Dr Foote’s Home Cyclopedia of Popular Medical, Social and Sexual Science

I ran across this topic in the excellent Australian Emergency Medicine blog Life In The Fast Lane.  It was too good not to share.  After reading the advice of Dr. Foote, I’m sure that most of you, like me, will be rewriting many of your protocols!

Dr. Edward Foote was a U.S. physician in the mid 19th century who wanted to educate the general public about health, nutrition and medicine.  The book he wrote, Dr Foote’s Home Cyclopedia of Popular Medical, Social and Sexual Science was published in 1858.

The book was tremendously popular.  It  was continuously reprinted through at least 1910 and sold well over a million copies.  Maybe your grandparents have a copy up in their attic.


This particular copy was published in 1906, making it over 100 years old.

There are many, many topics in this wonderful book that are entertaining to read.  Much of the advice has a common-sense approach that still sounds like good advice today, though most have not been studied in placebo controlled, double-blind trials (like brandy for resuscitation, found below).  Lets see what you think about excerpts from these three subjects (along with my comments)!

1.  Emergency Resuscitation.

2.  Pregnancy and childbirth.

3.  Medical doctors vs. (gasp!) surgeons!


  • The patient must be treated instantly
  • Loosen the clothing to freely expose the neck and chest
  • All persons not needed for saving him should avoid crowding about
  • Let the throat and mouth be cleared and if the patient does not breathe; immediately do the following:
  • Place the patient on his back with shoulders raised and supported on a folded coat or pillow
  • One person at the head, grasp the tongue gently (with a handkerchief) and draw it out beyond the lips
  • Then press under the jaw and hold it up in that position with the hand
  • Produce and imitate the movements of breathing – raise the arms up above the head and bring them steadily and firmly outward and down to rest the elbows at the side. Bend the arms across the pit of the stomach and press on the sides and front of the chest gently but strongly for a moment and quickly begin to repeat the whole movement.
  • These movements are to be made very deliberately without ceasing 15 times per minute until the patient breathes.
  • If help is at hand, briskly rub the feet and legs, apply a feather to the nostrils occasionally and sprinkle a light dash of water upon the patients face and neck.
  • When the patient begins to breathe – give brandy by the teaspoonful until the pulse can be felt at the wrist but be careful and do not give more of the stimulant than is necessary.
  • As soon as the patient breathes naturally, remove him to a house to be placed in a bed under medical care.

Notice that the principles of scene control and the ABCs have not changed much in 150 years. However, I re-checked to make sure and the administration of brandy is no longer found in the most recent ACLS guidelines.  I wonder if brandy was removed based on adequate trials?  Maybe this should be studied.  Who’s with me?


  • Conception should not take place without a preparatory season of abstinence from sexual indulgence, so that both parties be free from morbid excitability and exhaustion.
  • During the period of pregnancy, excessive sexual indulgence leads to the development in the unborn child a passion which leads many to take up a destructive vice
  • Association with deformed people, or those having birth marks or diseases which cause unnatural manifestations should be avoided to avert the danger of having the unborn child marked with any of these peculiarities.
  • You should avail yourself of every means at your command to preserve physical health
  • Avoid all things calculated to fret, annoy or distress you
  • He who is to be recognized as the father should employ every resource to preserve tranquility of mind and vigor of body to this woman
  • Live and sleep in well ventilated rooms
  • Exercise daily in the open air
  • Avoid excessive or irregular eating
  • Observe habits of personal cleanliness
  • Avoid jealously, selfishness, peevishness and outbursts of temper (I especially agree that pregnant women in our correctional facilities should “Avoid jealousy, selfishness, peevishness and outbursts of temper.”  Actually, every other inmate should as well.  And the medical staff)!
  • The more closely a woman can observe the forgoing rules, the more nearly will she succeed in giving birth to a being that shall possess at once a healthy vigorous brain, a happy temperament and a spirit of philanthropy.
  • Conception should not take place without a preparatory season of abstinence from sexual indulgence, so that both parties be free from morbid excitability and exhaustion.
  • When labor pains commence and the doctor arrives, do not allow him to hasten the work that nature is usually able to do herself. (Modern obstetricians seem to have discarded this advice).
  • Women in labor are naturally impatient, surrounding friends must not be in too much sympathy with this impatience.
  • It is better to give moral encouragement, cheer her up, and keep up a running conversation – that will divert her from the discomfort of the moment; but keep hands off.

PHYSICIANS vs SURGEONS (This is priceless.  I need to show it to all of my surgeon friends)!

  • An expert surgeon can build a great reputation based on a few important operations. Whereas the skillful physician rises slowly by a gradual extension of his knowledge and ability; even at the apex of his success, he has not attained that celebrity which the surgeon acquired by extraordinary stories of his surgical feats.
  • There are numerous surgeons who are well-known in Europe and America, having performed operations that have made their names famous, but who’s advice I would not accept in any case of disease, acute or chronic, requiring the administration of medicine. I would sooner put my case, if I were not able to take care of it myself, in the hands of somebody’s grandmother than to trust their combined skill.
  • Do not go to the blacksmith for bread, nor to the baker to have your wagon repaired. Do not employ a surgeon when a medical doctor is needed. Surgery and medicine are only distantly related. Hardly as nearly as cousins.

Hah!  Take that, surgeons!

Comments on Dr. Foote’s excellent counsel?

4 thoughts on “Dr Foote’s Home Cyclopedia of Popular Medical, Social and Sexual Science

  1. He didn’t write anything about jail medical practice. Wonder how they get along during that time.
    He reaaly hates the surgeons ?? That will be jealousy and peevishness etc.,.

    • Thanks for the comments, Dr. Aw. Dr. Foote’s Cyclopedia was written over 100 years ago. Certainly there must be a more cordial relationship between surgeons and internal medicine nowadays! (And on that note, did you hear the one about the surgeon who walked into a bar . . .)

  2. Have you ever encountered a pregnant female who wants to have an abortion while incarcerated? Specifically, someone who would be in jail for the full pregnancy and could not wait to be released. I am an EMT in a jail and discussing the matter with nurses- none of us has encountered this scenario and we are curious if it would be supported. We looked it up online and it appears to be something dealt with differently depending on counties/ facilities. One case was based on whether or not it was deemed to be “medically necessary”.

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