Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
This dissertation examines the numerous medical beliefs and attitudes toward rabies in eighteenth-century England and English North America. It also attempts to explain the reasons behind some of these beliefs;The beliefs as to causation generally change with the changes in medical theories. As the established medical profession moves away from the beliefs in disease as a result of general body dysfunction and toward disease as a result of the dysfunction of one or more of the organs of the body the beliefs about rabies change accordingly. Rabies was no longer seen as a result of the dysfunction of the melancholy humor, a dysfunction which caused one to bark like a dog. Rabies was now recognized as a disease of the nervous system;For all the advances, rabies in the eighteenth century was still hampered with the problem of diagnosis. There was no reliable test for this disease; even the autopsy results from individuals who died of rabies often proved inconclusive. As a result of the problem of exact diagnosis this disease became one of the most overdiagnosed diseases in the eighteenth century. Everything from distemper in dogs to simple hysteria in humans was mistaken for rabies. This overdiagnosis phenomenon proved a boon to the therapeutics of the period. Throughout the eighteenth century numerous wonder drugs and sure-fire cures were seen for this disease. As the medical and scientific investigative procedures became more exact. Most of the so-called 'wonder drugs' were abandoned. As a result by the end of the eighteenth century very little was seen as a valuable therapeutic against rabies. The preventive measures for rabies, mainly consisting of controlling the dog population, proved to be a direct reflection of the attitudes towards those animals in both England and North America. In England, dog control took on a class-conscious aspect. The animals of the middle and upper classes, often easily identified by their collars and tags, were generally treated with some deference. Those of the lower classes, animals that were more often than not associated with strays, were frequently hunted down and killed in large numbers, especially during rabies outbreaks. In North America, especially the northern colonies, no such class distinction existed, so during rabies outbreaks all dogs were subject to the same treatment;This lack of class in North America also allowed certain of the colonies/states to impose taxes upon dogs as a means of control. In England dog taxes were also proposed. One of the most common reasons given for such taxes is that they would make owning a dog too expensive for the poor who, many writers claim, did not have the intelligence to care for such animals. Alas, a tax imposed in 1797 proved to have just the opposite effect. While many of the poorer folk who owned only one dog, found the tax of 3p. a dog little financial hardship, many of the gentry who owned whole packs of hunting dogs as well as numerous pets found it a financial burden. As a result the tax was repeated within a year, thus ending the first, but not the last, attempt at rabies control through dog population control. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)
Digital Repository @ Iowa State University, http://lib.dr.iastate.edu/
John Douglas Blaisdell
Blaisdell, John Douglas, "A frightful, but not necessarily fatal, madness: rabies in eighteenth-century England and English North America " (1995). Retrospective Theses and Dissertations. 11041.