Thursday, February 17, 2011

19th Century Medical Practitioner Ads: “Warranted To Give Entire Satisfaction”

A Medieval Physician
Researchers often find ancestors and ancestral relations in the census with occupational titles that indicate they were medical practitioners of some sort; these listings therefore suggest to modern researchers that their ancestors pursued years of academic study at some college or university. 

That, however, is often more a case of wishful thinking on the part of the researcher than historical fact.  Consider for a moment the occupation of “dentist”, which now requires a thorough postgraduate education and professional licensing. 

That important “education and licensing” part was not always the case.

The first dental school in the United States – the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery -  was chartered in 1840. Prior to that year, practitioners who called themselves dentists were either trained by others already in the field (the best case scenario) or were completely self-trained (a not-infrequent state of affairs).

Chances are, Henry J. Boynton, who lived in Portland, Maine and self-identified as a “dentist” in the 1850 Federal census, did not have much in the way of formal dental education in the modern sense since he was already in his mid-30s when the first dentistry school opened its doors hundreds of miles away.

His census listing (below) shows that he was married to a young lady from Nova Scotia. The young child also listed, Isabella, age 2, was very likely his daughter.


Dr. Boynton’s practice was probably fairly financially successful since he was able to afford a full-page advertisement in the Portland, Maine 1850 – 1851 city directory (pictured below.)  

 Of course, the construction and insertion of “mineral teeth” on gold plates was no doubt both expensive (for the patient) and, for Boynton, highly profitable. And, of course, he guaranteed “entire satisfaction.”
Henry Boynton continued to practice dentistry in Portland for at least another decade.  Here is his 1860 listing. 

 Interestingly, during this period, his practice seems to have taken a decidedly “scientific” turn. We know this from the advertisements that Boynton placed weekly in “The Maine Temperance Journal”, an anti-alcohol newspaper with a statewide circulation edited by Darius Forbes and published in Portland by Brown Thurston.  The Journal described itself as “Devoted to Temperance, Agriculture, Education, Science and News.”
During this period, no display ads for Dr. Boynton appeared in the Portland city directory. He appeared to have chosen the newspaper as his primary advertising vehicle. Newspapers reached a much larger audience at a lower cost.  The small bit of code in the lower left hand corner of the ad means that he contracted for one year's worth of ads in each issue, starting on September 6th, 1858.
Despite his simple description of his occupation as “dentist” in the 1850 & 1860 censuses, Boynton’s newspaper ad showed that he was now calling himself an “electropathic physician.” While he still extracted teeth (now claiming to use shock-free electricity), he also claimed to treat diseases of the eye, ear, head, throat, lungs and chest. 
His ad from “The Maine Temperance Journal” newspaper of Thursday, 17 March 1859 is shown below:

 I wonder exactly what kind of “electropathic” equipment he had in his office and just how effective his “breathing apparatus to administer medicated vapors by inhalation” actually was?  Since he continued to advertise for more than a decade with the phrase “warranted to give entire satisfaction”, could it be that he may have been on to something?
More to the point, would it be a “covered service” under today’s health insurance plans?

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