- Healing Kentucky: Medicine in the Bluegrass State
Healing Kentucky: Medicine in the Bluegrass State is a title in the University Press of Kentucky’s series called New Books for New Readers. According to the press, this series, supported by the Kentucky Humanities Council, is “an effort to provide adult literacy students with books that recognize their intelligence and experience, while also meeting their needs for simplicity in writing.” Nancy Disher Baird, a librarian and historian at Western Kentucky University, has written an accessible account of some of the major events in the history of medicine in Kentucky; her efforts certainly fulfill the goals of the New Books for New Readers Series. Joining other recognized historians like James Klotter and Carol Crowe-Carraco, who have also contributed to this series, Baird enriches this project with her simple prose.
Baird’s intention was to write a book that “tells the story of a 200-year fight to give good health care to all Kentuckians.” To do this, she selected a series of major accomplishments from Kentucky history. The stories she tells will be familiar to those with a basic knowledge of medical history. The removal of Jane Crawford’s abdominal tumor by Ephraim McDowell, Linda Neville’s crusade against trachoma, and the achievements of John and Arthur McCormack, the famous father-and-son duo who led the Kentucky State Board of Health, have been documented and analyzed in a number of scholarly works. When Baird relates these events, however, the analysis is stripped away and the stories are presented in an accessible, entertaining way. Her accounts describe the horrors of contagious disease and the challenges faced by citizens living in an era before the advances of scientific medicine were achieved. She often portrays doctors as heroes and suggests that medicine is a progressive endeavor, with the benefits, ultimately, available to all.
This short work will offer little of significance to a scholar. It is not intended as a text for even an undergraduate audience. Baird’s work, however, does remind us of the importance of making historical research available to a popular audience. This author, and the University Press of Kentucky, are to be commended for their efforts to reach this audience of emerging adult readers. In the best of all circumstances, a reader who completes this book will become interested in the history of medicine in Kentucky and will pursue more advanced studies. With that hope in mind, it would be beneficial if this book, and others in the series, included a basic bibliography. The absence of such a bibliography is the only legitimate criticism [End Page 101] of this work that can be leveled. In all other ways, this little book well serves an important purpose.