Pneumonia -- 90 cases. The biggest cause of accidental death was drowning – at least some of which occurred while washing up in the river. Those who couldn’t pay their doctor bills to Dr. Charles A. Byrne – one of Hatfield’s two in-town physicians – sometimes paid in onions, or potatoes or with their services – by painting his carriage, or doing his washing (see page from his appointment book below). Dr. Byrne saw patients seven days a week, either in their homes or in his office in the front parlor of his home at 83 Main St. (back then it was numbered 46 Main St.).
These are just a few of the findings that have come out of this summer’s research by UMass PhD student Ann Robinson, based in Cambridge, MA. Ann was our scholar in the Scholar in Residence (SIR) Grant we won last spring. The grant, co-written by UMass History Prof. Emily Redman and myself, was funded in part by Mass Humanities, which receives support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council and is an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The grant was also made possible, in part, by the Collections Management & Preservation Grant from the Town of Hatfield’s Community Preservation Act (CPA), which allowed the museum to be open and monitored during the time in which our scholar worked. Without the CPA grant, we would have been unable to apply for or to carry out the SIR grant.
This grant generated a 20-page report plus annotated reading list; a searchable inventory for artifacts related to early 20th century medical care in Hatfield (see description of inventory HERE and inventory link below); an expanded inventory that we will use for writing labels for the exhibit to come; and numerous spreadsheets, including 1) ranked causes of death in Hatfield (from 1883-1914), 2) causes of death by year during the same period, and 3) country of origin, occupation, and vital stats for many Hatfield patients. Within Dr. Byrne’s yearly appointment books, and in his collection of patient record slips, lies of wealth of additional information to be mined.
In addition to the two granting organizations, this project would not have been possible without the generosity and foresight of the Byrne family, who donated Dr. Charles Byrne’s lectures and speeches, and either donated or loaned many of his medical tools and medicines. Likewise, we also needed the generosity and patience of Joe Lavallee, who moved into the Byrne house at 83 Main St. approximately 40 years ago with his wife Mary Jane, and held onto numerous items from Dr. Byrne's medical practice until the Historical Museum was in a position to receive them. We thank you all!
Because of our space constraints, most of the products of the SIR grant research will be used to create an online exhibit for which we plan to apply for a Project Grant with Mass Humanities in the coming year. One product we are making public today is the searchable inventory of our early 20th century medical care collection. To check this out, click HERE, and don’t miss images related to the SIR grant below.
We also invite you to stop by the Hatfield Historical Museum at 39 Main St., where you can see our physical collection of Dr. Charles Byrne’s tools and medicines as part of our current held-over exhibit, "From House Calls to Hoaxes” – including scary dental tools, glass globe pessaries (oh my!), castor oil, cocaine (er…toothache) drops, and more.
And if you happen to have access to any records or artifacts related to the practice of Dr. Alfred Bonneville -- the other physician practicing in Hatfield in the early 20th century -- it would greatly help us flesh out this picture of medical care during that time. We are also looking for stories or details of doctor visits through the mid -1930s with Dr. Charles Byrne, Dr. Alfred Bonneville or the Visiting Nurse (Marie Duval). Just let us know!
To read Ann Robinson's blog post on her summer of research, click HERE.