Museum of Medical History
The Museum of Medical History of the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society showcases developments in medicine with special relationship to our region, from the mid-1800‘s through today. The Museum is organized by various themes: patent medicines and pharmacology, basic science and laboratory medicine, antibiotics and infectious diseases, medical diagnosis and therapy, surgical diagnosis and therapy, nursing, Asian medicine, radiology, quackery and local medical history. Click here to view the Virtual Museum Explorer. For a panoramic 360° view click here.
A variety of larger artifacts are also displayed, including examination tables, a 1920-era x-ray machine, wheelchairs, nurses uniforms, a doctor’s office cabinet, skeleton, 1950-era iron lung, Civil War amputation kits, live leeches, and a variety of medical art.
You’ll also find an array of classical 19th century instruments including cups, various tools for bleeding, ether masks and medicines with mercury, arsenic and strychnine. The Museum of Medical History is also home to an extensive library containing early medical textbooks and journals.
The museum is free of charge and open to the public Monday-Friday, from 9:00 AM to 4:00 PM, except for holidays.
Museum of Medical History
Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society
5380 Elvas Ave
Sacramento, CA 95819
The Museum of Medical History is available for school tours. If needed, we are pleased to provide subsidized school bus transportation through a grant from Kaiser Permanente. For more information or to schedule a school tour, call the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society at 916/452-2671.
Early Sacramento Medical History
Prior to the arrival of settlers and explorers into Northern California, the Sierra Sacramento Valley region was described as “...one of the most healthful territories on the continent with a climate unrivaled in purity and equability...Nor is sickness, that scourge of humanity, here to harass and hinder us in our pursuits...” However, with the early explorers came diseases against which Native Americans had no resistance, and with the gold seekers came numerous diseases and epidemics, bred by the lack of hygiene and sanitation.
At the peak of the Gold Rush it was noted that, “Within a few short months, they (the gold seekers) produced in Sacramento a collecting point of health tragedy not to be equaled any other place in the world.” Ill health began on the trip westward, both by sea and by land, with many infectious agents including cholera and scurvy caused by inadequate supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables. It was estimated that 6% of all early settlers died coming to California, and 20% lost their lives within six months of arrival. Epidemics in Sacramento were devastating, such as cholera (1850) that killed 1,000 Sacramentans in three weeks. Medical care was far from ideal. Competing with the regular medical doctors, or allopaths, were the “irregular” doctors, such as eclectics, Thomsonians and homeopaths, in addition to poorly trained or untrained individuals who hung out a shingle and practiced medicine.
Organized medicine in Sacramento grew out of the tension between “regular” and “irregular” practitioners, which came to a head in 1850 with the formation of the Medico-Chirurgical Association, the first medical organization in California. Formed by Dr. J.B.D. Stillman and 31other pioneer physicians for the cultivation of science, honor and dignity, it lasted only six years. The Sacramento Medical Society was formed in 1855 only to disband eight years later. Finally, five years later, in 1868, the Sacramento Society for Medical Improvement, today’s Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society, was formed.
Our pioneer physicians were innovators. Under their guidance, the second City Board of Health in the United States was formed, as was the first prepaid hospital insurance plan, the first railroad hospital in the world, the first successful appendectomy in California, the first weather bureau on the west coast, and the first building in California designed specifically to be a hospital.
The Museum of Medical History is staffed by the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society’s Historical Committee and is operated entirely from donations from the community. Click here to make a tax-deductible donation.