Digitized State Medical Journals: Searching “Alcohol” and “Prohibition”

This is a guest post by Sophia Lahey, UCSF Archives and Special Collections Intern.

Recently, as part of a larger UCSF Archives and Special Collections digitization project, over 200 medical journals from various state medical associations were digitized and added to the Internet Archive. In order to ensure scan quality, I sifted through thousands of pages to make sure everything was clear enough so that the search function would work properly. As long as the scans are clean, you can search for any word in the entire collection! For instance, I searched the words “alcohol” and “prohibition” and came up with some fascinating results.

The first items that struck me when I started to read through the journals were the ads. In addition to the articles, the ads serve as evidence for historians about how people lived, what was socially acceptable, and what they were interested in buying. In these journals, most of the ads were geared towards doctors, advertising things like medicine, medical instruments, insurance, and even computer management systems.

This ad for Dentocain Teething Lotion is from the 1950s. The infant teething medication advertised is 70% alcohol and includes chloroform!  By modern medical standards, this product would definitely raise some red flags. As I kept looking through more journals, I noticed that the older ones featured alcohol in many of the medicines advertised.

In this ad, though the ingredients aren’t listed, you can see on the bottle that the medicine contains 7 1/2% alcohol. The ad was published in 1927, during prohibition. So how could medicine contain alcohol when it was illegal? Well, alcohol could still be prescribed by a doctor. Like other medications, a doctor had to fill out a prescription in order for a patient to get items, like whiskey, for medicinal reasons.

Some doctors wrote prescriptions for liquor off record and for a profit. This created a controversy – government legislation vs. the rights of the practitioner to prescribe as much as he or she felt was needed. This lead to court cases as well as strongly worded opinion pieces about said court cases and ethics in the medical community. These opinion pieces as well as other news stories can be read in the medical journals in the UCSF collection.

Skull and Brain Surgery Kit

Our Medical Artifact Collection includes some pretty amazing items. For instance, the 19th-century medical kits always impress, with their vibrant satin and velvet linings and beautifully crafted (though not necessarily sanitary) instruments.

One highlight is this 19th-century skull and brain surgery kit created by Arnold & Sons, a London-based surgical instrument manufacturer. The kit includes a trephine (with multiple saw bits), forceps, bone brush, and head saw known as a Hey’s saw.

Skull and brain surgery kit, 19th century. UCSF Artifact Collection, item 441.

Skull and brain surgery kit, 19th century. UCSF Artifact Collection, item 441.

A trephine is a T-shaped, hand-operated drill saw with a cylindrical blade. It would have been used to bore holes in the skull, allowing for the removal of bone and access to the brain. This kit includes multiple saw bits of different sizes.

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Detail of trephine, bone brush, and Hey’s saw. UCSF Artifact Collection, item 441.

A Hey’s saw is a double-bladed instrument that, thanks to its unique design, allows for variously angled cuts. It is named after William Hey, an English surgeon who helped refine the tool.

If you would like to see this, or any of our artifacts, in person, please make an appointment with the UCSF Archives and Special Collections.

Highlights from the Photograph Collection – Radiology Department

Our extensive Historical Photograph Collection includes some really fascinating images. Check out these from the UCSF Radiology Department.

Radon extraction equipment, 1924. Photograph by H.J. Armstrong. Photograph collection, SM, Department of Radiology

Verso: “Interior of University of California Hospital; Equipment used for the extraction of radon – an element formed by the disintegration of radium,” 1924. Photograph by H.J. Armstrong. Photograph collection, SM, Department of Radiology.

Cobalt machine, 1963; Instrument used to administer radiation therapy, often used for cancer treatment. Photograph by Cal-Pictures. Photograph collection, R, Radiology Therapy.

Cobalt machine, 1963. Instrument used to administer radiation therapy, often used for cancer treatment. Photograph by Cal-Pictures. Photograph collection, R, Radiology Therapy.

Students Debbie Modeiros and Nat Rutherford radiologic technology training school practice with doll, 1969. Photograph collection, R, Radiology Technology School.

Students Debbie Modeiros and Nat Rutherford, in the Radiologic Technology Training School, practicing with doll, 1969. Photograph collection, R, Radiology Technology School.

EMI Scanner; verso: "The EMI scanner is an example of recent technological advances that reduces patient X-ray exposure while providing more accurate diagnosis than obtainable with older X-ray machines. Here technician Mary McNally and secretary Penny Foster, as patient, demonstrate the giant 2 1/2 ton machine which diagnoses brain disorders." Photograph by Juan Saenz. Photograph collection, R, Radiology CT and EMI scanning.

EMI Scanner, 1975. Verso: “The EMI scanner is an example of recent technological advances that reduces patient X-ray exposure while providing more accurate diagnosis than obtainable with older X-ray machines. Here technician Mary McNally and secretary Penny Foster, as patient, demonstrate the giant 2 1/2 ton machine which diagnoses brain disorders.” Photograph by Juan Saenz. Photograph collection, R, Radiology CT and EMI scanning.