beer or wine): through your friendly neighborhood physician. When Congress signed the Volstead Act – the law that enforced the 18th Amendment – it allowed any physician “holding a permit to prescribe liquor” after a “careful physical examination” of the patient.[1] Curiously, Congress added this section despite the American Medical Association’s (AMA) dismissal of “therapeutic” or medicinal value of alcohol. The AMA may have discouraged the use of alcohol to treat illness, but doctors across the country prescribed more alcohol than ever before during Prohibition.[2]

    Indeed, because of loopholes in the laws and regulations, physicians found financial gain in the business of prescribing alcohol during Prohibition. Americans paid $3 – the equivalent of almost $50 today – for a prescription, and another $3 or $4 to fill them.[3] For some physicians, who both wrote and administered prescriptions, that was money in their pockets. While the law required doctors all across the country to mark down justifications for prescriptions, some doctors found loopholes for prescribing alcohol such as simply writing “debility.”[4] And according to Physician’s Record of Prescriptions, “emergency prescriptions” could be administered for “the saving of human life, the amelioration of great pain, or where delay would aggravate a serious ailment.”[5] Not only could doctors prescribe alcohol for ambiguous reasons, patients could also gain access to it quickly.

    Ultimately, in 1933, Prohibition came to an end. It was clear to lawmakers and the public that the 18th Amendment was a failure. Organized crime related to bootlegging increased, but also the federal government needed the tax revenue from liquor sales during the Great Depression.[6] The ratification of the 21st Amendment meant no more lucrative prescriptions for physicians (at least for alcohol), but it did not mean Americans ceased self-medication with booze. In fact, one of the most significant and long-lasting unintended consequences of Prohibition was that more Americans were drinking alcohol, and drinking in larger quantities.[7]

    Hannah Smith is a first-year Public History MA student at IUPUI and graduate intern at the Indiana Medical History Museum. She enjoys working with archives and collections, writing, and reading books of all kinds.

    [1] Volstead Act, Sixty-Sixth Congress, Sess. I, CHS. 81, 82, 85 (1919), https://www.loc.gov/law/help/statutes-at-large/66th-congress/session-1/c66s1ch85.pdf.

    [2] Jennie Cohen, “Drink Some Whiskey, Call in the Morning: Doctors & Prohibition,” History (original: 17 January 2012; updated: 29 August 2018), https://www.history.com/news/drink-some-whiskey-call-in-the-morning-doctors-prohibition.


    [3] Paula Mejia, “The Lucrative Business of Prescribing Booze During Prohibition: Those looking to self-medicate could score at the doctor’s office,” Atlas Obscura (15 November 2017), https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/doctors-booze-notes-prohibition; CPI Inflation Calculator, Bureau of Labor Statistics, accessed 22 April 2020, https://data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl.

    [4] Mejia.

    [5] Physician’s Record of Prescriptions, form 1402, Treasury Department: Bureau of Industrial Alcohol, The American Medical Spirits Company (Louisville, KY: revised May 1931).

    [6] Christopher Klein, “The Night Prohibition Ended: Look back at America’s surprising reaction to the end of Prohibition,” History (original: 5 December 2013; updated: 10 December 2018), https://www.history.com/news/the-night-prohibition-ended.

    [7] Michael Lerner, “Unintended Consequences,” PBS,Prohibition: A film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick, https://www.pbs.org/kenburns/prohibition/unintended-consequences/.

  • November 14, 2018 9:21 PM | Deleted user

    Books. We have a lot of them. Nearly 6,000 to be precise. Including pamphlets, photos, and movie reels, the museum has an amazing historical library!

    While impressive, unique, and even rare, our books are not accessible. The reason is simple; because the collection is so large and has been collected over so many years, starting back when this was still a Pathology Building, it needs to be organized and fully cataloged.

    But how do you organize 6,000 books, let alone keep track?

    This year, the Indianapolis Public Library has partnered with the museum thanks to a matching grant to organize, digitally cataloge, and preserve our entire collection. The books in our collection will be searchable via the Indy Public Library Shared System, which is used schools and now museums across Indianapolis.

