Category Archives: History of Medicine

Meet Michelle Wolfson, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern!

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, the 2022-2023 Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am currently studying library science at East Carolina University. I started the program after realizing both of my children would be in school, in-person (the youngest did kindergarten virtually!), and I could get back to work. I enjoyed being a homemaker for nearly a decade; my children are 10 and 8 years old. Instead of returning completely to work, I decided that I did not want my children to one day say about me, “She really wanted to be a librarian but she never did it,” and so I started at ECU’s online, asynchronous program. I currently work part-time at a public library, as well as here at Duke, and it has been so exciting for me to experience both public and academic librarianship, to see how they differ and overlap. At the public library, I work on the youth services side. I have worked for nearly a year to have our public library system become the first in North Carolina to be sensory inclusive certified and have created a sensory room at one of our branches.

What do you finding interesting about working in libraries, and specifically, the History of Medicine Collections?

What I find most interesting about working in libraries is that everybody is on their own learning journey, and I am thrilled when I can be a part of that or helpful in any way. Working with the History of Medicine Collections is especially exciting because whether I am working with medical students or other students, health and medicine affects all of us, and everybody can find something that is relevant and interesting. Regarding the materials, I most like seeing the ways that people from the past got things right or got things extremely wrong (but you can also see why they thought the way that they did). It makes you appreciate that we’re all in this together, trying to muddle our way through, learning and growing from those before us.

What is a memorable experience from your internship?

There have been so many memorable experiences! I really enjoyed when the family and friends of Dr. Richard Payne came into Rubenstein Library to look over some of his things that are part of the Richard Payne papers 1980-2020. There was so much joy and so many stories everybody shared about Dr. Payne that were sparked when they viewed the collection. And they were excited to hear about how his papers would be used to help educate students, future doctors, and scholars. I also enjoyed being able to introduce primary sources to students in Dr. Seth LeJacq’s Writing 101 class. Seth is a fantastic teacher who also taught me, how to be the kind of thoughtful and purposeful teacher I would like to be when engaging with students. Working with Rachel Ingold, the curator, has also taught me some of the same lessons as Seth – being kind and curious is an invitation to students to learn from you while also teaching you things.

Do you have a favorite item you’d like to share?

I’ve been asked to share a memorable experience and a favorite item! I will share two things. I was asked to look over the Four Seasons for an upcoming digitization project the Digital Production Center (DPC) will be working on in the future. I had the task of counting the flaps to help ensure they are all photographed. I enjoyed that I was able to help a bigger team that will connect more people worldwide to the Four Seasons. It’s a genuinely unique and beautiful item, and who doesn’t love flaps? I also enjoyed seeing the many items that were on display at the annual Anatomy Day. Not only were the items themselves each incredibly interesting, but I also felt great joy at seeing the first-year medical students connect with the items and the history of medicine. So many students immediately flocked to a table that included Japanese medical manuscript notebooks from the early 19th century. These manuscripts include colorful hand-drawn illustrations and are a wonderful example of the advancements medicine can make when ideas are shared globally, as Japanese medical practice at the time was already influenced by Chinese, Portuguese, and Dutch medical practices. The entire event was a gorgeous fusion of medicine and art with examples from Leonardo da Vinci and Vesalius and more, with illustrations in pencil to watercolor, ranging from medicinal plants to anatomical theaters.

“I’ve got the T.B. Blues” – Examining Tuberculosis through Music

Post contributed by Roger Peña, M.Ed., Research Services Librarian

I’m fightin’ like a lion, Looks like I’m going to lose.
‘Cause there ain’t nobody, ever whipped the T.B. blues

The above lyrics come from the 1931 song, “T.B. Blues” by pioneering country singer, Jimmie Rodgers. They describe a young man accepting his fate and losing the fight against tuberculosis, or TB.

The published sheet music for “T.B. Blues’‘ is housed at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library’s larger collections of published sheet music, and is just one of thousands that make up the library’s collection.

Cover to the sheet music for "T.B. Blues." Printed in blue ink.
Front Cover of sheet music for T.B. Blues.

By the 20th century, sheet music had long been a tradition in the music industry as a way for customers to immerse themselves with their favorite songs but also an opportunity for companies to advertise their artists and products.  The sheet music for “T.B. Blues’” was published in 1931 by the Southern Music Company – though it was based in New York City. It includes the then standard “Try it on your Piano” introduction page and advertisements for other Jimmie Rodgers songs and that of the Carter Family and band-leader Hoagy Carmichael.  The front cover features a portrait of Jimmie Rodgers in his signature suit and straw hat, under a banner with the song title and the curious inclusion of a moonshine bottle, a pair of dice, and the silhouette of a man laying in bed with his chest to his knees, perhaps an allegory to the pain suffered by tuberculosis patients.

