"Dr. Greene is not God!:" Patient-physicians relations in early America, 1750-1850

Date of Completion

January 2009


History, United States|History of Science




The dissertation explores how the religious and economic shifts that occur in New England over the late eighteenth to mid-nineteenth centuries affected patient expectations of orthodox physicians and medical therapeutics. Focusing on private practice, the project examines patients' diaries, physicians' casebooks, apprentices' journals, and children's literature to reveal the impact of physicians' wives, medical apprentices and middle-class mothers on patients' perceptions of medicine. The project positions patients not as objects of medical practice but as active participants in shaping American therapeutics in an important transitional period of medicine. My study also analyzes the prescribing habits of physicians in Boston and surrounding towns, Worcester, and Deerfield through the random sampling of doctors' account books. Existing studies of prescribing habits at Massachusetts General Hospital show shifts in uses of therapeutics over the nineteenth century, but do not necessarily reflect private practice because most people in the hospital wards were impoverished, non-paying patients with little say over their treatments. Thus, the project compares the therapeutic habits of physicians in private practice with the data from hospital studies and provides an analysis of how patients (and their expectations) influenced therapeutics. Most importantly, my findings suggest that most historical depictions of American medical practice do not accurately reflect private practice among the Massachusetts physicians analyzed here. ^