We have a number of mid 19th-early 20th century electrotherapy machines in our medical collections. For example, here’s a violet ray machine, designed for basic home use: a Master Outfit Number 1, manufactured by the Master Electric Company of Chicago, circa 1920. This machine came from the estate of Arlene McFarland Allnutt of Rockville.

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The term “electrotherapy” – not to be confused with the more severe electroshock or electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) – covers a range of techniques, which use the power of electricity to deliver mild sparks, vibrations, or light to the skin or orifices. Unlike our electric curler, which claimed the new and trendy “electric” label but involved no actual electrical power, these machines did use electricity to power their magnets, vibrators, and vacuum tubes. We often take electricity for granted today, but in the early days of its discovery* it was exotic and exciting, and scientists searched for new ways to harness its power.

Our violet ray machine uses a small Tesla coil to power glass vacuum tubes  which, when inserted into the hand-held wand and powered up, will glow with a purple light and emit faint sparks. (I know you want to see one in action: here you go.) This example, Outfit No. 1, came equipped with a generator, electrical cord and plug, hand-held wand, and “General Electrode No. 1” – all in a convenient, leather-covered and satin-lined carrying case.

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The instruction booklet (viewable in full here) informs us that Outfit No. 1 cost $12.50, and explains,

The Violet Ray is a pleasant, effective means of applying the wonderful power of electricity to the human body with pain, sensation or shock, and is without an equal in relieving pain and congestion, stimulating the circulation and restoring good health, vigor and youth.
The Violet Ray is the ordinary electric current obtained from any [electrical] socket, nebulized and split up into infinite parts and produced through glass applicators called electrodes, in a violet colored stream, hence its name, VIOLET RAY. A huge voltage of electricity is obtained and applied to the body or hair but without any shock, whatever, the only sensation being a pleasant warmth.

There is no quackery or uncertainty about the Violet-Ray High Frequency Current. It is a thorough cell massage, and a wonderful stimulant, and while it is by no means put forward as a cure-all, yet it is of the utmost aid in restoring to normal the physical condition impaired from almost any cause.

(There’s plenty more along those lines, including illustrations; I encourage you to peruse the rest of the book, or this similar booklet for the Branston Violet Ray High Frequency Generator.)

In the 19th century, electrotherapy was used to treat a wide variety of physical and mental ailments. Along with aches, pains, and other somatic symptoms, machines such as these were used to treat those convenient, you’re-upset-and-we-don’t-really-know-why** diagnoses of hysteria, neurasthenia, and “nervous prostration.” By the early 20th century,  electrotherapy was starting to fall out of favor with the medical profession. However, that did not mean that machines of this variety were no longer sold or used; alternative medicines, then as now, were quite popular, especially for home use. Consumers of the 1910s-30s could choose from a number of options, depending on their particular hopes and needs.

It seems there was an electrode or applicator for any problem. Our collections include this circa 1920 instructional pamphlet for a Halliwell Electrical Company violet ray machine, which explains the different functions; for example, here’s one page (click to enlarge the image, or you can first try to guess the uses of each one):

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You will be interested to know that, according to this Halliwell booklet, “Violet Rays or High Frequency Currents benefit all living matter,” and will cure or aid in alleviating the following: Abcesses, Acne, Alopecia, Alcoholism and Drug Additions, Anemia and Chlorosis, Arteriosclerosis and High Blood Pressure, Asthma, Ataxia, Backache, Barber’s Itch (Sycosis), Bladder Disease (Cystitis), Bronchitis, Brain Fag [use “a spark just strong enough to have a good tonic effect”], Breast Development, Bright’s Disease, Bruises, Bunions, Callouses, Cancer [for “mild forms,” and please “consult authority” as well], Canker, Carbuncles, Catarrhal Conditions, Cataract, Chafe, Chapped Hands or Face, Chilblains, Cold Hands or Feet, Colds, Colds in Lungs, Constipation, Corns, Dandruff, Deafness, Diabetes, Diptheria, Dyspepsia, Earache, Eczema, Eye Diseases, Felons, Female Troubles, Fistulas, Flabby Breast, Freckles, Frost Bites, Furunculosis, Goitre, Gout, Gray Hair, Grippe (Influenza), Hay Fever, Headaches, Hives and Rash, Hemorrhoids, Insomnia, Leucorrhea, Lumbago, Massage [i.e, use in massage, not treating it], Mumps, Nervousness, Neuralgia, Neuritis, Obesity, Pains, Paralysis, Poison Ivy, Prostatic Diseases, Pyorrhea, Red Nose, Rheumatism, Ringworm, Scars, Sciatica, Skin Diseases, Sore Feet and Stone Bruises, Sore Throat, Sprains, Stiffness of Joints and Muscles, Tonsilitis, Ulcers, Warts and Moles, Whooping Cough, Writer’s Cramp, and Wrinkles.

