These artifacts capture some of the common aspects of nursing work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Nurses used medicine cups, invalid feeders, thermometers, and syringes—along with other utensils, mechanical devices, and appliances—to feed, bathe, bandage, apply poultices and topical treatments, and medicate patients. Medications like laudanum (a tincture of opium) were used for pain relief, while Vicks vapor rub and mustard plaster provided relief from the symptoms of respiratory illnesses.
As physicians relied increasingly on the quantification of clinical signs and symptoms to diagnose and make treatment decisions, nurses assisted by conducting chemical analises of urine and blood and thermometry to monitor and record patients' bodily functions. As shown in the typhoid fever chart, nurses closely tracked the progression of an illness and monitored the effectiveness of the treatment.