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Doc Howard

May 11, 2010 Think THF

Ever heard of Alonson Bingley Howard Jr.? Well he’s actually someone we know quite well here at The Henry Ford. We call him Doc Howard and his office and garden are located in Greenfield Village.

Doc Howard practiced in Michigan around the time of the Civil War. He was, as we say now, a homeopathic doctor – creating his own concoctions and medicines from natural sources such as herbs, spices, elixirs, poultices, pills, waters, chemicals and minerals.

Doc Howard’s discipline as a doctor covered a wide range of ailments and conditions from chronic diseases and minor surgery, to dental issues and pregnancy.

Through his commitment as a doctor, he made an impression on the community. He was remembered fondly by many as very intelligent, dedicated and vigorous man who could be tactless at times. Harold Washburn, his great-grandson, reminisced saying “[Doc Howard] had a keen mind and sense of humor that was long remembered. Sometimes his patient approach was such that it would shock a psychiatrist today. In spite of his patience with children, he could be very abrupt and blunt with adults. He is known to have told one woman that there was nothing wrong with her that he could put to rights. ‘Fanny, go find a good man and marry him’ was his dismissal.”

Doc Howard’s office in Greenfield Village is installed to approximately the year 1864 – a year in which we have very reliable documentation of his recipes and some insight in to his practice. It looks like a modest, typical, rural doctor’s office with a waiting room, a long wooden bench, a desk, an old cot and an old cast iron stove. His office in the back room has shelves filled with authentic glass bottles of various sizes, actually used by Doc himself, and labeled by our staff based on his recipes, ledgers, receipts and books he kept in his library.

His laboratory is where Doc concocted his medications and includes vats of plants and a large mortar and pestle which visitors can try out for themselves and grind up some dried herbs. The pill room is a tiny room you might miss, but is made just for that – making pills.

The ingredients Doc Howard used for his medicines came from his garden (and also from the land around him.) This garden, lovingly maintained by the Village Herb Associates Volunteer Staff, was designed and developed with information found in his journal, which we have in our collection. Doc Howard would have also collected bark, herbs and roots from local swamps, forests, lakes, prairies and roadsides that may not be represented in the garden.

So all in all, Doc Howard was a great physician of his time – innovative with his medicines using what the earth gave him. He’s just one of the fascinating people and stories we have in Greenfield Village. Come and check out his office and see if you can picture yourself standing in line just to see him, or lying on the old cot and having him pull an aching tooth. Stop by to see the garden too, we love to talk about every plant in there!

Doc Howard

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