Treating Cuts and Wounds a Hundred Years Ago

17-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today:

Tuesday, May 14, 1912:  Wish it would get warmer and quit raining. I just got a long scratch on my thumb awhile ago and it’s rather sore

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

How did people treat scratches and cuts a hundred years ago?

The Compendium of Everyday Wants, published in 1907, recommended:

CUTS AND WOUNDS.—There are two kinds of cuts or wounds—incised, which means cut into, or lacerated, which means  torn.

The first kind are usually not so dangerous and are treated in proportion to their size and depth. These generally heal of themselves. Clots formed on a cut should not be washed away. If there is not much bleeding, wipe away any impurities and bandage. A small piece of adhesive plaster is all that is necessary for household cuts.

Lacerated wounds have ragged edges, and the soft parts about them often will be found bruised and torn. These are most frequently caused by railway accidents, machinery, and falling timbers.

Treatment.—Cleanse the wound with warm water, wet a cloth over it and bandage lightly.

17 Responses

  1. Working in the Health profession, this is very interesting!
    Cheers,
    Laura

  2. I love the historical context you provide on your blog. Good stuff.

    • Thanks for then nice note. I have a lot of fun doing the research on the historical context, and it’s always wonderful to hear when someone enjoys it.

  3. My mother’s remedy for cuts was cobwebs to stop the bleeding. Can you imagine if we attempted that now? Couldn’t be sanitary. (My mother was born 1908 in Ireland.)

    • Cobwebs! Wow, ideas about cut and wound care sure have changed over the years. When i was a child we always put a “drawing salve” called Porter’s Liniment Salve on cuts. We often called it Pain King.

  4. Funny, your blog was exactly what happened to me today…It was raining lightly all day and I went out to the shed to throw away some things and incurred a rather long cut on my hand down my index finger…and I treated it exactly as they suggest 100 years ago.

  5. Sheryl, this is fascinating! I started reading the chronological entries to try to catch up but will have to pick it up again later. She sounds so delightful and totally bored with life, how she would have adored the internet! Very nice way to put it all together. I am working on putting together an ebook of a book my father put together before he died. He was a photojournalist for NBC news when the news was just starting on TV and had great photos and stories to go with them. We are so fortunate to have these rich items to share with the world. Very nice work here, I look forward to following along.

    • What an interesting thought–I think you are right, Grandma would have enjoyed the Internet if she had been a hundred years younger. Your father’s work sounds really interesting. I hook forward to reading the ebook. Thanks for stopping by.

  6. I also love the historical context you provide on your blog. Now I’ve learned the difference between a laceration and an incision. (When I fell last October my wounds were definitely lacerations!) We’re left wondering, though, how Helena got her long scratch…

  7. I wonder if Helena was spending any time around “railway accidents, machinery, and falling timbers” to get her scratch. The treatment advised in 1907 is very much how my mum taught me to treat scratches – clean them up, cover them and don’t make a fuss! :)

    • Surprisingly there were a lot more railroad accidents a hundred years ago than there are now. In the days before paved roads people often walked the railroad tracks.

      Grandma never was in a railway accident, but she lived dangerously. There are several mentions in the diary of walking the rails on days when the roads were muddy.

      Last year, (on March 5) I did a post that included an old newspaper article about a railroad accident. It said that 585 people were killed in 1910 in railroad accidents in Pennsylvania. I am amazed (in a sad way) how high the number was back then.

  8. [...] how bad Grandma’s cut was. A “slice off the end” of her thumb doesn’t sound good. (Click here to read a previous post on how they treated cuts and wounds a hundred years [...]

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