***

 

The owner of our machine, Arlene Elizabeth McFarland (1896-1985), married George Battaille Allnutt (1887-1956) in 1919; they had no children. The 1920 census for Rockville shows them living at George’s parents’ home; by 1930 they’d moved to a house on Van Buren Street, where they lived out the rest of their lives. The 1930 and 1940 censuses tell us that both Allnutts were employed outside the home, doing clerical work for various local companies. Unfortunately, that’s about all I’ve been able to find about their lives, so far.

We don’t know why Mrs. Allnutt owned this instrument. Was it something she wanted, or something that a spouse, friend, or doctor gave her? (The 1920 census has George working as a clerk for the National Electrical Supply Company in DC; I kind of want this to have been a giveaway from his employer, but there’s no actual evidence for that.) Did she use it often, or think it was useless? Though the machine came from Arlene’s estate,  it’s certainly possible that it originally belonged to her husband George.  Though the end result (in this case, donation to a museum) might be the same, there is a substantial difference between an artifact that was deliberately saved, and one that was simply forgotten in a closet. Since it came to us as Mrs. Allnutt’s Rockville home was emptied after her death, we were not able to get the particulars of the machine’s story.

We can’t talk about this artifact in the specific, then, without the risk of misrepresenting Mrs. (or Mr.) Allnutt’s history. In the general sense, however, this instrument connects the lives of Rockville residents with those of women and men elsewhere in the country at the time – and with our lives today.  Whatever their reasons, the Allnutts participated in a national health fad.  In another hundred years, what early 21st century gadgets and tools will museums be collecting to show our own peculiar ideas on home health care?

 

*Some sources note that the ancient Greeks and Romans used mild electrical shocks – acquired via static electricity and electric eels – to treat various health problems.  However, it was the more modern discovery of electricity that led to the ‘everything’s better with electricity!’ fashion of the mid 19th century.

**I don’t mean to mock the sufferers of these ailments, then or now. Today, the symptoms and underlying causes of these problems are better understood; we’re also less likely, I hope, to treat as “hysterical” the women and men to whom we don’t want to listen. For an academic view of the use of electrotherapy in treating mental illness, try searching through medical journals available online, such as this article from History of Psychiatry (19)3, 2008.

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S0022 topThis small, innocuous-looking brass box has a special surprise inside: twelve spring-loaded blades, released by the lever on the top. Street-fighting weapon? No, it’s a medical device used in bloodletting, called a scarificator. WARNING: if the word “bloodletting” has caused you to wince, recoil, or cross your arms defensively, you might want to stop reading now.

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The small, curved blades pop out of the slots. Surprise!

Before the discovery and acceptance of germ theory and other modern medical theories, illnesses were frequently blamed on an imbalance of the body’s “humors.” Bleeding (venesection), an ancient and very common practice, was believed to be a way to help restore that balance. Modern-day reflections on the technique of bloodletting might make it seem haphazard at best and fatal at worst, but in fact physicians put care and thought into how much blood to let, and there were a variety of tools used, more than just the trusty leech and handy lancet. (This short video created by the Rose Melnick Medical Museum details the 19th century methodology of bloodletting, including some of the other tools.) The scarificator, invented in the late 17th century, allowed the doctor to create a series of shallow cuts – the depth could be changed by altering the spring mechanism inside the device – and thus control the amount of blood released. Ours is not operable, but this site details the spring mechanism inside, and this video from the Canada Science and Technology Museum demonstrates the mechanism.

