Combining a Love of History with the Study of Medicine

Rivka Salhanick ’18S Explores Home Remedies of the 18th and 19th Centuries

Rivka SalhanickThis summer, new Stern College for Women graduate Rivka Salhanick found an unusual way to combine her passion for medicine and biology with her love of literature and history. Supported by a fellowship from the Women’s History Institute of Historic Hudson Valley, the biology major immersed herself in books of home medical remedies and health strategies from the 18th and 19th centuries, a knowledge held primarily by women. “They functioned not only as cooks and housekeepers,” she noted, “but as nurses and healers as well.”

She learned about the fellowship from Dr. Cynthia Wachtell, research associate professor of American studies and director of the S. Daniel Abraham Honors Program, and immediately saw “an opportunity to develop my own research project that would channel my interest and knowledge of science and medicine together with my interest in history.” Salhanick is the inaugural recipient of the fellowship, “so this is really an adventure for me and the Institute!”

Home RemediesUsing a selection of the handwritten and published receipt (or recipe) books in the Historic Hudson Valley archive, she evaluated the effectiveness of the medical advice, “comparing and evaluating the different remedies to see how they would have been effective and what practices were most widespread.”

This research fits perfectly into Salhanick’s plan to attend York College/CUNY’s Physician Assistant Master’s program in the fall. “I love learning about science and medicine, and the research I’ve been doing this summer has given me the opportunity to more fully grasp the history of medicine, which increases my understanding of the evolution of medicine and appreciation for modern medicine.” With the knowledge she’s gained from both her historical and modern studies, “I hope to contribute to the medical field in the future,” she said.

“I plan to go into science and study in a PA program, but this opportunity to do something a little different has been fascinating to me.”