Westborough Local History Pastimes – For the Week of May 11, 2020

pas·time – /ˈpasˌtīm/ – noun

  1. an activity that someone does regularly for enjoyment rather than work; a hobby. “his favorite pastimes were shooting and golf [and local history!]” (Source: Lexico – https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pastime)

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In last week’s issue of Westborough Local History Pastimes, I discussed the importance of collecting images, stories, websites, and other formats that document how Westborough is responding to the current medical crisis and what that collection may mean to Westborough in the future. But we can also look back in time to see how Westborough handled medical issues in the past.

This issue highlights ways for you to explore how Westborough responded to pandemics, disease, and other physical ailments at various points in its history. 

[And be sure to add your Face Mask Selfie to the Westborough Coronavirus Pandemic Response collection! The ones that have been submitted so far are really fun and interesting.]

–Anthony Vaver, Local History Librarian

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  • Rev. Ebenezer Parkman and Eighteenth-Century Medicine – If we cannot diagnose Rev. Ebenezer Parkman, Westborough’s first minister, as a hypochondriac* given the historical distance between his time and now, we can at least say that he was highly attuned to medical matters during his time. In the absence of modern medicine, who can blame him? Parkman actively chronicled both his own ailments and those of the people of Westborough in his diary, and he collected recipes that supposedly cured or provided relief to those afflicted with disease or illness.  

Here are a few places where you can explore and learn more about disease and medicine in eighteenth-century America through Parkman and his writings.

  • Read about how diseases as various as measles, sore throat, and rickets affected Westborough in the eighteenth century by visiting this page from the Westborough Public Library’s online edition of Parkman’s diary: http://diary.ebenezerparkman.org/diary-themes-topics/.
  • You can find some of the cures that Parkman collected–such as “The Blood of a Pigeon is a most Excellent Remedy in all Wounds & Contagions of the Eyes”–in New England’s Hidden Histories’s online collection of Parkman Papers. Click the “Close and View Content” button in the bottom right of the page after visiting each of these pages:
  • Read more about Parkman’s medicinal recipes in “A Most Excellent Remedy,” a Beacon Street Diary blog post from Congregational Library and Archive.

* According to Leo Damrosch in The Club: Johnson, Boswell, and the Friends Who Shaped an Age (available as an ebook through the WPL with the Libby app), hypochondria in the eighteenth-century “didn’t mean wrongly imagining a physical illness; it meant suffering from a very real mental disorder, which was assumed to be linked to some bodily imbalance” relating to “blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile” (17).

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Westborough Chronotype, September 20, 1918
Westborough Chronotype, September 27, 1918
Westborough Chronotype, October 4, 1918
Westborough Chronotype, October 11, 1918

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