 The scarificator was a common tool for 18th and 19th century physicians, until venesection began to lose favor in the late 19th century.  (Here’s an article about venesection during the American Civil War.) Many examples, some quite attractively designed and engraved, can be found in museums and antique shops in the U.S. and Europe. Our particular piece is fairly plain, with only a simple “V” on one side – perhaps indicating the maker? – and in the standard cube-like form, executed in brass and measuring 1.75″ tall. Based on the style and material, it likely dates from the mid 19th century.

Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet, 1873. Courtesy Elizabeth Barrett Prettyman Guay.

Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet, 1873. Courtesy Elizabeth Barrett Prettyman Guay.

In this instance, it’s the scarificator’s provenance that is of interest rather than its design: it is one of only a few items in our collection used by Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet (1830-1903), a Rockville physician whose one-room office is now our Stonestreet Museum of 19th Century Medicine. Dr. Stonestreet graduated from the University of Maryland medical school in 1852, after several years apprenticeship with Dr. William B. Magruder of Brookeville, and he practiced in the Rockville area until his death (while on his way to a housecall) in 1903; he never retired. Though his office survived the test of time, most of Dr. Stonestreet’s medical tools did not.  A few pieces, including this one, were inherited by his grandson Dr. William A. Linthicum (another Rockville physician), who donated them to us after his grandfather’s namesake museum was created in the 1970s. The scarificator is often on exhibit in the Stonestreet Museum.

If you’d like to learn more, visit Dr. Stonestreet’s “office hours,” held on the second Sunday of each month at the museum. This month, February 9, 2014, interpretive docent Clarence Hickey will present a special program on Civil War medicine. 12-4 p.m., included with museum admission.

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Today we have some tooth extractors – or, more precisely, English pattern dental extracting forceps #24.  Made of steel, and measuring 5.75″ long, they were made by the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, and used by Dr. Steven O. Beebe of Montgomery General Hospital in the mid 20th century.

These forceps are only one of a larger set of dental instruments donated by Dr. Beebe’s family, including seven forceps of different styles and uses:

DSC06367If, like me, you tend to have your eyes squeezed shut when enduring dental work, you might think that the dentist has only one unpleasantly-pliers-like tool. Indeed, no!   There are so many options!  To illustrate, this sales website includes 118 varieties in the English pattern, and another 71 in the American pattern (differentiated by the type of hinge, as noted on the American page linked above).  Note: Please do not click the links if you are susceptible to phantom tooth pain. (If you’re really terrified of the dentist, I assume you’ve stopped reading this post altogether.)  The angle, size, and shape of the pincers informs the intended use; the #24 forceps are designed to easily extract lower molars.

s0436-2I do approve of an artifact that’s clearly labeled.  This one is stamped with the initials/logo SSW USA, and “Pat. Jan. 16 ‘94.” (The “24” mark is on the end of one of the handles.)  U.S. patent # 513,015 was granted on that date to one Woodbury Storer How, assignor to the S.S. White Dental Manufacturing Company, for “a certain new and useful Improvement in Forceps, Pliers, &c.”, specifically a new handle design “to enable the implements to be used with greater efficiency and less discomfort to the user.”  The manufacturer, named on both the patent and the instrument itself, was founded in Philadelphia in 1844 by dentist Samuel Stockton White, and is still in business today.

DSC06352The handle is also conveniently engraved (by hand) with the name “Dr. Beebe.”  Dr. Steven O. Beebe (1902-1983) moved to the historic 1886 Mary G. Tyson house, in Sandy Spring, in 1935, and around the same time was hired as the staff dentist at Montgomery General Hospital in Olney.  Here he is in the program for the hospital’s Annual Supper, 1938 (below). One source says he worked there until his 1982 retirement, though I’ve not found him on any official staff lists past 1960; do any readers remember Dr. Beebe and his work?

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Today for your edification: A toothache remedy, purchased from the Kensington Pharmacy.

DSC04286This small (three inches tall) cardboard box originally contained a vial of Alpar Ache Drops – essentially a bottle of chloroform.  The box promises that the drops will “Relieve the Ache and Quiet the Pain” of toothache and neuralgia, and they will be “prompt and effective, reliable and safe.” All for only 25 cents!

