Dr. Elam Stimson and his 19th Century Medical Practices

Hi, everyone!

For today’s blog, I thought I would expand little on the exciting find from last Friday. So in case you didn’t have a chance to read our past blog, or if it is your first time visiting this page (in that case – Welcome!), here is the brief recap of what happened: On Friday, we went to the St Paul’s Cathedral and uncovered a stone, which was buried about a feet below the ground. The stone memorialized the wife and son of Dr. Elam Stimson (or Stimpson – as it was written for his wife). The stone was a very exciting discovery for us not only because the stone dated back to 1830s, but also because Dr. Stimson had a fascinating story.


Dr. Elam Stimson was originally from the United States. He was born on October of 1792 at Tolland, Connecticut. He had fought in the War of 1812, but on American side! Keep in mind he was not a doctor yet. Following the war, he had various occupations while he studied medicine with a physician of his town. He then proceeded to attend Medical Institute of Yale and later the New Hampshire Medical Institution at Dartmouth. In 1819, he finally earned his degree and became Dr. Elam Stimson.

He then got married to his first wife, Mary Anne who is memorialized on the stone we discovered. In 1823, Dr. Stimson and his family moved to Upper Canada. In 1831, when he moved to London, Upper Canada, he worked as a physician to the jail. Only a year later, Dr. Elam Stimson’s wife and son would get ill with Cholera when London was affected by Cholera epidemic that started from Quebec. He treated his wife and son with various methods that he deemed to be appropriate for the symptom. Dr. Elam Stimson prescribed a large dose of ginger tea and alcohol, while practicing bloodletting.

Picture of Bloodletting from the 1860s

Bloodletting refers to a medical practice that withdrew blood from a patient in order to cure illness or disease. Bloodletting has a very long history. It was practiced from the antiquity. While bloodletting was questioned since the 16th century, it remained as a popular method until the early 19th century. When the evidence-based medicine was popularized, physicians would attempt to make the practice sound as scientific as possible. They would prescribe how much of blood should be let out depending on a patient’s age, sex, weight, and symptoms. As you may have guessed, this practice did not save Dr. Elam Stimson’s wife and son. They died in the epidemic within days of each other. Later that year, Dr. Stimson went back to Connecticut and married his wife’s sister, named Susan. He then came back to Canada, but did not settle in London, Ontario.

There are many other Medical procedures practiced by physicians at the time, and I will hopefully be able to come back to it and write little more on it. Medical practices from the Victorian are quite fascinating to study because some are so absurd to modern standards. I wonder if the medical practices we perform now will look absurd to the future generations as well.


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