Welcome to a virtual tour of the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM). Today we are featuring materials intended to help people learn about and manage their own health.
These collections document how people have taken responsibility in a variety of ways for maintaining or restoring their own physical and mental health. They also document the recommendations of medical professionals and public health officials on living a healthy lifestyle and addressing threats to health. Taken together, across all the periods and places they represent, these collections reveal stories about personal responsibility and the intersection of individual and public health.
NLM staff have selected these highlights from the collections for you to explore. We welcome questions! Use the comment feature below to share your thoughts.
Selections from NLM Digital Collections
NLM Digital Collections is the National Library of Medicine’s free online repository of biomedical resources including books, manuscripts, and still and moving images.
Explore many more related images in NLM Digital Collections under these search terms:
You can also explore public domain images from the NLM prints and photographs collection on Flickr.
The 1937 silent film The Road to Health and Happiness presents a holistic approach to self-care. Calisthenics, fresh air, nutrition, vaccination, dental care, and for one’s spiritual side, church, are recommended to maintain a robust body and mind. An earlier blog post explores the film more fully. In Joslin, Best, and Diabetes, children with diabetes attending a health camp learn to care for themselves, measuring foods and self-injecting insulin. They’re shown playing, exploring, and doing what kids do in the summer—arguably the chief message of the film.
The NLM audiovisual collection is notably strong in the depiction and discussion of oral self-care, ranging from advice to GIs in Dental Care to toothbrushing demonstrations for children in Value of a Smile. Animated films Maxwell, Boy Explorer and Teeth are to Keep broaden the appeal. And in Student Flyer, we learn that good oral hygiene brings not only healthy teeth and gums, but may save one’s sight and future career as a pilot.
Books and Journals
The Doctor’s Advice, by Alvarado Middleditch, Philadelphia, 1898
This popular advice guide for families, most likely designed as a gift book, contains a treasure-trove for cultural historians of the American Victorian household….Included are over 20 illustrations showing ideal middle class Victorian family scenes and elaborate chapter headings…—Michael North in Circulating Now
Dangers to Health: A Pictorial Guide to Domestic Sanitary Defects by Thomas Pridgin, New York, 1883
“Teale sought to educate ‘the public in the details of domestic sanitary matters’ through a ‘series of diagrams drawn, not as pictures, but as forcible expressions of facts.’ In an era when illustrated newspapers and magazines, and books like Alice in Wonderland, were captivating a mass audience, visual materials seemed to have an almost magical rhetorical power. And for Teale the diagram was most powerful of all….” —Michael Sappol in The Ultimate History Project
- The Poor Man’s Physician, or the Receipts of the Famous John Moncrief of Tippermalloch: Being a Choice Collection of Simple and Easy Remedies for Most Distempers … : To Which is Added, the Method of Curing the Small Pox and Scurvy, by the Eminent Dr. Archibald Pitcairn, by John Moncrief, Apothecary, Edinburgh, 1716
This group of materials consists of selected digitized English language monographs which demonstrate the evolution of American medicine from colonial frontier outposts of the 17th century to research hospitals of the 20th century. Here are a few relating to mental health:
- The Tooth-ache by Mayhew Horace, Philadelphia, ca. 1850, Illustrated by George Cruikshank
- Hints on Health: With Familiar Instructions for the Treatment and Preservation of the Skin, Hair, Teeth, Eyes, etc., by William-Edward Coale, Boston, 1852
- Over-strain and Under-power of Brain: A Cursory Survey for Lay Readers Especially, of the Inter-relation of Physical Demand and Physical Supply, by Charles H. Hughes, St. Louis, 1889
- How to Cultivate the Complexion: A Practical Treatise on the Care of the Skin by Madam Yale,New York, 1890
- The Simple Life in a Nutshell, by John Harvey Kellog, Battle Creek, Michigan, 1913
- How to Get Well and Keep Well: The Successful Home Treatment of Chronic Disease by Natural Curative Methods, by James Clark, Elmhurst, Illinois, 1923
When future researchers look back at our time, what resources will they want to explore? Of the news and information that is created and shared digitally over the web, what will remain to be examined one, ten, or even fifty years from now? This content is in a constant state of change and at high risk for loss.
