Dr. Buell Eastman - His Books

The following is a transcription of a part of an article written in 1938 by an Indiana doctor, Edward F. Kiser, reviewing a book written in 1845 by Buell Eastman.


XXXIV Indiana Magazine of History (June 1938) #2, pp. 157-164.


"Hoosier Incunabula"


Edgar F. Kiser, M.D.

It seems strange that in this great commonwealth of ours, famous throughout the broad expanse of the United States as the home of distinguished literati, there has been such a dearth of medical literature. True, there have been numerous and excellent contributions to current medical journals, but the more operose and laborious undertaking, the writing of books, has evidently not appealed to many of our doctors for medical texts from the pens of Indiana authors are few and far between. It is interesting to note, however, that some of our pioneers in medicine had the temerity to spread the gospel of healing through the medium of the written word, and it is a description of two of the very earliest of these medical texts-may I call them "Hoosier Incunabula?"-that is the purpose of this article. Neither of the authors would be in the good graces of the council of his local medical society were he to publish today a work "Particularly Adapted to the Use of Heads of Families and Mid- {158} wives" and even in that early period both authors excuse their dereliction on the ground of a thinly settled country and a scarcity of physicians. Both works are classical examples of the familiar "family physician."

The earlier work is entitled The Indian Guide to Health, by Dr. S. H. Selman, and was published in Columbus, Indiana, in 1836.

{first section omitted}

{161} The second work which engages our attention is entitled A Practical Treatise on Diseases Peculiar to Women and Girls, to which is added an Eclectic System of Midwifery by Buell Eastman, M.D., published in Connersville in 1845.

{Picture of front cover omitted}

When I purchased the book, about five years ago, I had reason to believe that it was the first medical work published in the State of Indiana, and it was three or four months later that Dr. James Stygall called my attention to the Selman volume. Dr. G. W. H. Kemper, in the section on Medical History in Dunn's Indiana and Indianans (Jacob P. Dunn, Indiana and Indianans (Chicago. 1919). II, 787-859) shows the title page of the second edition of Eastman's book and says he believes it to be the first medical publication in the state. Of Doctor Eastman, we can learn but little. None of the state or Fayette County records mention him. Dr. W. N. Wishard has no knowledge of him, nor have any of a number of Connersville physicians or residents with whom I have spoken. Dr. J.Rilus Eastman is familiar with the name of Buell Eastman, {162} but says that the family genealogy does not include him and Doctor Rilus believes that if there is a relationship, it is very remote. A brief note in the Indianapolis Star of March 12, 1919, concerning the copy of the book then in the possession of Dr. Kemper, said that Dr. Eastman came to Connersville in 1844 and was a resident there for two years. I know of no way to substantiate the statement.

On the title page of his book, Dr. Eastman identifies himself as a "Senior Member of the Medical Society of Cincinnati." I wrote to Dr. Alfred Friedlander of Cincinnati for such information as he might be able to obtain for me and got the following reply:

I had our secretary go over the old records of the College. I find that Dr. Eastman was graduated from the Medical College of Ohio the precursor of the present College of Medicine, University of Cincinnati-in 1832. The Faculty minutes read to the effect that when Mr. Eastman came up for final oral examination he did not pass. He was given a second examination shortly thereafter and at this time succeeded in satisfying the requirements of the examiners, and was accordingly given his degree in 1832. No further biographical data are available.

It is my impression, however, that although Dr. Eastman "flunked his exams," he was a rather scholarly man, as a passage from his book, which I shall presently quote, will attest.

As to the book, it is a duodecimo of 182 pages bound in hand-marbled boards. The paper, printing and composition are far superior to the Selman work and the pages are little discolored by age or use. Dr. Eastman evidently had faith in his brainchild, as the verso of the title-page carries an advertisement, giving the price of a single copy as $1.50; one hundred copies, $1.25 each; and five hundred copies, $1.00 each. That the work was a success is evidenced by the fact that Dr. Kemper's copy, which is now in the State Library, is the second edition.

The book is divided into five parts: The first is devoted to Diseases of Women and Girls; the second to Midwifery; the third to "Manual Labor"; the fourth to Diseases of Children; and the last to Medical Properties and Uses of Remedies.

Chapter One opens with a definition of puberty which is classic:

Puberty is that period of life at which the person assumes its due proportions, and distinguishing beauty of form; the voice becomes more {163} harmonious; the countenance more animated; and the motions more graceful. The sexual organs, which previously lay in a dormant state, are so far matured as to begin to exercise their functions. The bosom becomes greatly augmented; the breasts are expanded, and the nipple elongated. The womb and cavity of the pelvis are enlarged, and the menses appear. The future vigour of the constitution is greatly improved; and the sexual functions are now capable of full and active exercise and appear to be intimately connected with the spirits, energy and development of many parts of the oeconomy. The other functions undergo equally -remarkable modifications, under the new and instinctive impulse which animates every part of animal life. The external senses attain fresh and peculiar activity; the intellectual faculties become greatly developed, while the morals and social manifestations show themselves in that indescribable feeling of interest, and captivating modesty and affection which characterize the female sex. . . . Her mind is replete with changes; peurile amusements now yield to maturer enjoyments, and rational inquiry; capricious attachments give place to sincere unaffected and permanent friendship; and the best proportions the individual is susceptible of, are now suddenly and successfully developed, in a word, a new creature almost seems to be suddenly formed.

An appreciation of Eastman's intelligent conception of good obseteric practice may be gathered from his statement: "I hope to be credited when I declare, that more mischief is done, more misery and pain occasioned, and more broken and shattered constitutions are produced by the untimely interference of art, by handling and boring, and stretching the parts, than by all other things put together."

Nor was Dr. Eastman a polypharmacist. His book contains none of the shotgun mixtures which abound in Selman's work. In fact, his Materia Medica might not be a bad guide for a recent graduate. Read what he has to say of opium:

Opium is one of the most valuable articles belonging to the science of medicine. Taken by a healthy person in a moderate dose, it increases the force, fullness, and frequency of the pulse, augments the temperature of the skin, invigorates the muscular system, quickens the senses, animates the spirits, and gives energy to the intellectual faculties. Its operations are extended to all parts of the system. In a short time this excitation subsides, a calmness of the corporeal actions, and a delightful placidity of mind succeed, and the individual, insensible to painful impressions, forgetting all sources of care and anxiety, is conscious of no other feeling than that of a quiet and vague enjoyment. All the secretions, with the exception of that from the skin, are either suspended or diminished, the regular motion of the bowels is arrested, pain and inordinate muscular contraction if present are allayed, and its due general nervous irritation is composed, if not entirely relieved.... No medicine is so efficient in allaying nervous irritation, relaxing spasms {164} and quieting irregular muscular movements, as this article. Hence its great importance as a remedy in cramp, spasms, colics, painful mensuration, hysterics, coughs, etc.

And so throughout Buell Eastman's book, every paragraph and every sentence couched in splendid English, we see a keen insight into the principles of medicine and obstetrics, crude as the practice must necessarily have been. It seems a pity that his talents were not turned to a worthier cause than the production of a popular guide to medicine. And yet, who can question his sincerity when, in his introduction he says: "The present work has not been undertaken without due deliberation upon the responsibility attached to such an enterprise."

I am resaonably certain that these two books, Selman's Indian Guide and Eastman's Treatise are the earliest medical works published in Indiana. However, if any of my readers can direct me to a work of earlier date, the information will be greatly appreciated.

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 Roger Lindsey Hood
30 March 1999