Known as the “Singing Brakeman,” a reference to his time working on railroad lines, Rodgers is considered the “father of country music” for his influence across country, rhythm and blues, bluegrass and rock n’ roll. An inductee of the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and Country Music Hall of Fame, Rodgers is known for such hits as “In the Jailhouse Now,” “Blue Yodel No. 9” (with Louis Armstrong) and “T for Texas,” and has been covered by legendary artists Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Allison Krauss, among others. Tragically, his promising career lasted only six years and was cut short after a long battle with tuberculosis, when he succumbed to the disease in 1933, at the age of 35.

Sheet Music for T.B. Blues (right), including the “Try this over on your piano” intro page.
Sheet Music for T.B. Blues (right), including the “Try this over on your piano” intro page.

Got me worried soul, I can’t even sleep at night
I’ve got the T.B. blues

“TB” BACKGROUND

In Jimmie Rodgers’ lifetime, tuberculosis was “one of the two leading causes of death in the early 1900s” and the “dominant chronic infectious disease of the first half of the twentieth century.” Tuberculosis — known also as consumption, phthisis, white plague, and  “the robber of youth” throughout history — is caused by the bacteria, mycobacterium tuberculosis.

The earliest written description of TB dates back three millennia to ancient India and in AD 174, the Greek physician Galen described its symptoms as “fever, sweating, coughing and blood stained sputum.” Thought to be hereditary until the late 19th century, German scientist, Robert Koch, discovered that tuberculosis was an airborne infectious bacterial disease that could be transmitted from person to person.

According to a study by Harvard University Library, tuberculosis caused more deaths in industrialized countries than any other disease during the 19th and early 20th centuries. However, a romanticized view of tuberculosis had sprung up in the 1800s as the disease came to be associated with artists and literature. Some believed that suffering from the disease increased creativity, “heightened sensitivity and spiritual purity.”  Writer Robert Louis Stevenson suffered from tuberculosis for most of his life and artists such as Emily Bronte, John Keats, and Frederic Chopin all died from the disease at an early age.

Alexander Dumas claimed, “It was the fashion to suffer from the lungs; everybody was consumptive, poets especially; it was good form to spit blood after each emotion that was at all sensational” while Lord Byron quipped that he “should like to die of consumption”.

Yet for many suffering from tuberculosis, the disease could feel like a slow death.  Tuberculosis can attack the body in different ways, from the lungs to the kidneys, brain and spine. TB bacteria can settle in the lungs and begin to grow and move through the blood to other parts of the body. Not all who contract tuberculosis become sick leading to the distinction between Latent TB Infection (asymptomatic) and TB Disease (symptomatic).

Like many who suffered from the progressive form of tuberculosis, Rodgers’ battle was prolonged and extremely painful, coughing up bloody sputum for years and suffering from chronic fatigue. At the time of the recording of “T.B. Blues” in 1931, Rodgers had already been living with the disease (the symptomatic TB Disease) for over seven years. He had been diagnosed in 1924 by a family physician after suffering a hemorrhage (Porterfield, p. 53).

When it rained down sorrow, It rained all over me
‘Cause my body rattles, Like a train on that old S.P. [Southern Pacific RR]

Black and white photograph of a a three story brick building with a single-story wing. The building has a metal fence around it and is in a muddy field.
Image of the Durham County Jail, circa 1920s. Building and grounds would be converted to TB Sanatorium in 1943 and 1944.

Prior to the innovations of vaccines, medication, and antibiotics that have helped fight tuberculosis, most physicians could only prescribe a nutritious diet, rest and fresh air. In the late 1800s and early 20th century, tuberculosis sanatoriums were established throughout the United States and Europe where TB patients could isolate and rest.

However, relaxation, bedrest, quarantine and sanatorium care weren’t necessarily options for those suffering from poverty. Not working meant not getting paid, and the same was true for Jimmie Rodgers.  Particularly for a musician just reaching stardom, taking time from work was not an option. He spent time in sanatoriums and even lived in Asheville, NC for its cooler climate and mountain air; but he continued to perform, even against the recommendations of physicians and family (Porterfield, p.53).  Rodgers would on occasion stumble out of bed to perform while fighting a fever and went so far as to tape plaster to his ribs to dull the pain and prevent from breathing too deeply. When he couldn’t stop coughing onstage, fans were known to applaud sympathetically and shout, “Spit ‘er up, Jimmie and sing some more” (Porterfield; p. 115; 279).

Eventually, the disease and its complications would prove too much. Jimmy Rodgers lost his battle with tuberculosis on May 26, 1933. Ever the tireless performer, Rodgers spent his final days recording music in a New York studio, cutting his last record two days before his death.

Continue reading “I’ve got the T.B. Blues” – Examining Tuberculosis through Music

Announcing our 2023-2024 Travel Grant Recipients

The Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is pleased to announce the recipients of the 2023-2024 travel grants. Our research centers annually award travel grants to students, scholars, and independent researchers through a competitive application process. We extend a warm congratulations to this year’s awardees. We look forward to meeting and working with you!

Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants)

Ola Aboukhsaiwan, Ph.D. candidate, London School of Economics and Political Science, “Surviving Abortion: Clinics, Competition, and Connections.”

Sophie Abramowitz, Independent Researcher, “Rosetta Records Creative Reissue Project.”

Anne Gray Fischer, Faculty, University of Texas at Dallas, “Women Killers: Murder in the Era of Feminist Liberation.”

Wendy Rouse, Faculty, San Jose State University, “The Feminist Self-Defense Movement in the Era of Women’s Liberation.”

Rachel Tang, Ph.D. candidate, Harvard University; Department of History of Art and Architecture, “Lessons in Repair: History, Materials, and Processes of Pedagogy in American Art.”

Tessel Veneboer, Ph.D. candidate, Ghent University, “Negativity, sexuality, and formal innovation Kathy Acker’s literary experiments.”

John Hope Franklin Center for African and African American History and Culture

Anna Duensing, Postdoctoral fellow, Carter G. Woodson Institute, University of Virginia, “Fascism Is Already Here: Civil Rights and the Making of a Black Antifascist Tradition”

Monique Hayes, Writer, “Sally Forth,” a historical novel based on African-American experiences during the American Revolution, 1771-1785.

Marie Hubbard, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English and Comparative Literature, “‘Ivy and Cane’: New and Old Forms of Trans-Atlantic Exchange in the Literature of Ayi Kwei Armah.”

Breanna Moore,  Ph.D. candidate, University of Pennsylvania, “‘Whose Loss?’: Reparations, Indemnities, and Sovereignty During the Era of Slave Trade Abolition in the Atlantic World.”

Elizabeth Schlabach, Faculty, Department of History, Lawrence University, “Segregated and in the Shadows: Black Women’s Off the Books Labor in Jim Crow Southern Cities.”

Katharina Weygold,  Ph.D. candidate, Brown University, “African American Women and Haiti During the U.S. Occupation, 1915 – 1934.”

Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History

Courtney Block, Faculty, Indiana University Southeast Library, “Rhea White & Margaret Anderson Letters.”

Adam Kocurek, Ph.D. candidate, CUNY Graduate Center, “Academic Closets and Labor Trials: LGBTQ+ Academics and Activism in the Industry from 1960-Present.”

Suisui (Sway) Wang, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Gender Studies, Indiana University Bloomington, “Answering the Call(s): Sexual Politics of Hotlines and Technopolitics of Sexuality.”

John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing History

John Furr Fellowship for J. Walter Thompson Archives Research

Cara Fallon, Faculty, Jackson School of Global Affairs, Yale University, “Ageism in twentieth and twenty-first century United States as it permeated American culture, medicine, and society.”

Susana Sosenski, Faculty, Instituto de Investigaciones Historicas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, “The arrival of Kellogg’s breakfasts in Mexico: a history of the advertising campaign 1940-1970.”

FOARE Fellowship for Outdoor Advertising Research

Jacob Saindon, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Geography, University of Kentucky, “The Production of Commercial Attention: Advertising, Space, and ‘New’ Media in the Contemporary U.S.”

Alvin Achenbaum Travel Grants

Maria Elena Aramendia-Muneta, Faculty, Universidad Pública de Navarra, “The use of new energies and technologies for advertising purposes in the atomic age (50s and 60s).”

Aimée Plukker, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, Cornell University, “Europe Calling: The Marshall Plan, U.S. Tourism to Europe, and the Making of “the West.””

Pierre-Yves Donzé, Faculty, Graduate School of Economics, Osaka University, “Making Swiss watches and luxury good: the cooperation between J. Walter Thompson and Rolex, 1960-1990.”

Keely Mruk, Ph.D. candidate, Departments of History and History of Science, Medicine, and Technology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, “A Taste for Existential Threat: Women, Food, and Technologies of Preservation in Cold War America.”

Dael Norwood, Faculty, Department of History, University of Delaware, “The Beginnings of the Businessman:  How Exclusion, Education, and Globalization Shaped an American Identity.”

Stephanie Vincent, Faculty, Department of History, Kent State University, “From Luxury to Defense: Glass, Silver, and China During World War II.”

History of Medicine Collections

Christopher Blakley, Faculty, Core Program, Occidental College, “”Race Science and the Senses in the US Exploring Expedition, 1838-1842.”

Austin Bryan, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Anthropology, Northwestern University, “‘It’s Our Aid’: Liberation Through Disease in Uganda.”

Sarah Parker, Faculty, School of Humanities, Jacksonville University, “Science as Spectacle:  Satirizing Scientific Discourse in Shadwell’s The Virtuoso (1676).”

Matthew Soleiman, Ph.D. candidate, Department of History, University of California San Diego, “The Person in Pain: A Genealogy of Bodily Experience.”

