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Health and Medicine


Nineteenth century medicine is a broad topic, from “snake oil” and patent medicines to the gradual acceptance of germ theory. Today’s MDs shared the stage with several other perspectives: homeopaths, naturopaths, naprapaths, chiropractors, etc. And at the fringe were those ready to prey on public fear and ignorance hawking “snake oil” and unregulated pharmaceuticals.


Rudyard Fahnstock, M.D. was the earliest doctor to become a long-term resident in the 1880s; someone willing to stay long enough to be haunted by his errors of judgment and outright mistakes. A graduate of Chicago’s Rush Medical College, Fahnstock collaborated with Sissy Beddowes, medicine woman to the Sac & Fox people who lived in the Muskrat Valley long before the Treaty of 1850. Another doctor would likely have been at odds with Mrs. Beddowes, but their personalities meshed, and Mrs. B became a frequent consultant on unusual and difficult cases.

[Beddowes made frequent visits, for example, to Mrs. Miller’s Enterprise — our euphemism for Agincourt’s house of ill repute — where earlier unwanted pregnancies more often than not ended badly. The unlikely foursome of Doc Fahnstock, Circe Beddowes, Annabelle Miller, and Martha Tennant “placed” unwanted infants in homes throughout the region.]

Fahnstock and the community’s other short-term medical practitioners applied their skills in second-story offices above our bakeries and hardware stores and haberdashers, and also in schools and private residences; the “house call” was still a common occurrence. The circumstances behind Agincourt’s first purpose-built hospital remain to be written. But there is a likely prototype: the Cottage Hospital Movement that began in Britain and was quickly taken up in the U.S.

The Cottage Hospital

Henry Burdett published The Cottage Hospital, its origins, progress, management and work in 1877, a detailed presentation of this new building type and a virtual handbook for those who understood its promise in rural communities. Burdett included drawings of at least four examples and a list of many others, with full details of cost and statistics related to their operation. I can’t say how quickly we applied his principles here in the United States. But an extensive four-page article appeared in Carpentry and Building in December 1891. Surely medical journals had presented the idea long before.

The C&B article illustrated a sixteen-bed facility at Flushing, Long Island, an outlying suburb of New York City. Ever vigilant for time and labor-saving additions to the poroject’s evolving building stock, I’m content to adapt it’s economies for an Agincourt site, probably in the sparse southeast quadrant near the banks of Crispin Creek.


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