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Happily for us, the dispensing pharmacist slapped a label on the box, letting us know that it was purchased from J.A.I. Parker at the Kensington Pharmacy.  James Allen Ireland Parker (1905-1964) was born in Frostburg, Md., attended pharmacy school at the University of Maryland, and spent some years in Baltimore (as a pharmacist) and Riverdale, Prince George’s County (as the manager of the men’s department at Sears) before moving to Kensington in 1944. He and his wife Miriam took over the old Trowbridge Drug Store, and in 1949 they moved to a storefront on W. University Avenue, where the Kensington Pharmacy is still located.  The medicine was purchased, and later donated to MCHS, by Elizabeth Buck of Kensington.

Home remedies and patent medicines for toothache abounded in the days before over-the-counter extra-strength painkillers and modern dentistry.  For example, The New Family Book, or Ladies’ Indispensable Household Companion and Housekeepers’ Guide (1854) includes three toothache remedies: “Equal proportions of Cajeput Oil and Olive Oil;” “Make an extract from white poplar bark; mix with it a little rum;” or “Mix alum and salt together; or powdered alum and spirits of ether.”  If that sounds like too much household compounding for you, you could buy a patent medicine like Dr. Carey’s G.E.S.S., from the 1890s, which – probably due to a high alcohol content – “cured” toothache, as well as sore throats, coughs, colds, sprains, lameness, and (added bonus!) “bellyache, colic, bots &c. in horses.” (Click the photo to enjoy the full text in a readable size.)

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Based on a few pharmacist guides – here’s one from 1893, and another from 1915 – the ‘official’ remedies were not very different. Chloroform was a common ingredient in drops and tinctures, but was far from the only option; others included camphor, oil of cinnamon, oil of cloves, oil of lavender, oil of peppermint, ether, alcohol, opium, etc.

The directions for use in most or all cases involve soaking the medicine on a bit of cotton, and applying it to the suffering tooth.  Today we might pop a few painkillers rather than putting something directly on the cavity, but all these remedies, old and modern, have one thing in common: they might kill the pain, but they’re not fixing the underlying problem. For that, you have to actually go to the dentist. And we’ll save that trip for a future post.

Today’s artifact is a leather doctor’s bag, owned and used by Dr. William Linthicum (1902-1991) of Rockville.  The “Top Grain Cow Hide” bag is 16″ long and 10″ tall, and was made by Kruse in the early 20th century.  Though currently empty (except for one last bottle), it originally held a variety of medicines and tools to aid the doctor in his housecalls.

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A lifelong Rockville resident, Dr. Linthicum practiced as a GP and obstetrician for 60 years. He was the son of local doctor Otis Linthicum, and grandson of Dr. Edward E. Stonestreet; a 1982 article in the Montgomery Journal noted that the three generations “kept Rockville residents hale and hearty for 1.3 centuries.”  When Dr. Stonestreet’s office was donated to the Historical Society in 1972, Dr. Linthicum helped us furnish it – but he did not give us his own medical items. Instead, a large collection of his instruments and office equipment was donated by his daughter-in-law Karin Linthicum, after his death.

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In 1977 Dr. Linthicum compiled a charming little memoir, “He Never Left Home.” Though he shared wonderful stories of life in Rockville, and ruminated on his chosen profession, he did not mention specific items from his career; thus, the exact history of the bag is unknown.  It’s clear, however, that it saw some action.  The bag is sturdy and built to last, with reinforced stitching, a steel frame, and five metal feet; but the folds are worn, the corners rubbed, and the interior straps (to hold bottles and instruments) are bent out of shape.  Dr. Linthicum estimated he’d delivered over 4,000 babies throughout his career, including a thousand or so home births; most likely, this bag accompanied him on those housecalls.

Though not often used today, the doctor’s bag was a necessity in the era of housecalls.  In his memoir, Dr. Linthicum mentions that his colleague Dr. Jacob W. Bird (1885-1959) of Olney “removed my tonsils in a front bedroom at our house.”  When you’re in the patient’s front bedroom, not a medical office or hospital, you need some supplies ready to hand.  A sturdy and capacious bag, with a nice wide opening (the frame locks into the open position for easy access), is the way to go.