Human Rights Archive

Amy Kerner, Faculty, Department of History, University of Texas at Dallas, “Human Rights Activism and Forced Disappearance from the 1976 Coup to the Rome Statute.”

Claudia Monterroza Rivera, Ph.D. candidate, Vanderbilt University, “‘Defender Nuestros Derechos:’ Catholic Women and Transnational Human Rights Activism in Central America and the United States, 1970s-1980s.”

Carolyn Robbins, Ph.D. candidate, Department of Communication, University of Maryland, “Riot Rhetorics: The Language of the Unheard.”

Debbie Sharnak, Faculty, Department of History, Rowan University, “Jewish Internationalism and the Southern Cone Dictatorships.”

Brigitte Stepanov, Faculty, George Institute of Technology, “Cruelty, War, Fiction: Redefining the In-Human.”

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Research Travel Grants

Matilde Manara, Postdoctoral Fellow, Collège de France, “Proustmania! Reading, writing, sewing Proust today.”

Christina Olivares, Ph.D. candidate, Department of English Education, Teachers College at Columbia University, “Reparative Gestures/Queering Education: Eve Kosofsky Sedwick’s pedagogical practices and James Sears’ research in adolescent education.”

Evan Pavka, Faculty, Department of Art & Art History, Wayne State University, “Reconstructing ‘Queer Space’.”

A Love Letter

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

This exhibit is based on a lot of things. Its main foci are the horrors and heroes of Hiroshima. Three out of forty-five hospitals remained standing after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, though greatly damaged still, and according to numerous resources, 90-93% of doctors and nurses were killed or injured. The medical staff who survived suffered from pain—physical, emotional, and otherwise—and extreme uncertainty and fear, but gave the best care possible to their community. Even with rumors of the atomic bomb making for unsafe conditions for seventy-five years, they did not leave; and some came from outside the city with offers of help and supplies.

But what are the actual things in this exhibit and what do they mean? For me, it is an exhibit based on letters. Letters to oneself in the form of a diary  as seen in the Japanese manuscript written for the medical journal Teishin Igaku. A letter from an artist friend, relieved and grateful to hear of his friend’s survival, in the form of a beautiful scroll. The scroll’s contents were translated and sent by letter to eventually be included in the book that became Hiroshima Diary: The Journal of a Japanese Physician, August 6-September 30, 1945 . A letter—and it is one of many—about the book and the process of it, which serves as a window into the grace, gratitude, and genuine respect and friendship between two doctors. This even became a quest for a missing letter, perhaps Einstein’s last one before passing, still lost but, for me, an education in the world of archives anyway.

Handwritten manuscript for the medical journal Teishin Igaku.
Hiroshima Scroll.
Portuguese edition of Hiroshima Diary.
Letter from Dr. Michihiko Hachiya to Dr. Warner Wells.
A note from Dr. Wells about Einstein’s lost letter.

It is a story based on letters. This exhibit is my own contribution—a love letter to Hiroshima Diary and its creators, for teaching me about Hiroshima in a new way, and the medical staff and people who survived, as well as those that did not. This is what it is to me, and this is what I wanted to share with you. I hope you find meaning in it as I have.

Warmest regards,

Michelle

The exhibit, The Horrors and Heroes of Hiroshima, will be on display from August 17 to October 1, 2023, in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room. An online exhibit is also available here. This exhibition was curated by Michelle Wolfson, the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern. Wolfson is a graduate student in Library Science at East Carolina University and half-Japanese.

Diseases, Drugs, and Dosages

A Q&A with Jeremy Montgomery, PhD candidate in History at Mississippi State University in the History of Science, Technology, and Medicine Node of Excellence and a History of Medicine Collections travel grant recipient.

What is your research project?

My dissertation examines the medical armamentarium in the United States between 1800-1860. Taking a synchronic view, my project seeks to describe medical education, knowledge production, and treatment options between the regions. It takes seriously the diverse medical marketplace by incorporating discussions about “regular” and “irregular” forms of medicine. In addition to the types of medical care, my project examines the black and white body, free and enslaved, also. Lastly, my dissertation discusses and describes symptomology, therapeutics, and Materia Medica within the early-to-mid nineteenth century.

The opening pages of the M.M. Haworth Diary.

 

What collection(s) did you use from Duke’s History of Medicine Collections?

While at the Rubenstein Library, I reviewed multiple sources. For this trip, I narrowed my search for sources that discussed Materia Medica and therapeutics. In particular, I reviewed the Peter Washington Little Manuscript, Notes on the Lectures of Materia Medica by Benjamin Barton, M.M. Haworth Medical Diary and Journal, Isaac Brooks Headen papers, Caleb Budlong Physician’s account books, Henry Fish Papers, Salisbury, [Mass.]., Lee Griggs daybook, Lee Griggs physician’s ledger, Lectures on the diseases of children, New Haven; Charles Watts papers, New Orleans, Physician’s account book, Lectures on Materia Medica and Therapeutics, Elements of Materia Medica and Therapeutics, On the Teaching of Pharmacology, Materia Medica, and Therapeutics in Our Medical Schools, Materia Medica and Therapeutics, and last but not least The Essentials of Materia Medica and Therapeutics.

