New Display: Medicine During the Restoration


Fourth floor display in the Kimball Tower. Photo by employee Quincey Taylor.

By Mindy Longhurst

Have you ever wondered how the medicine of the timeperiod affected the Restoration and the beginnings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? Third-semester nursing student Savannah Williams studied this topic last fall for a semester-long project for her Foundations of the Restoration class. The assignment was to spend at least 12 hours working on a project that related to the topics that were discussed in the course. The class focused on the First Vision, the translation of the Book of Mormon and ended with the settling of Salt Lake City. Williams felt like she should study something she was passionate about, so naturally, she decided to study how the medicine of the period affected the Restoration.

In her project, which she spent well over 12 hours completing, Williams focused on three major historical events where the medicine of the day impacted the Restoration. Her first focus of the study was the experience of Joseph Smith’s leg operation when he was a young boy. Joseph Smith had typhoid fever which caused an infection inside his leg called osteomyelitis. Dr. Nathan Smith, one of the most educated doctors in the United States, was the only doctor in the United States that could perform Joseph Smith’s leg operation correctly. Dr. Smith happened to live close enough to the Smith’s to perform the surgery. Dr. Nathan Smith was well beyond his time when it came to medical procedures, especially this leg operation.

Before the surgery, Joseph Smith Jr. is quoted saying, “I will do whatever is necessary to be done to have the bone taken out… The Lord will help me; I shall get through.” The faith of the young boy was evident. An Ensign article from June 2013 explains the impact of this surgery on the Restoration, “Joseph’s childhood surgery helped to make it possible for him to participate in the Restoration of the gospel physically. While we often think of the work of the Restoration as a spiritual work, it also required strenuous physical effort from the Prophet Joseph Smith. He walked, marched, ran, and rode on horseback to lead the work. He hefted and hid the plates, eluded enemies, and led a growing Church from New York to Ohio, Missouri, and Illinois. He led Zion’s Camp, endured imprisonment, drained swamps, constructed temples, and built cities.” (“Joseph Smith’s Boyhood Surgery” Vivian M. Adams)

Williams’ next focus was on the surroundings of the death of Alvin, Joseph’s eldest brother. Alvin Smith was sick with intestinal problems. Their town’s physician was away, so a neighboring town’s inexperienced physician came to the Smith home. Alvin was given calomel, a toxic salt of mercury used as a cathartic. Unfortunately, he died four days after receiving the calomel. Alvin’s last words to Joseph were about doing everything in his power to obtain the record, which is the Book of Mormon.

The third area of William’s focus was on malaria. Malaria was a huge concern during the Saints’ time in Nauvoo. Nauvoo was swampland, which meant there were lots of mosquitoes, especially those carrying the malaria disease. The disease is typically manifested by severe recurrent chills and fever, often with jaundice, sweating, and fatigue. Even the prophet Joseph Smith was hit with the disease. An account from Brigham Young’s journal explains the miraculous healings that took place. His journal reads, “July 22, 1839.—Joseph arose from his bed of sickness, and the power of God rested upon him. He commenced in his own house and door-yard, commanding the sick, in the name of Jesus Christ, to arise and be made whole, and they were healed according to his word. He then continued to travel from house to house from tent to tent upon the bank of the river, healing the sick as he went until he arrived at the upper stonehouse, where he crossed the river in a boat, accompanied by several of the Quorum of the Twelve, and landed in Montrose.”

When talking to Williams about her studying the medical perspective of the Restoration, she explains how much of an impact it truly had on the events that led to the establishment of The Church of Jesus Christ again on the earth. Her testimony of God’s work was strengthened. She explains, “I was worried about how spiritual the project would be. But as I researched more about Nathan Smith, Alvin and the things in Nauvoo it showed me how God really is involved in so many ways in our lives. He really did lead the Restoration.”

You can see Williams’ display on the fourth floor of the Kimball Tower by the elevators.

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