A woman reclines in a chair by a window, propped on a pillow holding a book.

NLM Collections Tour: Health at Home

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.


Images from the History of Medicine (IHM), within NLM Digital Collections, contains visual recommendations for healthy living in many different time periods and locations.

Explore many more related images in NLM Digital Collections under these search terms:

 Oral HygieneNutrition | Physical Exercise
Mental Health | Preventing Accidents at Home

You can also explore public domain images from the NLM prints and photographs collection on Flickr.

Historical Films

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


Unique English Imprints, pre-1800 Collection

Medicine in the Americas, 1610–1920 Collection

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:

Cover of an illustrated pamphlet shows a man suffering from imps attacking his mouth.
The Tooth Ache, ca. 1850
National Library of Medicine #57411170R


Web Archive

Global Health Events 

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.
A screen capture from a twitter post by Yo Yo Ma.


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.


Logo for Every Necessary Care and Attention exhibition.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.

logo for Pick Your Poison exhibition.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.

Logot For Graphic Medicine exhibitionGraphic 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.

NLM History Talks

Naa Oyo A. Kwate, a sign languae interpreter, and a graph from Kwate's slides of the talk..

Other Resources on the History of Health at Home

Time, Tide, and Tonics: The Patent Medicine Almanac in America

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.

NIH Lectures

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.

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