What surprised you, or was an unexpected find, in the collection you used?

I was surprised by my findings in the M.M. Haworth Diary. From the opening pages (see above) to his prescription list, I found this to be a rich primary source. This source list the diseases and their prescription(s). The multiple prescriptions are revealing because this time period does not connect a particular pathogen to a disease so it may be argued that the treatments will be different. In addition, this source listed the dosages. The apothecary symbols next to the prescriptions allow greater depth with regards to the medical armamentarium in the nineteenth-century. In short, it was a great day!

A list of diseases with their prescriptions from the M.M. Haworth Medical Diary.

 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Yes! The History of Medicine Collections travel grant was my first travel grant I have received in my professional career, and it was generous. Furthermore, the staff at the Rubenstein Library are incredible. I had the pleasure of meeting Rachel Ingold—Curator, History of Medicine Collections. Rachel helped me navigate the application process and invited me for coffee when I arrived.  If she invites you for coffee, please accept. We discussed my project some more and she was able to point me to additional resources that I was able to view on my week-long trip. In fact, the M.M. Haworth Diary is an example of an additional source that Rachel was able to help me review on my trip.

The Strange Case of “Dr. Anonymous,” a Mystery in the Early History of Coronary Artery Disease : Passion, Discovery, and Serendipity in Book Collecting with Paul Kligfield, MD

Date: Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Time: 5:30 p.m.

Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library Room 153

Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu

Please join us on Tuesday, April 11, at 5:30 p.m. for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Paul Kligfield, MD, will present The Strange Case of “Dr. Anonymous,”  a Mystery in the Early History of Coronary Artery Disease :  Passion, Discovery, and Serendipity in Book Collecting.

William Heberden’s classic description of angina pectoris in the 18th century contained no speculation as to its cause, now known to be coronary artery disease.  Shortly after publication of his paper by the Royal College of Physicians, he received a letter from a man offering his body for autopsy to help search for a pathologic basis for his symptoms.  Indeed, death occurred within weeks of his correspondence and autopsy was performed by John Hunter.  The writer’s clinical description of his own symptoms of angina and impending sudden death was so medically accurate that historians have identified him as an unknown physician, described as “Dr Anonymous.”  Nearly half a century of interest in the history of cardiology, combined with passion and serendipity in medical book collecting, have now uncovered the true identity of Heberden’s previously unknown correspondent.  Come and share the discovery.

Paul Kligfield, MD, is Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, whose interests in the history of medicine include the development and early use of the stethoscope, the origins and technology of the electrocardiogram, and the development of the pathophysiologic understanding of angina pectoris. Dr. Kligfield has served on the Board of Governors of the American College of Cardiology, as President of the International Society for Computerized Electrocardiography, as President of the New York Cardiological Society, as a Director of the New York Heart Association, as Secretary and Trustee of the New York Academy of Medicine, and as President of the American Osler Society. He is a member of The Grolier Club of New York and an admitted bibliophile and recovering bibliomaniac.

 

 

2023-2024 Research Travel Grants Open

The David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library is now accepting applications for our 2023-2024 research travel grant program. Our program is open to all kinds of researchers– artists, activists, students, and scholars—whose work would be supported by sources from the Rubenstein Library’s research centers.

Research travel grants of up to $1500 are offered by the following Centers and research areas:

Archive of Documentary Arts
Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick Travel Grants
Harry H. Harkins T’73 Travel Grants for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender History
History of Medicine Collections
Human Rights Archive
John Hope Franklin Research Center for African and African American History and Culture
John W. Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising & Marketing History
Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture (Mary Lily Research Grants)

Each grant offering is specific to the associated subject area and collection holdings, and our archivists can help you determine eligibility for your project. We encourage applications from students at any level of education; faculty and teachers; visual and performing artists; writers; filmmakers; public historians; and independent researchers. Applicants must reside beyond a 100-mile radius of Durham, N.C., and may not be current Duke students or employees. Awards are paid as reimbursement after completion of the research visit(s). The deadline for applications will be Friday, February 24, 2023, at 6:00 pm EST. Recipients should be announced by the end of April 2023, and grants will be for travel during May 2023-June 2024.

An online information session will be held Thursday, January 19, 2023, 1-2 EST.  This program will review application requirements, offer tips for creating a successful application, and include an opportunity for attendees to ask questions. This program will be recorded, and posted online afterwards.  Register for the session here. Further questions may be directed to AskRL@duke.edu with the subject line “Travel Grants.”

[An earlier version of this post had the incorrect date for the info session. It will be held Thursday, January 19.]

