Jan 13 Tuesday Have not done much work to day
can scarcely tell what I have been doing Have
been trying to fix Susan some work to learn her to sew
Have got out an apron and commenced a stocking
for her to knit. This afternoon called on Mrs Richards
Holmes, Torrey Savage & Hannah Spent the evening with
Augustus and wife at Olivers. Mrs Witherell been to Dr Washburns
& had her teeth out. Mrs S Ames George & Emily went with her. Father
& Oliver dined here & the others when they came back from Bridgewater
This was not Sarah Witherell’s best week. Limping from a bad burn on her foot, she kept an appointment with a dentist, Dr. Nahum Washburn, to have her teeth pulled. Dr. Washburn had his office in Bridgewater, in an historic building known as “the Tory House.” It was the same office that Evelina had been to several months earlier to have her own teeth worked on.
Modern historian Jack Larkin has noted that “[h]undreds of thousands of Americans had at least some of their teeth badly rotted, a source of chronic pain and foul breath to many, with extraction its only cure […] Dentistry, which most rural American physicians practiced, was by far the most effective form of surgery; extraction was a decisive and relatively safe procedure (although infection always posed some risk).”*
While Sarah Witherell suffered today, her family united to support her. Her children and sister-in-law accompanied her to the dentist’s office. Evelina (with Jane McHanna in the kitchen, of course) fed the entire family, which made for twelve around the dining table. Old Oliver, whose midday meal was usually prepared by Sarah Witherell, came over from the other part of the house. The Ameses from next door were there, too. Everyone came together for Sarah Witherell.
Evelina managed to socialize today, too. She called on various friends and relatives around town, perhaps sharing the news of poor Sarah’s painful dentistry.
*Jack Lardin, The Reshaping of Everyday Life, 1988, pp. 92 – 93
2 thoughts on “January 13, 1852”
I was curious as to whether Sarah Witherell had the benefit of anesthesia during her procedure. Looks like ether, chloroform, and nitrous oxide were in limited use at the time, so she may or may not have had a really bad day.
Good question. Dr. Washburn was indeed concerned about the pain that his patients had to go through during extraction. He even invented a machine that purported to minimize pain (see August 7, 1851) but that was several years later. Don’t know if he had access to the anesthetics that you rightly point out were used by particular doctors and dentists. For Sarah’s sake I hope he did.