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Thread: Surgeon's smock or overcoat

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2008
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    Default Surgeon's smock or overcoat

    Hello All,
    Has anyone seen or read about surgeons wearing a smock or overcoat to protect their clothing rather than an apron? I'm not sure when white lab coats became prevalent. It would make sense that many would have worn some type of jacket to protect their clothes.
    As always I remain your obedient servant,
    Dave Furukawa, PA-C
    Hospital Steward/Asst Surgeon
    21st OVI / SCAR

  2. #2
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    Apr 2009
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    Atlanta, Georgia
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    Hi Dave,

    That's an interesting question because I've actually wondered about the accuracy of those blood-stained aprons at reenactments. However, I seem to recall reading some first-person accounts of CW surgery descriptions which mentioned the linen aprons worn by the surgeons. On the civilian side, during the antebelleum and CW periods, physicians and surgeons typically just rolled up their coat and shirt sleeves.

    Regarding gowns or protectice overcoats, my understanding is that surgeon's gowns weren't introduced until after the CW - gowns, sterile steel instruments and the whole pre-operation "ritual" we're all familiar with now are attributed to Dr. William Macewen of Scotland. He was a student at the Univ. of Glasgow at the same time Dr. Lister published his results. I believe that Dr. Macewen first introduced gowns and his other sterile techniques sometime in the mid to late 1870s. Frankly, I don't know if anything other than linen aprons were used duirng the CW . . .

    Would love to read what others may have to say about the topic uouve raised.

    Thomas Federico
    Atlanta, GA

  3. #3

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    Closest I've seen to a "lab coat" would be the linen Navy Officer's Sack Coat attributed to Ass't. Surgeon Jacob Solis-Cohen, pg. 163 Union EofG.

    In an 1858 Catologue of india rubber and gutta percha goods, among the several apron styles is listed a "Surgeon's Apron". Pg. 23 of the following link:
    http://books.google.com/books?id=ZTQ...page&q&f=false

    Hopefully (a bit) Helpful-
    -Elaine Kessinger

  4. #4
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    Oct 2008
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    Thank you, Thomas and Elaine. As a follow up question, does any one have a source for a rubberized / gutta percha apron? Many thanks,
    Dave aka Fuji

  5. #5
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    Apr 2009
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    Atlanta, Georgia
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    Dave,

    Putting aside whether or not such an apron was actually used in the field by army surgeons, according to the catalogue cited by Mrs. Kessinger, above, the apron was made of "twilled cloth" and "vulcanized" rubber. I'm not aware of any sutler selling such a reproduction surgeon's apron but, if you can't locate one, might you not be able to make one relatively easily from one of the "vulcanized rubber" ponchos that are available from a variety of sutlers?

    Thomas

  6. #6
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    If you look at various catalogs of the period, as well as the book "India Rubber and Gutta Percha in the Civil War" by Worshner, you find that its not quite as simple as just cutting up a old gum blanket in most cases. Although I've not seen an original example of the items in question, I have seen enough extent examples of other India rubber clothing items to know that the ways that the seams were sewn and sealed isn't easily replicated unless you do it at the time the cloth was made, making it difficult at best when just cutting the shape out. You could make something "passable" but not "exact". I've made several India rubber aprons from old gum blankets, but just wasn't happy with the results. They outwardly conformed to known patterns, but the seams weren't sealed correctly.
    Ross L. Lamoreaux
    Tampa Bay History Center
    www.tampabayhistorycenter.org
    On Facebook at: Tampa Bay History Center Living History Programs

    "The simplest things, done well, can carry a huge impact" - Karin Timour, 2012

  7. #7
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    That's very good to know and from reading your many posts on this forum, I know that you speak with experience. I wasn't imagining my recommended conversion of a poncho would be an exact reproduction or near one but, rather, something to approximate the look of the advertised India rubber apron. I'd love to see an actual example. I'll also refer to the book you cited so I can get a better understanding of the India rubber clothing.

    By the way, I think I saw a photo of you mending some clothing at the recent Battle of Atlanta event here in Atlanta? Dave and I were set up at the field dressing station tent, near the artillery piece.

    Thomas Federico

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Mar 2008
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    224

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ross L. Lamoreaux View Post
    If you look at various catalogs of the period, as well as the book "India Rubber and Gutta Percha in the Civil War" by Worshner, you find that its not quite as simple as just cutting up a old gum blanket in most cases. Although I've not seen an original example of the items in question, I have seen enough extent examples of other India rubber clothing items to know that the ways that the seams were sewn and sealed isn't easily replicated unless you do it at the time the cloth was made, making it difficult at best when just cutting the shape out. You could make something "passable" but not "exact". I've made several India rubber aprons from old gum blankets, but just wasn't happy with the results. They outwardly conformed to known patterns, but the seams weren't sealed correctly.
    Not saying they did this but I wonder instead of buying shippiing and carrying purchased aprons if there was alot of necessity is the mother of invention aprons? Basically the surgeons just using what they could find that would do the job. Did the Commisary department issue anything for it's guys doing butchering?
    1st LT Brian Schwatka
    Staff Asst Surgeon
    Medical Staff Regiment USA(Reenacted)
    Attached 3RD US Regular Infantry Co K(Reenacted)
    Attached 17th Corp Field Hospital(Reenacted)

  9. #9
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    Thomas, I was indeed just a few feet over from you all day - sorry I didn't get over to say hello. I saw you and Fuji talking to many a person all day. Brian, theres a couple things that I was thinking about when it comes to soldiers (and medical staffs) in the field. I have no doubts at all that necessity drove medical personnel into making field expediant items to use and wear, much as common soldiers did throughout the war in a variety of capacities. I would further have no doubt that some old gum blanket wasn't turned into something like an apron or smock. The sticky point is that there isn't any originals or images to go by. This of course doesn't mean they didn't do it, just that we can't prove it. It makes total sense to me that something could have been put together in the field , but like other things, they were used until they fell apart or discarded when really dirty. As for commisary troops and other laborer's, they government supplied aprons, overalls, and stable frocks for some of the dirtier jobs, but once again, there isn't any originals left, just some images. Personally, and this is only conjecture, I wouldn't put it past some surgeons and stewards to impress some stable frocks into use. They were more widely available during the period.
    Ross L. Lamoreaux
    Tampa Bay History Center
    www.tampabayhistorycenter.org
    On Facebook at: Tampa Bay History Center Living History Programs

    "The simplest things, done well, can carry a huge impact" - Karin Timour, 2012

  10. #10
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    Dave aka fuji,

    This might be the place you can buy india rubberized fabric to make your appon.

    http://winchestersutler.com/Campgnr.html

    Just an idea,

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