Description and review of the East Sacramento Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society Museum of Medical History.
A dozen members of the Sacramento Renaissance Society met at the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society building recently for a tour of the Museum of Medical History. Many in our group were unaware of the existence of the museum – which is admittedly a bit off the beaten path. I had contemplated visiting the museum several times on Free Museum Day, but this was my first visit.
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Museum of Medical History In Brief
The Museum of Medical History showcases developments in medicine from the mid-1880’s to today. Many of the artifacts exhibited have a local connection. For example, an exhibit of early nurses’ uniforms from local hospitals.
The small, multi-room museum features display cases organized by themes such as antibiotics and infectious diseases, Asian medicine, and quackery to name a few. Collections of medical artifacts range from bedpans to heart valves. Also on display are a variety of medical devices including a 1950’s-era iron lung, a 1920’s X-ray machine and a wooden wheelchair.
The museum also is home to an extensive library of early medical text books and journals.
Museum of Medical History Tour
Dr. Bob LaPerriere, the museum curator, was our gracious and knowledgeable tour guide that afternoon.
We started our tour with a demonstration of the 1950’s-era iron lung which is immediately to the left of the entrance. Dr. Bob explained the various openings used to care for the patients who were dependent upon the iron lung to breathe. When the machine was switched on several in our group were surprised on how quiet it was.
Dr. Bob discussed the types of polio and the devastating impact of the disease prior to the development of the polio vaccine in 1955. My only recollection of polio and the 1950’s was taking the polio vaccine in the form of a sugar cube. However, one member of our group recalled having a friend who contracted polio placed in an iron lung.
We made our way, room by room, and showcase by showcase, while Dr. Bob explained generally what we were seeing and answered our specific questions. We were also invited to return to the exhibits in which we were particularly interested afterwards to take a closer look.
Not only were the exhibits well organized, but I was impressed by the extensive labeling of the hundreds of artifacts with their purpose and use.
During the time when “blood-letting” was administered routinely, as it was thought to remedy a variety of maladies, one of the means of doing so was the use of leeches. As we were pursuing the exhibit relating to blood-letting, Dr. Bob mentioned that for many years the exhibit included live leeches – a favorite of school tour groups – but that ended when the person who replaced their water each week retired!
Early Sacramento Medical History
Hordes of 49’ers made their way to California by land and sea during the Gold Rush. The gold-seekers brought with them a variety of infections and diseases. As a result, the local indigenous population and Sacramento settlers suffered devasting epidemics. One such epidemic was the 1850 cholera epidemic that killed 1,000 Sacramentans within three weeks.
About the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society
The Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society brings together physicians from all disciplines to promote, among other things, the art and science of quality medical care.
Organized medicine in Sacramento evolved in response to “irregular” doctors practicing medicine in the region. Examples of “irregular” doctors include eclectics, Thomsonians and homeopaths, as well as untrained or poorly trained individuals who hung out a shingle.
The Sacramento Society for Medical Improvement, now the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society, was formed in 1868.
To Sum Up
To sum up, what was expected to be a 45 to 60-minute tour ended up as a 1½ hour medical history adventure.
It was fascinating to see the evolution of medicine over time, and I believe all of us left that day with a renewed appreciations for modern medicine!
The Museum of Medical History may be small, but it is unique and definitely worth visiting.
See related blog post: Sacramento History Museum
Comments on the Museum of Medical History?
Have you visited the Museum of Medical History? What would you add to the above? What was your favorite exhibit?
Museum of Medical History Snapshot:
- Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society Building, First Floor
- 5380 Elvas Ave, Sacramento, CA 95819
- (916) 452-2672
- Open: Tuesdays and Thursdays (by appointment)
- Free. Suggested donation: $5
- All visitors are required to wear masks regardless of vaccination status
- Parking lot and street parking
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