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The Indiana Medical History Museum has put together an online display, “What’s in a Doctor’s Bag?”, and the Canadian Medical Association Journal also took a look at the contents of an early 20th century medical bag.  But what of the bag itself?  Though the black bag has become something of an iconic symbol of the medical profession, its history has eluded me today.  Similar “Oxford” or “Boston”-style satchels and valises appear in Sears catalogs over the years, but none are specified for use by doctors; they must have been sold through more specialized means.  The Kruse company clearly made a lot of doctor’s bags, based on the number of vintage items for sale over the internet, but its origins are currently murky.  What I thought would be a relatively easy blog has instead turned into a rather more hardcore research project.

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Sears, Roebuck catalog for 1902: “Fine Oxford Bags”

In honor of today’s date, 12/12/12, here’s an assortment of ‘twelves’ – some deliberate, some accidental – from our collections. (And no, there aren’t twelve of them; that seemed excessive.)

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First up: two twelve-candle molds, tin, late 18th or 19th century. The one on the left, in original (if well-used) condition, was donated by Mary Kingdon, and probably used by her family in Rockville. The one on the right – the handle has broken off, and it was painted black sometime in the late 20th century – came from the Tschiffely family of Gaithersburg, donated by Jean Seeback. Both of these make 10½” tapers, twelve at a time (we also have molds for 4 at a time and 6 at a time, but of course, today is 12 day).  In the interest of saving space, I refer you to either your favorite life-in-olden-times novel or YouTube to learn how to make candles with one of these.

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These miniature metal soldiers were made by the Barclay Manufacturing Company of New Jersey; they’re “podfoots,” a style created in 1951 by Barclay to conserve metal (instead of standing on a flat base, they simply have flattened “pod” feet). They saw action in Bethesda, and only these twelve comrades survived. Owned, and donated, by Bill Allman.

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A box of H.B. Marking & Embroidery Cotton, still containing its original twelve spools, circa 1890. Until the 1880s, red was a notoriously unstable dye; the introduction of “turkey red” floss (developed in Turkey), colorfast and cheaper than silk, started a fad for redwork embroidery on everyday household linens.  These embroidered pictures were generally outline-stitch pictures of flowers, fruit, children, animals, humorous sayings, etc.; designs were published in magazines, pre-printed fabric squares were available for a penny, or you could of course draw your own.  Redwork stayed popular through the 1920s and ‘30s – examples can be found in antique stores everywhere – and is experiencing something of a resurgence in today’s retro-crafty communities. Purchased by MCHS.

x20031201alTwelve hand-wrought iron nails removed from “Pleasant Hills,” a house in Darnestown, during gutter work in 2003. The center block of the house was built in the 1760s for Charles Gassaway; the wings were constructed in the 1870s and 1910s. Someone could probably tell us more precisely when these nails were made and used, but we haven’t yet made that attempt. Donated by Mary Wolfe.

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And last but not least, a tin suppository mold, mid 19th century, with twelve holes.  The box is 5.5″ long and 3.5″ deep, with the ‘thimbles’ making suppositories a little less than 2″ long.  Yes, it makes exactly what you think it does; 19th century doctors and pharmacists made their own recipes using  these handy tools.  According to “The Art of Dispensing,” 1915, by Peter MacEwan, “an American style [of suppository mold] consists of a circular metal box pierced with holes into which thimbles fit. The box can be filled with iced water or a freezing-mixture. The thimbles are filled with the suppository-mixture, dropped into the box, and owing to the chill the contents of the mold contract, and are easily tapped out when solid.” This piece was donated to MCHS by John Bentley of Sandy Spring. Mr. Bentley served as the MCHS curator in the late 1940s-early 1950s, and many of the items credited to Bentley were in fact collected by him from other county residents; thus, unfortunately, the specific history of this item is unknown.

I hope you all enjoy your Last Consecutive Date Day (especially if today is your birthday) until 01/01/2101. Go forth, and do something twelve times!

Many of the portraits and paintings in our collections are in what we’ll optimistically call “open storage” – that is, they’re hanging on the walls of our administrative office. One that frequently invites comment is this fellow, the comment usually being “Hey, there’s Teddy Roosevelt!”

