My wife and I visit Pennsbury Manor with some frequency. We find this reconstructed Summer estate of William Penn to be a wonderful way to spend a few hours.
The Manor hosts several programs throughout the year, and we try to attend as many as we can. On these tours we’ve gotten to explore how the kitchens of the late 1600’s work, explored the beer brewing process and why it was so important, and even been taken down into the basement to see the Manor’s original foundations. It’s well worth the annual membership fee.
Yesterday the Manor hosted an exploration into household medicine, and it was very well done. We walked through four different scenes, each lifted from the personal letters of Hannah Penn. These scenes walked us through some common ailments, fears, and remedies of William Penn’s time – through which we learned several things.
First, in the late 1600’s and through the early 1700’s women were the healers in the households. Doctors were generally not trusted, and were too expensive for most people to call upon at any rate. Women were so prominent in the healing field doctors even referred patients to those who showed great skill in healing. William Penn’s first Mother-in-Law even wrote a book on treating eye ailments, and frequently cared for patients referred to her remedies. Sadly, as the 1700’s wore on the role of women was greatly reduced.
Second, these people were not stupid. They experimented broadly and attempted different remedies which seemed to help with different ailments. While they didn’t have the understanding of the human body of more modern science, many of their treatments actually contained chemical properties which did provide some level of relief.
Third, faith was not used as a substitute for the care of human hands. While the people in Pennsbury depended on the Lord’s hand for healing, they saw no contradiction in using what cures they had at the time. God was in control, and humans had to work. This is a good lesson for both Evangelical Christians and Evangelical Atheists, who seem to assume any pursuit which doesn’t match their belief is “stupid” or “worthless.”
If you’re able to visit Pennsbury for a special tour, I highly recommend it.