Dr Foote’s Home Cyclopedia

Dr Foote Home Cyclopedia

Dr Foote’s Home Cyclopedia of Popular Medical, Social and Sexual Science was initially published in 1858.

Dr Edward B. Foote MD was a physician in New York in the mid 1800’s who wrote the book with the aim of bringing medical information to the general population.

This particular copy was published in 1906, making it an antique…

With over a million copies sold (250 000 in it’s first 10 years and twenty thousand a year between 1870-1900), it has certainly been a best seller. Probably not so much in the last 100 years…..

I have done a quick search and found 4 copies on a national library database. One copy each at Deakin University; one in the history of medicine library at the Royal Australian College of Physicians; one in the state library of South Australia and one in the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists library; and then there is mine.

While I cannot claim the medical information is up to date or in any way accurate it makes an extremely interesting read. Particularly the numerous sections regarding the ills of humanity, destructive habits and common sense remedies, the descriptions of which often combine amusing outlandishness with remarkable common sense.

I would like to share some of it with you here on LITFL. There is way to much goodness for me to include everything, so I thought I would provide a few excerpts. I hope you enjoy it.


Fascinating to see the similarities (and differences) to resuscitation today. Amazing how some core principles remain with little change in over 150 years. You will notice however, that administration of brandy has been de-emphasised in the most recently updated version of the guidelines.

  • The patient must be treated instantly
  • Loosen the clothing to freely expose the neck and chest
  • All persons not needed for saving him should avoid crowding about
  • Let the throat and mouth be cleared and if the patient does not breathe; immediately do the following:
  • Place the patient on his back with shoulders raised and supported on a folded coat or pillow
  • One person at the head, grasp the tongue gently (with a handkerchief) and draw it out beyond the lips
  • Then press under the jaw and hold it up in that position with the hand
  • Produce and imitate the movements of breathing – raise the arms up above the head and bring them steadily and firmly outward and down to rest the elbows at the side. Bend the arms across the pit of the stomach and press on the sides and front of the chest gently but strongly for a moment and quickly begin to repeat the whole movement.
  • These movements are to be made very deliberately without ceasing 15 times per minute until the patient breathes.
  • If help is at hand, briskly rub the feet and legs, apply a feather to the nostrils occasionally and sprinkle a light dash of water upon the patients face and neck.
  • When the patient begins to breathe – give brandy by the teaspoonful until the pulse can be felt at the wrist but be careful and do not give more of the stimulant than is necessary.
  • As soon as the patient breathes naturally, remove him to a house to be placed in a bed under medical care.

Of course, it is not all about emergency medicine. The book is filled with other useful information on a wide range of topics, such as….


  • You should avail yourself of every means at your command to preserve physical health
  • Avoid all things calculated to fret, annoy or distress you
  • He who is to be recognized as the father should employ every resource to preserve tranquility of mind and vigor of body to this woman
  • Live and sleep in well ventilated rooms
  • Exercise daily in the open air
  • Avoid excessive or irregular eating
  • Observe habits of personal cleanliness
  • Avoid jealously, selfishness, peevishness and outbursts of temper
  • The more closely a woman can observe the forgoing rules, the more nearly will she succeed in giving birth to a being that shall possess at once a healthy vigorous brain, a happy temperament and a spirit of philanthropy.

All of this sounds like great advice doesn’t it? Let’s read on…

  • Conception should not take place without a preparatory season of abstinence from sexual indulgence, so that both parties be free from morbid excitability and exhaustion.
  • During the period of pregnancy, excessive sexual indulgence leads to the development in the unborn child a passion which leads many to take up a destructive vice
  • Association with deformed people, or those having birth marks or diseases which cause unnatural manifestations should be avoided to avert the danger of having the unborn child marked with any of these peculiarities.
  • When labor pains commence and the doctor arrives, do not allow him to hasten the work that nature is usually able to do herself.
  • Women in labor are naturally impatient, surrounding friends must not be in too much sympathy with this impatience.
  • It is better to give moral encouragement, cheer her up, and keep up a running conversation – that will divert her from the discomfort of the moment; but keep hands off.

Slightly controversial, to say the least.

But perhaps my favorite part of the Home Cyclopedia is a section advising the reader to be wary of the credentials of the doctor he seeks advice from, particularly in relation to…..


  • An expert surgeon can build a great reputation based on a few important operations. Whereas the the skillful physician rises slowly by a gradual extension of his knowledge and ability; even at the apex of his success, he has not attained that celebrity which the surgeon acquired by extraordinary stories of his surgical feats.
  • There are numerous surgeons who are well known in Europe and America, having performed operations that have made their names famous, but who’s advice I would not accept in any case of disease, acute or chronic, requiring the administration of medicine. I would sooner put my case, if I were not able to take care of it myself, in the hands of somebody’s grandmother than to trust their combined skill.

Do not go to the blacksmith for bread, nor to the baker to have your wagon repaired. Do not employ a surgeon when a medical doctor is needed. Surgery and medicine are only distantly related. Hardly as nearly as cousins.

Well, I think Dr Foote has made himself clear on that one.

That is probably enough silliness for one day, better do some real work.

(Views expressed by Dr E.B. Foote M.D. are his own and do not represent those of LITFL)

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Emergency Physician, FACEM. Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital |@JmsWntn | Linkedin

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