WW1 Medical Trivia

Patients and staff at a New York Medical School and Hospital

WW1 Medical Trivia

Melina Druga
Follow Me

This WW1 medical trivia post was provided by a guest blogger.  If you would like to contribute a guest blog, submit your idea.

Did You Know? WW1-Era Medical Trivia

By Sara Dahmen

One of the most interesting parts of researching historical fiction is the research. And it’s not just the rabbit hole of the internet – which can pull someone anywhere from the start of any question – it’s the fascinating tidbits discovered along the search, long forgotten or often overlooked

My father loves playing trivia, delighting in the “did you KNOW!?” element of exchanging historical fact, and maybe that’s rubbed off on me. But for some reason, reading and relishing those unique and unknown lost pieces of information is like jewels to be found, mined, and treasured, and then later shared around the kitchenette or over a pint.

So, in honor of Melina’s upcoming novel, Angel of Mercy, with a WW1 protagonist who works in the medical field, here are a few “did you know” finds for your next dinner party:

WW1 Medical Trivia

Women doctors in the early 20th century
Women doctors in the early 20th century

George Bernard Shaw wrote The Doctor’s Dilemma in 1906 and used a real-life controversial doctor, Sir Almroth Wright, as inspiration for his character Sir Colenso Ridgeon. Dr. Wright was called Sir Almost Right and couldn’t get anyone to believe in his typhoid vaccine for a decade. He was vindicated in WW1 though, when troops were healthy because of it. Dr. Wright also believed women were biologically inferior. I guess he wasn’t always right!

Paul Ehrlich created the basis for chemotherapy and healing syphilis, but his work was severely undermined in the early 1900s because he was Jewish and anti-Semitism was rising leading up to the First World War.

Enthusiasm for radiotherapy to heal many illnesses was so high, caution was thrown to the wind. People used to be burned by x-rays, and those burns were treated with the use of more x-rays. Early warnings to the dangers of x-rays were ignored and killed many, including Marie Curie herself. In fact, the first “medical” Nobel Prize was awarded after WWII to H.J. Muller for proving x-rays can cause genetic mutations.

[Editor’s Note: Curie discovered polonium and radium and, continued her husband’s development of X-rays after his death.  All three were radioactive and caused her death.]

Prior to WW1, the class and sex of a patient would have influenced how he or she was treated as a person, and also what the diagnosis would have been.

If a doctor happened to be female, she would only see women and children as patients.

Hospital designs involved the input of doctors and nurses both.

Women in medical fields had to fight extra hard. Why? It was believed for a time (even by doctors!) that intellectual activity among women led to atrophied ovaries and sterility!

Shortly before WWI, doctors were privately employed. For instance, Sears & Roebuck had a company doctor. Talk about having “in-house” help!

Nurses ere divided into three classes: registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, and nurses’ aides.

Sara Dahmen is a coppersmith who manufactures pure metal kitchenware for her company, House Copper & Cookware. She has published more than 100 articles as a contributing editor. Her historical fiction series, Flats Junction has been optioned for multiple feature films and is in early production, while her non-fiction book on cookware, FLAME, will debut in Spring 2020. When not sewing authentic clothing for 1830’s reenactments, Dahmen can be found at her apprenticeship with a master smith, reading The Economist and spending time with her husband and three young children. 

Enjoyed reading this post?  Join the mailing list and receive updates in your inbox whenever a new post is published.  Also stay up-to-date on book releases, news, beta reading opportunities and more.

Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
Back To Top