The NLM web archive collection on Global Health Events is a collection of websites and social media of government and non-government organizations, journalists, healthcare workers, and scientists in the United States and around the world, with an aim to collect and preserve a diversity of perspectives. Learn more about this collection on Circulating Now.
Global health events affect very large populations in a variety of ways, leading people to take steps to restore their own physical and mental health as well as address a variety of health risks. The NLM web archive collects information that documents many aspects of these events, including social dimensions. During the current COVID-19 pandemic many organizations published information to provide support to health care workers and others struggling with the effects of the pandemic, while others shared ways of taking comfort with music and outdoor activity.
- Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19 | CDC (archive-it.org) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (U.S.) Web site)
- Great escapes: Doctors and nurses find respite from pandemic fatigue | AAMC (archive-it.org) (Association of American Medical Colleges Blog post)
- Songs of Comfort | Twitter (archive-it.org) (Twitter hashtag #SongsOfComfort)
NLM Exhibitions and Events
The National Library of Medicine curates stories about the social and cultural history of science and medicine that enhance awareness of and appreciation for the collections and health information resources of the National Library of Medicine. This work encourages enthusiasm for history and nurtures young professionals in the fields of history, the health professions, and biomedical sciences.
Explore scholarship around the history of health at home at NLM.
Every Necessary Care and Attention: George Washington & Medicine examines the ways in which George Washington sought to ensure the health and safety of his family, staff, and enslaved workers at his Mount Vernon plantation, as well as his troops on the battlefront.
Pick Your Poison: Intoxicating Pleasures & Medical Prescriptions explores some of the factors that have shaped the changing definition of some of our most potent drugs, from medical miracle to social menace, and highlights historical uses of substances like tobacco and alcohol to treat illnesses like ulcerated skin and malaria at home.
Graphic Medicine: Ill-Conceived and Well-Drawn! explores an emerging sub-genre of medical literature that combines the art of comics and the personal illness narrative and is used by its authors as a coping and healing strategy.
- The Analog Patient: Imagining Medicine at a Distance in the Television Era—Jeremy Greene, MD, PhD, Associate Professor of Medicine and History, Elizabeth Treide and A. McGehee Harvey Chair in the History of Medicine, Institute of the History of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland, April 12, 2016 Read an Interview
- “Savages cry easily and are afraid of the dark”: What It Means to Talk about Race and African American Health—Naa Oyo A. Kwate, PhD, Associate Professor of Africana Studies and Associate Professor of Human Ecology, Rutgers University, and recipient of a 2018 NLM G13 Award for Scholarly Works in Biomedicine and Health/Publications for Race and the Transformation of the Food Environment: Fast food, African Americans, and the Color Line, 1955-1995. Read an Interview
Other Resources on the History of Health at Home
Almanacs, first produced in the middle ages for their astrological information, by the eighteenth century often included brief articles of health advice. In the early nineteenth century, pharmaceutical manufacturers began to buy advertising space in these popular and widely circulated publications with colorful and heavily illustrated pages and catchy and clever cover art.
Current Health Information
For current, trusted information to help you manage your own health please visit NLM’s online health information resource MedlinePlus.
- Demystifying Medicine: Suicide and Depression in Time of COVID-19, Demystifying Medicine Lecture Series, 2021
- The Mental Health Impact of the COVID Pandemic: A Major Life Stressor, COVID-19 Scientific Interest Group, 2021
The NLM Collection Tours series provides highlights from the diverse historical collections of the National Library of Medicine (NLM) on a variety of contemporary topics in health and medicine. Some library services, such as our scan on demand service are temporarily suspended due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, but staff are available to answer questions.