The Ladies’ Physician fumbles the mic a bit but mostly drops it

Post contributed by Michelle Wolfson, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

The History of Medicine special collection houses many exciting—and, dare we say, sexy—artifacts that draw the interest of students, staff, and researchers. The carved ivory memento mori is a thing of beauty. The amputation set invites people to picture themselves on a battlefield during the Civil War. Anatomy and dissection are contemplated as one looks at flapbooks and manikins.

But what draws me in? The written word. The books, the pamphlets, the zines—they are the voices echoing to me through time.

With abortion constantly in the news at this cataclysmic time, and with a young child with many questions about puberty, I threw myself into the History of Medicine Collections as its latest intern, wanting to know, “What do we say about puberty? About menstruation? About abortion? What do doctors say? What do mothers say? What does corporate America say? For heaven’s sake, what do we tell the children?!” Here is a small sampling of what the special collection offers.

Title page from The Ladies’ Physician: A Guide for Women in the Treatment of their Ailments.

The Ladies’ Physician: A Guide for Women in the Treatment of their Ailments by a London Physician is a book from 1884. This guide has several redeeming factors. It makes clear that it is the mother’s duty to inform their daughters of what to expect before menstruation begins. While not always feasible (what does one do when there is not a maternal figure in the child’s life?), I generally like the attitude that we do not leave young girls and women in the dark regarding their health. In some ways, the text is very thorough in covering many common issues that women might experience, including the more benign, such as leukorrhea (“the whites”, or simply, vaginal discharge), to the more serious, such as tumors and endometritis. This was somewhat shocking to me as, anecdotally, I hear from many women that their endometritis was ignored by health providers for many years before being properly diagnosed. Pregnancy and many of the possibilities an expectant mother might experience as the body changes are also covered—from varicose veins to constipation to neuralgia of the face.

The section on pregnancy begins with a quick history of how much has been discovered recently—such as how physicians can now say with certainty that a person is pregnant by using a stethoscope and auscultation. Only sixty years ago, our London Physician tells us, did a woman claim to be pregnant by the Holy Ghost and had many followers who believed her, including people in the medical field. (Actually, the London Physician says “medical men”, and I wondered if midwives were at all involved.) Different signs of pregnancy are written about, but we are also told that there may not be any signs at all, at which point, a story is told about a Mrs. G—–, which feels straight out of a modern showing of “I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant”. Neither Mrs. G—– nor the neighborhood physician ever guessed she was pregnant, and indeed she was in labor and they still did not suspect that she was giving birth. Ten hours into labor, another doctor examined her and realized what was happening, though the expectant parents still did not believe it. The story has a happy ending—healthy mom, healthy and loved daughter. The London Physician also tells us that the opposite can occur, when a person thinks they are pregnant when they are not, whether it is due to false signs from tumors, an abnormal menstrual cycle, or simply gas or muscles twitching.

As one might expect, The Ladies’ Physician has its problems and questionable moments, too. The causes of puberty and menstruation are written about obtusely—I could not guarantee that a person without some prior knowledge of menstruation would completely understand what the book is saying happens during “the process which marks woman as woman.” (I will not even get into how this is not how we define “woman” anymore because now we know not all women experience menstruation.) The text also does not include visuals. At another time, the London Physician gives somehow not enough information by giving us too much information. We are initially told the average pregnancy is about nine or ten months, but the London Physician goes on for a distressing couple of pages about how some countries and cultures think that the duration of pregnancy lasts longer–three hundred days, or even going into years, the most being four years. (FYI: Elephants have the longest pregnancies of any land mammal, somewhere between eighteen to twenty-three months.) I do not know if this was simply an interesting point about varying belief systems, or to go back to the point about how physicians have recently learned more about pregnancy, or to cover all the bases of how long one might be pregnant in case somebody is incorrect.

One section regarding abortion was interesting to me, and I feel the need to quote it to get it exactly right. From pages 222-223, regarding severe cases of illness:

Pages 222-223 from The Ladies’ Physician

The cases in which such extreme measures are called for are of extreme rarity. It happens only when the mother’s life is in imminent and urgent peril; then it becomes a duty to act promptly and empty the uterus, and thus save the only life that can be saved, unless, indeed, it be in the later months of pregnancy, when both lives—the mother’s and the child’s—can in this manner be spared. Repulsive as it is to destroy the child, still it is the highest duty, and no hesitation should be felt in sacrificing it in circumstances stated, for unless this be done, and done promptly, not only the life of the child, but that of the mother will also be lost.

Another section about quickening was of interest from page 196. The London Physician does not think this is the moment a child is considered alive, instead that the

…embryo is alive from the first, though its life is a lower form of life than it is after the fifth or sixth month, just as the life of a child an hour before birth is a lower form of life than that it possesses an hour after birth.

