By Julia Conrad
Butte-Glenn Medical Society Intern
Dr. Oscar Stansbury was a physician who practiced organized medicine in Chico in the late 1800s. He made efforts to promote and educate the public about the importance of sanitation and vaccinations. After moving to Chico he built the now historical landmark, The Stansbury Home, with his wife, Libbie Manlove. In The House at 5th and Salem, F.S. Clough draws a picture of Dr. Stansbury’s life in Chico and his contribution to medicine and healthcare in Butte county. The book refers to many outdated practices and beliefs of physicians that were once widely accepted as medical knowledge.
While interning at Butte-Glenn Medical Society, I am also currently enrolled in an Epidemiology course here at Chico State. In our most recent class, we discussed cholera and how it was originally believed to be caused by miasma, a term I had never heard of before. In the 1800s, diseases and illnesses were frequently blamed on miasma, or as referred to in The House at 5th and Salem, “noxious vapors.” These terms were used to describe “bad air,” and were generally accepted to be the cause of malaria, cholera, yellow fever, and other diseases at that time. While reading through The House at 5th and Salem, I was reminded of this past medical theory. Clough quotes Oscar Stansbury, “‘Mosquitoes give me malaria? Where did you get that notion? It’s pretty well known that malaria is caused by noxious vapors,’ I added, quoting from my medical books” (28). It’s incredible to think about the evolution of science and how far we have come in our knowledge regarding diseases. Our scientific community has now discredited The Miasma Theory and will only continue to discover and understand more about the spread and cause of diseases.
Later in Dr. Stansbury’s career, he discusses the advances that the medical community made and their efforts to eradicate diseases such as cholera, the bubonic plague, and small pox. From 1875 to now, the life expectancy of Americans has increased by 20 years. We now know how dangerous the practice of using opium to treat diseases is, and we no longer use bloodletting to help asphyxiated newborn infants, even though these once were common practices.
Today, we face a lot of misconceptions and skewed beliefs regarding healthcare and science. Even with so much substantial scientific evidence, there is a lack of education and knowledge that divides our community and prevents us from moving forward. The recent outbreak of measles signified this. A small portion of the general public still rejects vaccinations regardless of their promotion and approval by the scientific community. Many people also do not accept climate change as a factual process. This misinformation and disregard of evidence can significantly harm our community and our ability to protect our future generations.
“I’ll venture to say fifty years from now they will still be searching for the causes and cures for cancer, heart disease and, yes, even the common cold. Until we find the answers we must still lean on remedies taught us long ago” (Clough 73). While physicians and scientists are continuing to further our discoveries about medicine and healthcare, they have made vast improvements from the 1800s and will only continue to advance and protect healthcare.
California State University, Chico
Public Health Major
Butte-Glenn Medical Society Intern, Fall 2019