History, Department of


Date of this Version

December 2004


Published in The Annals of Iowa 63 (Winter 2004), pp. 1–62. Copyright © 2004 The State Historical Society of Iowa. Used by permission. http://www.culturalaffairs.org/shsi/publications/annals/annals.html
Grateful acknowledgment is made to the Nebraska State Historical Society for the loan of their copy of this publication.


The second in a three-part series offering an overview of the history of medicine in Iowa from Euro-American settlement through World War II, this survey like part one, concentrates on physicians, medical institutions, public health, and state laws. Developments in these areas shaped the ways Iowans both received health care and, through legislation, tried to translate medical knowledge and values into public benefits. Such a perspective entails omissions. Physicians were by no means the only people who served the ill and injured between 1887 and 1928. Midwives, nurses, dentists, pharmacists, neighbors, relatives, itinerant healers, and nostrum purveyors all provided a range of help and hope to the sick, and much more needs to be discovered about their relationships to physicians and to ordinary people. Individual patients' firsthand experiences with health care are also largely absent from this survey as are details about how local city and county governments implemented (or ignored) directives from Des Moines about public health. Understanding the ways that both patients and local authorities perceived changes in medical knowledge and practice provides an important corrective to physician-centered medical history; I hope that this essay stimulates such contributions. Similarly more work on the political negotiations behind the scenes of legislative and policy decisions will reveal important insights into how lay people interpreted and evaluated proposals to improve the health of Iowans by following the advice of medical experts.

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