    We want to make our historical library accessible to the public but need help matching our grant. This year for #GivingTuesday, on November 27th, the museum hopes to raise $7,500 within 24 hours. All gifts will go towards making the historical library accessible to all. Please help by reading more about our story here, donating to our cause, or by spreading the news using social media, posting, or email sharing! Remember to use #imhm, #GivingTuesday, and #imhmuseum when talking about us!

    We look forward to the future and our continued growth as not only a museum, but also a center for research!

    Help us spread the word! 

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  • August 08, 2018 2:13 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Partnerships are great for a museum of our size and they can result in unexpected opportunities. We have a wonderful partnership right now with the Indiana University School of Medicine. Med students can take an elective here at IMHM to learn about medical history. It expands their understanding of their professional roots and how medicine has changed over time. Each student in this class does a special project and one of those projects has resulted in us being able to display an interesting medical history item for the next few months.

    Scott O’Brien did his project on anesthesia and the devices used over the years to administer it. During the course of his research, he found a connection to a device left in his grandfather’s garage. Before Scott’s grandfather, Francis Eugene O’Brien, became a medical doctor himself, he served in the army in World War II. During that time, he came into possession of something called a Kreiselman Resuscitator.

    The Kreiselman Resuscitator was used to revive patients in an era before mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. It used a bellows to force air into the lungs with a special stop mechanism to prevent too much air pressure. It could be used with a patient on their back or side and with or without a supplemental oxygen supply. It was developed in 1943 by Joseph Kreiselman, an anesthesiologist who served as a medical consultant to the US Army Surgeon General. It was designed to be easy to use, easy to carry, and cheap to produce for the US military.

    As an anesthesiologist, Dr. Kreiselman was familiar with respiratory masks and “positive-pressure inhalation” (forcing air into the lungs). These kinds of devices were common in the early twentieth century for administering anesthetic gases.

    Although the Kreiselman device was a step forward in resuscitation practice, it was still flawed. Using it took some training and skill and it was somewhat cumbersome to set up. It never caught on in the same widespread way that the “Ambu bag” would when it was invented in 1957. The Ambu bag design is light, easy to use, and still in use for resuscitation today.

    Dr. Kreiselman’s career, however, extended far beyond the reach of his military resuscitator. Kreiselman’s main interest was in neonatal and obstetric anesthesia. This adult resuscitator was just one of his inventions. He developed many devices for infant resuscitation and anesthesia and was considered a leading professional in his field in the mid-twentieth century.

  • August 08, 2018 2:07 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    The Indiana Historical Bureau has approved a historical marker that commemorates an important event in the medical history of Indianapolis— Lincoln Hospital 1909-1915.

    In the early twentieth century, African-American doctors were barred from treating their own patients and performing surgery in Indianapolis’ hospitals. In 1909 with no access to a safe environment for performing surgery and a black population that was understandably dissatisfied with the poor conditions in segregated hospital wards, a group of black physicians established their own hospital in a converted two-story residence on the northeast corner of 11th Street and Senate Avenue. With 19 rooms and a surgery suite, the physicians had the ability to fully practice their profession. The hospital also provided a nursing school for young black women who were excluded from schools because of racial segregation.

    The new marker recalls the challenges of these dedicated physicians and young women from other cities in the state who trained there. It will also include information about two other small hospitals of the era--a private clinic opened by Joseph Ward, MD and Charity Hospital, operated by the Sisters of Charity, a philanthropic black women's club.

    The marker will be installed and dedicated in October. The Aesculapian Medical Society of Indianapolis endorses the project and monetary donations to help pay for the marker are welcome. If you’d like to help, contact Norma Erickson at nerickson@imhm.org.

  • August 08, 2018 2:01 PM | Anonymous member (Administrator)

    Welcome to the Indiana Medical history Museum Blog! Here we'll be sharing pieces of medical history from our collections as well as announcements of some of the things we're working on here at IMHM!

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