They do not know when the child possesses a soul but

…[l]et it suffice here to say that from the time of conception there is life in the embryo, simple though it be when compared with the higher life of a born child or an adult man, yet too complex to be solved by the greatest philosopher. 

Page 196 from The Ladies’ Physician

I think the London Physician dropped the mic there, so I will end here as well.

Some of this blog post was written tongue-in-cheek, but that does not discount how I think on this book. In 1884, women had something to refer to that gave them reassuring and helpful information regarding their bodies. The information is given in a matter-of-fact manner, not sensationalized or hidden in shame (though we could work on some bits for clarification). It still leaves me with many questions—how many people had access to this book? Who was the London Physician? What did people do if they did not have access to a book like this? I am assuming they sought other women for advice, or at least I am hoping they did.

 

 

 

 

Forceps, Women’s Rights, and Professional Turf War: American Pregnancy and Childbirth in the Twentieth Century

Post contributed by Haleigh Yaspan, Independent Researcher

Pregnancy and birth, as universal and unvarying phenomena, can offer a revealing and reflective view into a specific historical chapter. Careful attention to the dynamic nature of the circumstances that have historically defined the experiences of pregnant and birthing women can help us contextualize and better understand our present moment. The relationship is bidirectional: so too does an exploration of historical factors help shed light on the rationale for trends in the medicalization of birth. The aid of a generous History of Medicine travel grant allowed me to spend time with a number of fascinating collections at Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library that can offer such insight. These included, for example, the collection of medical instruments from the practice of Dr. LM Draper, the Louise Hortense Branscomb papers, and the Wilton G. Fritz Collection Artifacts.

In the United States, the circumstances of birth changed dramatically toward the end of the Progressive Era. Prior to the twentieth century, the care of pregnant and birthing women was most commonly the domain of midwives and other female practitioners, who were not incorporated into a recognized professional body. The shift toward a physician-centric approach can be traced back to a revolution within the medical profession, beginning in the late 1800s and continuing well into the following century. The wide variety of obstetrical tools surviving from Dr. LM Draper’s twentieth-century collection offers insight into standard practices of American physicians of the day. I was particularly intrigued by the array of various iterations of forceps, insinuated as they are in the medical profession’s early- and mid-century proclivity toward instrumental intervention in labor, an intentional move to set physicians apart from low-interventionist midwives.

a pair of metal forceps
Obstetrical forceps had been invented in the seventeenth century, although their use was not widespread until much later.

 

The glass slides for Dr. Carter’s OB/GYN lectures provided a window into the education aspect of the medical approach to obstetrics. Such primary sources set forth the gold standard of mid-century medical education of the day. The use of visuals in the slides informs an understanding of the historical pedagogical practices in this field, while the language employed clues us into the sociocultural milieu that circumscribed and defined medical education of the day.

American medical students learned about the history of childbirth, which had not traditionally been considered the purview of medical practitioners.

 

The medicalization of birth that took shape in the early twentieth century has attracted both celebration and criticism. Many have critiqued physicians, both in this period and since, for their quickness to instrumentally intervene in birth and their failure to outperform more hands-off midwives in terms of clinical outcomes. In the early twentieth century, Abraham Flexner, under the aegis of the Carnegie Foundation, set out to survey the state of medical education in the United States and Canada. His 1910 report eviscerated the medical profession, suggesting that a vast majority of American doctors were woefully unqualified and had received what little education they possessed from institutions of highly dubious rigor and quality. “But the very worst showing,” he noted, “is made in the matter of obstetrics.”

The Rubenstein Library’s disruptive copy of A Curious Herbal

Post contributed by Janet Stiles Tyson, independent researcher.

colored picture of fig plant
Hand-colored etching of fig, from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

This blog post concerns a copy of a historically significant English herbal, held by the Rubenstein Library. Along with its producer Elizabeth Blackwell, A Curious Herbal[1] comprised the topic of my PhD thesis for Birkbeck College, University of London. It remains the focus of my post-doctoral research.

She was born in London in 1699 as Elizabeth Simpson, and married to a Scotsman named Alexander Blackwell. She made 500 life-size watercolor drawings of medicinal plants and translated those drawings on to etching plates, which were then sent to a printer to be produced as black-and-white multiples. After printing, Blackwell used watercolor paint to color many of the imprinted images. Between mid-1735 and mid-1739, those images were sold in fascicules or gatherings of four pages each. Each fascicule also included a page of text explaining the use of the four illustrated plants. Gatherings that contained four uncolored images cost one shilling; each group containing four colored images cost two shillings. Buyers compiled their pages (along with title pages, indexes, and other leaves that were printed and distributed) and had them bound—typically into two folio-format volumes.

Image showing text from title page of A Curious Herbal
Volume One title page from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

Blackwell’s first publisher was Samuel Harding, whose name is found on title pages dated 1737. The name of Blackwell’s second publisher, John Nourse, is found on title pages dated 1739 and 1751. Copies also exist that were published under the name of Charles Nourse and dated 1782. However, composition and dating of extant copies isn’t as straightforward as this summary suggests, which is why much of my ongoing research involves finding and viewing as many copies as I can. Thus far, I have found about 110 copies, and have examined every single page of about sixty-five.

