Mysteries at the Museum!

by Lori Eggleston. 0 Comments

Back in August I posted about the Mysteries at the Museum crew being here at the museum to film a segment for their show.  The show aired on Thursday, March 6, and it featured a medicine bottle of silver nitrate in a segment titled, “The World’s Oldest Profession!”  You can see some photos from the episode here:

The National Museum of Civil War Medicine’s photos are numbers five and six in the slide show.  Number five is a great shot from our Pavilion Hospital gallery, and number six shows the medicine bottle containing silver nitrate. While I am thrilled to see the photos and footage of the NMCWM, I do have to comment about the photo caption which claims that silver nitrate was responsible for snuffing out the epidemic of venereal disease in Nashville.  Though silver nitrate was used during the Civil War as a treatment, and it does have antimicrobial properties, it is not a cure for venereal diseases.

So, what was responsible?  First, take a look at a short portion of the Mysteries at the Museum segment here:

It was actually the fact that the prostitutes of Nashville were licensed that was responsible for bringing the epidemic under control in that area.  When the women were required to be examined by a doctor before being licensed, it meant that those who were displaying symptoms were not allowed to practice their profession.  Very simply, fewer prostitutes with STD symptoms meant that fewer of their customers were infected.


– A Nashville “Public Woman” license from 1863. National Archives image.


There is actually a bit more to the story of the Nashville prostitutes.  Licensing them was only done after General Rosecrans first tried to literally send them up the river!  To read an account of that click here:

That’s quite a story associated with a little medicine bottle!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

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