Not only is there a strong resemblance, but he is also hanging next to two portraits of George Washington; the presidential association is understandable. However, our man here is in fact Col. Louis Mervin Maus, U.S. Army.

Note that the family pronounced their last name “Moss.”

Col. Maus was born in 1851 in the Colesville/Burnt Mills area, where his parents Isaac and Mary Maus owned “Mount Radnor.” (The senior Mauses moved to Rockville around 1870, so the family is frequently associated with that town rather than Colesville.) He had six siblings, including older brother Brigadier General Marion Perry Maus, whose own Army career rates him a wikipedia page. Col. Maus attended medical school at the University of Maryland and joined the Army as a surgeon in 1874, eventually attaining the rank of Assistant Surgeon General in 1907. He served in many locations, notably in the Dakota Territory in the 1870s and 1880s, in Cuba during the Spanish-American War, and in the Philippines in the early 1900s.

He married Anna Russell of Kentucky in 1876, and they had two daughters, Mary and Louise. In the 1880 census all four Mauses are living at Standing Rock, Dakota Territory; in 1900 Anna and the girls are at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, with the Colonel “enumerated in the Philippine Islands.” We can speculate that they moved around frequently, living a life similar to those experienced by military families today.

The portrait was donated, along with many family photos and archival materials, by Col. Maus’s grandson Laurence Halstead, Jr. Among those materials is Mr. Halstead’s somewhat partisan summary of his grandfather’s career:

“Col. Lewis [sic] Maus joined the Army as a contract doctor in 1874. He served at many western army posts, even Ft. Apache, where he lived in a sod house. He was recommended for the Medal of Honor by his Commanding General Nelson Miles of the 7th Calvary, for saving a small hunting party of officers and men from sure death when they were surrounded by a band of Sioux Indians on the war path outnumbered about 30 to one, unarmed he left the party and talked the war party into leaving without harming the soldiers. Later he was given the Distinguished Service Medal (2nd highest award) for this act of bravery. He is given credit for stopping the cholera epidemic and the bubonic plague in the Phillippines during the Spanish American War. He should have been made Surgeon General of the Army when he had the seniority and magnificent record but he was blocked by high ranking officers and I believe because of his strong belief that the use of alcohol was detrimental to the solider (he was one of the first to make studies of the effects of alcohol on the human body). It was he who was responsible for having the whiskey and beer removed from the Post canteens. This naturally made him enemies in the hard drinking army of that day.”

Other non-relatives have echoed these sentiments, including some of Maus’s contemporaries – collected in a small booklet (cover shown below) – and modern historians. Lt. Robert D. Gorodetzer of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center wrote in 1971, “Throughout military history recognition has not always been given men for their achievements, but every so often an oversight is corrected. This should be considered in the case of Louis M. Maus, Colonel, MC, U.S. Army, who served on active duty for 41 years. . . . Maus’ stand on alcohol made him unpopular in many quarters. He was an ardent prohibitionist and favored the removal of beer from all Army facilities. Some believe this stand on alcohol may have been the reason he was never promoted to the grade of general. In an era that saw many advances in medicine, Colonel Maus should be remembered for his accomplishments.”

Col. Maus retired from the Army in 1919, and he and his wife moved to Washington, DC. He died in 1939, and is buried in Arlington Cemetery.  If you’re looking for more information on his life and career, stop by our library, or read his own words; a few works, including “An Army Officer On Leave in Japan” (1911), are available as ebooks.

As for the portrait itself, it measures 20″ x 24″ in a (somewhat banged-up) gilded frame, 27″ x 31″. It was originally cataloged as an “oil painting,” but in fact it is a hand-tinted photograph, or at any rate a hand-tinted print, on a panel. The tinting is skillfully done, but a closer look (above) shows what looks like both paint and pastel over top of the original image. Some cursory research on my part indicates that there were 20″ x 24″ large format cameras available around the turn of the last century. The image is undated, but perhaps an eagle-eyed reader can tell me what rank his uniform indicates? I see the medical insignia on his left sleeve, but I’m not sure if this portrait shows him as Lt. Col., Chief Surgeon (promoted 1898), Lt. Col., Deputy Surgeon General (1902), or Colonel, Assistant Surgeon General (1907).

A gentlemanly calling card, 1902-1907.