Medical Caregiving and Identity in Pennsylvania's Anthracite Region, 18802000

By (author) Karol K. Weaver

Hardback - £53.95

Publication date:

08 August 2011

Length of book:

200 pages


Penn State University Press

ISBN-13: 9780271048789

While much has been written about immigrant traditions, music, food culture, folklore, and other aspects of ethnic identity, little attention has been given to the study of medical culture, until now. In Medical Caregiving and Identity in Pennsylvania’s Anthracite Region, 1880–2000, Karol Weaver employs an impressive range of primary sources, including folk songs, patent medicine advertisements, oral history interviews, ghost stories, and jokes, to show how the men and women of the anthracite coal region crafted their gender and ethnic identities via the medical decisions they made. Weaver examines communities’ relationships with both biomedically trained physicians and informally trained medical caregivers, and how these relationships reflected a sense of “Americanness.” She uses interviews and oral histories to help tell the story of neighborhood healers, midwives, Pennsylvania German powwowers, medical self-help, and the eventual transition to modern-day medicine. Weaver is able to show not only how each of these methods of healing was shaped by its patrons and their backgrounds but also how it helped mold the identities of the new Americans who sought it out.

“Karol Weaver spins a compelling tale about the practice of vernacular medicine among the immigrant communities of Pennsylvania’s anthracite region. Using oral interviews, advice manuals, hospital records, folklore, and social science literature, she demonstrates the significance of ethnicity, gender, age, and religion in the access to and delivery of folk therapies and medical treatment during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. While women acted as healers to family members and neighbors, providing herbal remedies and midwifery and caregiving services, men, as miners, faced myriad ailments that they self-treated with alcohol, tobacco, and patent medicines. These southern and eastern European immigrants made use of traditional Pennsylvania Dutch healers (powwowers) and also sought out faith healing to treat a variety of maladies. While the histories of mining and labor in the anthracite region of Pennsylvania have been well documented, much less is known about medical practices among working-class immigrants. Weaver’s well-researched and clearly written monograph goes a long way toward filling that gap in the scholarship.”

—Janet M. Lindman, Rowan University