This brings me to the Rubenstein Library copy, which I visited in early August of this year [2022]. I first learned of it from catalogues for auctions held by Sotheby’s and Christie’s between 1981 and 2017. Online color photographs and verbal descriptions left me in no doubt about its beauty and importance. It was printed on extra-large folio sheets of paper, such that it measured about 18-by-12 inches in height and breadth. Pictures showed that its two volumes were bound in gold-stamped black morocco leather, and that the edges of its pages had been finished in gold. It also was evident that the plates had been colored with great care and subtly.

It originally had been owned by a London apothecary named Josiah Messer (1753-1830), whose signature was inscribed on the verso of the title page. A watercolor drawing and a hand-colored etching had been inserted at the back of volume one. Bookplates for another, presumably later, owner named George Hubbard were affixed to the marble endpapers in each volume. Assuming that its last sale at auction had been to a private collection, it seemed that I would never see Josiah Messer’s copy of A Curious Herbal.

Thus I watched, incredulously, as Rubenstein librarians removed the two volumes of the Messer copy from their archival boxes.

image showing page of text from preface
Blackwell preface from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal.

I began carefully turning its pages. Messer’s signature was on the reverse of the title page. There were the customary two pages of endorsements by various medical men. There were five lavishly etched and engraved dedicatory leaves that I knew from other copies. And there was a blank leaf where the first explanatory page should have been. Briefly perplexed, I decided that explanatory pages had been arranged to face the first image of each group of four. I’d seen that in other copies and would duly note.

I turned the page to find its verso filled with words from top to bottom, facing the front of another densely printed page. The word ‘Preface’ topped the first, and at the bottom of the second was the name ‘Elizabeth Blackwell’, and the legend: ‘Chelsea April ye 12th 1739’. After some preliminaries were the words:

I from my very Infancy shew’d an Inclination to imitate Pictures and

to attempt drawing such Things as pleased me; Whether this

proceeded from the strong impressions made on my tender Brain by

the agreeable Objects I was daily surrounded with (my Father Mr.

Leonard Simpson being a Painter) or a Genius born with me I can’t

determine.

A shiver of excitement shot from my head to my fingertips at ‘my Father Mr. Leonard Simpson being a Painter’. Hurriedly I told the librarians about this discovery, then returned to my table to email my Birkbeck supervisors, Vanessa Harding and Carmen Mangion. Both promptly messaged their kudos. Then, as I finished reading Blackwell’s preface and proceeded to examine and photograph further pages, Harding sent me another email.

Applying decades of research experience, Harding quickly found two other documents that cited Leonard Simpson by name. One announced the birth of a daughter to ‘Mr Leonard Simpson Designer in Paintings’, who lodged with a ‘Mr Simpson shoomaker of the Parish of St Mary Woolchurchhaw’. Dated ‘Aprill 1699’, it stated that daughter Elizabeth was born on the ‘three and twentith day of this moneth’ and  ‘baptized the 4th of May following’. The second document further noted that shoomaker Simpson’s dwelling was ‘next door to the White Horse in Poultry’.

color image of white waterlilly against a green lily pad
Hand-colored etching of white waterlily from Rubenstein copy of A Curious Herbal. Photo credit Janet Stiles Tyson.

Over the years, I’ve found other Simpson references, including information that identified Blackwell’s mother’s name as Alice. But the Rubenstein copy holds the key to confirming Elizabeth Blackwell’s birth date and place. So much more could be said about this book and its illustrations, and the myriad curious tales of Elizabeth Blackwell. And perhaps further research will find further copies of that preface. For now, however, I hope that I have communicated the importance of this object at Duke University.

Works cited

Blackwell, Elizabeth (1737). A Curious Herbal. Containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plants, which are now used in the Practice of Physick. Engraved on folio Copper Plates, after Drawings, taken from the Life. By Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short Description of ye Plants; and their common Uses in Physick. London: Printed for Samuel Harding in St Martin’s Lane, MDCCXXXVII (1737) Rubenstein QK99.A1 B53 1737 folio v.1 c.1.

London Metropolitan Archives. Parchment register of the parish of St Mary Woolnoth, 1686-1726: LMA, P69/MRY15/A002/MS07636.

London Metropolitan Archives. Paper register of the parish of St Mary Woolnoth, 1695-1706: LMA, P69/MRY15/A/002/MSo7636.

[1] Full title: A Curious Herbal. Containing Five Hundred Cuts of the most useful Plants, which are now used in the Practice of Physick. Engraved on folio Copper Plates, after Drawings, taken from the Life. By Elizabeth Blackwell. To which is added a short Description of ye Plants; and their common Uses in Physick.