Yesteryear’s Memories: 1895

February 4, 2020

In 1895, The United States was smack-dab in the middle of the “Gay Nineties.” Grover Cleveland was President, and the vice-president was an Illinois native, Adlai E. Stevenson. J. Edgar Hoover, Babe Ruth, and Buster Keaton were born.

It was an even more interesting year for health, though. William Conrad Roentgen discovered a mysterious new force while working with electron discharge tubes in Wurzburg, Germany. He called it “X-ray” because he really didn’t know what it was. He did discover, however, that it was able to penetrate human flesh so that the bones could be seen and photographed in a living person. The radiation dose used at that time was over a thousand times higher than modern x-rays, so many early experimenters ended up with serious radiation burns or worse. They didn’t fully understand the dangers of the new found procedure.

Lilian Wald and Mary Brewster were nurses in New York City. They believed that their mission in life was to provide healthcare and help to lower income families, and they set up the “Henry Street Nurses’ Settlement” along with several others and conceived the term “public health nurse.” Their vision expanded into not only nurses helping with medical care but supplying sterilized milk, teaching about good food, and even helping people find jobs to improve their lot in life.

In Iowa, Dr. D.D. Palmer discovered a new way of treating people suffering from various complaints which was named “Chiropractic” which meant ‘treated by hand.’ His revelation grew into a health care profession that treats millions of patients every year. Right here in Mt. Vernon, the Appellate Court Building was used as a makeshift hospital after the devastating 1888 tornado which caused numerous injuries and deaths, and just seven years later in 1895 a local residence was opened as “The Excelsior Sanitarium.” It was established by Dr. Frank McClain and Dr. Will McClain, and was a welcome addition to the already burgeoning city of Mt. Vernon. The illustration is of the original sanitarium.

Just a few years before, Illinois required no license to treat patients for disease. The State enacted the Medical Practice Act of 1877 which required a medical doctor to have graduated from an accredited medical school, or to have been practicing medicine for at least the previous ten years. By the turn of the century, locals were beginning to see the many improvements that were made in the treatment of disease and infirmity.