House Calls to Hoaxes: Early Medicine Exhibit at Hatfield Historical Museum

Behind the Scenes of Creating a Museum Exhibit
By Kathie Gow

Check out the opening of From House Calls to Hoaxes: The Changing Face of Health Care at the Hatfield Historical Museum on Sunday, October 6th from 11am-3pm during the Hatfield Fall Festival. (Free)

The most exciting thing about creating a museum exhibit is getting to learn about (or learn more about) a new subject. At the Hatfield Historical Museum, myself, as curator, and a handful of volunteers are putting up an exhibit on the history of medical care in our town, and it’s been quite a trip: From House Calls to Hoaxes: The Changing Face of Health Care in Hatfield.

We have been warmed by stories of house calls and dedicated doctors traveling by horse and sleigh through snow to attend their patients’ ills in their homes; as well as, fascinated, surprised and repulsed to learn what techniques and tools were considered standard in earlier times…

As we research and write labels for the various tools and medicines used by Hatfield’s doctors, dentists and nurses, we have discovered that we are also learning about the history of medicine. In this sense, the artifacts and the personal stories that go with them are the conduits for getting to that bigger picture. With this exhibit, we think you will be amazed, amused and really glad that you live in this modern age of medicine – and not, say, in the early 1800s, when “bloodletting” was the standard treatment for many ills, when “germs” had not yet been discovered, and when the insertion of a hollow glass globe the size of a tennis ball (a type of pessary) was an accepted treatment for a fallen uterus or bladder.

Come visit our new exhibit in the Hatfield Historical Museum and you will see a bloody hand*, “snake oil” medicines, and a box of those glass globe pessaries!

The exhibit opening will take place Sunday, October 6th, as part of Hatfield’s Fall Festival.  The show will continue on Saturday mornings through October 26th during regular museum hours (9:30-11:30 am). Complementary activities at the Hatfield Farm Museum (the tobacco barn behind the library) include retired pharmacist Joseph Pelis exhibiting his collection of mortars and pestles, starting from Victorian times, accompanied by a mortar and pestle activity where kids can make their own herbal “remedy” (from 11 am-1 pm).

For info on the many other events happening during Fall Festival, including UMASS professor and author Marla Miller signing copies of her hot-off-the-press biography of Rebecca Dickinson: Independence for a New England Woman, visit us online: Hatfield Historical Museum.

*Don’t worry parents, it’s on a mannequin!


Kathie Gow is curator of the Hatfield Historical Museum and writes the blog “Bird by Bird” for the Hatfield Historical Society website. For her business producing audio memoirs, she also writes a periodic blog about the value of saving your family’s stories. Kathie lives in Hatfield with her husband and two children.

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