Saturday, June 7, 2008

The Ruptured Poor

In the nineteenth century, benevolent societies were established on both sides of the Atlantic to relieve the pain and suffering of workers who, as the result of their strenuous jobs, developed hernias. In 1807, the National Truss Society was established in London "to relieve poor ruptured persons...by furnishing (under surgical direction) trusses for every kind of rupture, and bandages and necessary instruments for all cases of prolapsus; and by performing every necessary operation." The full name of the society was the National Truss Society for the Relief of the Ruptured Poor. An 1817 report from the London society estimated that "this malady exists in one person in eight through the whole male population of the kingdom," especially among the laboring classes. Weavers and boatmen, the report said, were particularly susceptible. In the previous year, the London society had relieved 2,610 members of the ruptured poor with charitable trusses. Pictured above is an elastic truss advertised in an 1879 issue of Scientific American. The truss was designed to press the protruding hernia back into the abdomen with a special ball-and-cup attachment, shown in the corner of the illustration. Trusses were advertised as a permanent cure for hernias. They weren't. Surgery is, unfortunately, the only means of permanently repairing a hernia.

An advertisement for a truss offering a "permanent cure" for hernias (1853)

American medical journals of the nineteenth century were full of accounts of successful hernia surgeries, and of new and improved treatments for hernia. As much as I dread the prospect of surgery, I have to admit it sounds better than having leeches applied to the groin: a standard medical treatment for hernia in the first half of the nineteenth century.

The topic of hernias in the nineteenth century would make an interesting historical study, bringing together the history of labor, private benevolence, medical and technological innovation, and—as the proliferation of truss advertisements suggests—marketing.

3 comments:

Jim H. said...

The National Truss Society was, I presume, the precursor to The National Truss For Historic Preservation.

Jim H. said...

You were particularly susceptible as a weaver of beautiful poems and essays.

Bleeet said...

Good one, Jim.

"National Truss For Historic Preservation"...

The cure is "permanent," Rob, provided you wear it forever.

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