A doctor in the 19th century may not have had a hospital uniform to wear as a symbol of his profession, but he would have had other ways of letting people know exactly who he or she was. These ranged from the white lab coat to special vehicles and bags. Lab coats were first worn in the 19th century. They were worn by doctors and scientists when in laboratories, and gradually came to be worn in hospitals as well. Lab coats were well known by 1897, when an anonymous MIT junior wrote in the student publication Technique:
I ardently struggled with clothes-bags and coat-hooks
As into my lab. coat I struggled pell-mell,
Then rushed to my locker and broke many test-tubes,
And thought that I’d rather by far be in h-ll.
If you were a doctor making house calls you would not wear a lab coat, but street clothes. Nowadays, there is quite a range of scrub sets for doctors and other medical personnel to wear as a means of keeping things and people sterile and safe; but scrubs were not developed until the 1940s. The first use of sterile attire came during the 1918 epidemic, when medical staff began to wear gauze masks and rubber gloves.
Before scrubs, there were other things made specially for those in medicine – such as special carriages. The Physician’s Basket Phaeton was “just the vehicle a physician requires.” Of course you did need to add a horse to pull it (the horse was not included!).The phaeton was an open carriage named for Phaeton, son of the Greek god Helios. Phaeton took his father’s fiery carriage out for a spin and set the earth ablaze in the process. The Physician’s Basket Phaeton was much safer than this!
And when the doctor was riding out, he or she would want a bag to carry supplies in. The “elegant satchels” and the Solid Buggy Case at left were ideal. They do look really heavy to carry, though – don’t they? Like suitcases. Good thing the doctor had that phaeton and wasn’t walking.
[Phaeton image is from Leonard's Illustrated Medical Scientific Journal (1889)]