September 15, 2017

Know the Difference Between a Girdle and a Corset When Writing About the Nineteenth Century

Authors of historical fiction know that accuracy is the key to a believable story.  Readers never fail to point out when errors are made, so don't make this one.  If you are writing about women in the nineteenth century, a corset is not synonymous with a girdle.

Historically, a girdle refers to a belt worn outside the clothing as seen in the painting below.
Ancient girdle
From Wiki Commons
The term is still used today in the context for liturgical garments, i.e. the belt a priest or minister wraps around the waist.  It is often woven and has tassels on the end.

Those of us who grew up in the twentieth century know the girdle as an elasticized garment designed to smooth the hips and buttocks and flatten the stomach.  It could be open on the bottom or have legs, have an upward extension that cinches in the waist and prevents "muffin top" or be combined with a built-in bra. These were worn compulsively by women from the 1940's up until the late 1960's.  A typical example is shown on the model below.
Model wearing a girdle.
From Wiki Commons
The girdle has been  largely abandoned by the invention of Spanx and similar foundation garments in use today.

Unlike the girdle of the twentieth century, the corset was extensively used by women to cinch in the waist and support the bust.  It was worn under a dress and usually had stays made of bone, steel or other rigid supports. It was aimed at minimizing the waist, not the hips. Corsets were in use in various forms from the time of Marie Antoinette until the early twentieth century when women rejected them in favor of comfort and the relaxed fashions of the day. Here is a typical example.
From Wiki Commons
So in summary:  For ancient times, use the term girdle to refer to a belt worn outside the clothing
                           For the twentieth century, use the term girdle to refer to an elasticized undergarment
                           For the nineteenth century and before, use the term corset for a rigid undergarment

March 30, 2017

Lilac Breasted Roller Accepted into Spring Show

My painting Patterns of Africa 2:  Lilac Breasted Roller has been accepted into the Minnesota Watercolor Society's Spring Show at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum.  The painting will be on exhibit from April 13 until June 19, 2017.

October 31, 2016

Patterns of Africa in the Minnesota Watercolor Society Fall Show

My newest painting, Patterns of Africa, will be showing at the Lakeville Arts Center, 20965 Holyoke Avenue, Lakeville, Minnesota, from November 5 through November 30, 2016.  Please stop in and see it and all of the other amazing artworks.

August 27, 2016

History of Medicine: Anesthesia During the Civil War

We have all seen images of the hapless Civil War soldier about to undergo amputation of a limb with the benefit of only a few swigs of whiskey to alleviate the pain.  How true is this image?  We know that sulfuric ether was first used for anesthesia in 1846 followed by chloroform a year later.  What then was the role of these early anesthetics at the advent of the Civil War in 1861?

In most cases whiskey continued as the sole anesthetic. It is estimated that both the North and the South used ether and chloroform some 125,000 times during the war despite Northern blockades that limited access to the South.  However, this pales in comparison to the 476,000 wounded and 620,000 dead.

Chloroform was the method of choice. This was because "chloroform is faster-acting, non-explosive, and less likely to cause initial excitement and a flailing of limbs." This statement by Albin suggests there may have been preferential treatment depending on the rank of the patient: "...the science of anesthesiology has come far since those days when a general got a few drops of chloroform and a private was lauded for his spunk."

An offshoot of the use of anesthetics in the Civil War was the introduction of the nurse anesthetist. Catherine Lawrence was the first nurse to administer anesthesia on the battlefield during the second Battle of Bull Run near Washington, D.C.

 References and Additional Reading:

July 31, 2016

History of Medicine: What was the earliest anesthetic?

Anesthesia masks - gauze and safety pins
I recently visited a small museum in rural Nebraska.  The frontier doctor who practiced in this town left his medical equipment to the museum.  The crude anesthesia masks, composed of a rigid stainless steel form covered with gauze and secured with safety pins (yes, safety pins - really?) was on display in a glass case.  Presumably these were used to administer ether, or perhaps chloroform.  At any rate, they, and the fact that my son is an anesthesiologist, piqued my interest in the history of anesthesia. So I wondered:  What was the earliest anesthetic?

Turns out, we don't really know when the first, let alone the first effective anesthetic, was administered. True, once the age of medicine came into it's own in the nineteenth century along with the invention of the scientific method, we have a pretty good idea of how it all evolved.  But what about long before that?

We know from ancient artifacts that opium was well known as early as 4000 BCE and that acupuncture was in use by the Chinese as early as 2250 BCE. Of course, wine and alcohol alone or mixed with various plants has been used to dull the awareness of pain since virtually the beginning of time.  Dioscoridas (AD 40-90), a Roman surgeon, used wine from the mandragora (mandrake) plant to induce a deep sleep.  He used the word "anesthesia" to describe this sleep.

It seems clear that none of these methods were sufficient to induce general anesthesia as we know it today.  Thus, surgery did not truly evolve as an efficacious treatment until the patient could be safely anesthetized and revived and dentistry only became tolerable when pain control was on offer (some folks would argue that a visit to the dentist is still not tolerable - but that's a story for another day).

References and additional reading: