Category Archives: Rare Books

X Marks the Spot: Adding Coordinates to Rare Maps’ Catalog Records

Blog Post Contributed by Liz Adams, Rare Materials Cataloger

The Rubenstein Library has 2,142 individually cataloged printed maps, collectively covering nearly the entire world. There are aerial views of Alexandria, Egypt and Venice, Italy; fire insurance maps of our own North Carolina and ones of nearby Tennessee and Virginia; and pre-1800 (or what we call “early”) maps of what is now the United States. We have maps charting rivers in Southeast Asia and thematic ones related to public health and nuclear proliferation. Our maps perform dual functions: they orient users to particular places and ideas in particular times and reveal the beliefs of the map creators about those places and the wider world.

Elaborate printed map showing an early depiction of North and South America
Map of America from Blaeu’s Toonneel des aerdriicx, ofte nievwe atlas, dat is Beschryving van alle landen; nu nieulycx uytgegeven, 1648.

It’s a truism that early printed maps look a little different to modern eyes. This is partly the result of imprecise mathematical knowledge prior to the 18th century. According to David Woodward in The history of cartography, “before careful measurement, distances from place to place could be roughly paced” (13). “Roughly” is the key word. These differences are also bound up in the original goals of the maps, which in the case of Western European countries, often included economic, religious, and political expansion nearby and into faraway places (that is, colonialism) (Woodward 19). And finally, and very much related to the first two points, the world has never been static. For example, there was once a province called Carolina that included North Carolina and South Carolina as well as parts of Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Things change.

A map catalog record with coordinates under Scale.

I’m a cataloger, and catalogers want to describe those early maps accurately. But how do we do that when distance was “roughly” measured, or when place names and boundaries have changed? For example, how do we document a map showing that Texas once “included much of what later became Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, and Oklahoma” (Lepore 222)? Subject headings do some of that work in a catalog record, but geographic headings specifically relate to modern boundaries, not historic. The real heavy lifting comes from including bounding coordinates, the easternmost and westernmost longitudes and northernmost and southernmost latitudes seen on a map. We provide those coordinates in two places in the record, one more visible than the other. If you look at one of our catalog records online, you’ll see the coordinates under “Scale.” We also include those same coordinates as coded data in a separate area in the MARC record (see row below beginning with “=034”). This coded data is very precisely structured data. You can’t see it in our online catalog, but if you ever need access to it, let us know! We’re here and happy to help.

A record in our data editing software. The added coordinate data is circled in red.
A section of the United States with it's coordinates listed below.
Finding the coordinates using Bounding Box.

Adding coordinates to map records is a relatively new practice, and not all Rubenstein Library maps include that data. We’re trying to change that. Using a combination of data editing software, and digitized versions of maps, we’ve begun adding that data point to our early printed map records. Doing this work today has an immediate impact for researchers. In our online records, you can see the coordinates and use that data to make research decisions. It also serves an important task for the future. Coordinate data is easily accessible to librarians and can be changed into other data standards for use in digital humanities projects (Kiser & Smeltekop). Without coordinates, this work may be at a standstill.

Since we began this project a few weeks ago, we’ve made changes to over 100 hundred records, with no plans to stop. We still have several hundred to go!

Want to know more about maps? We don’t blame you! In 2013, Duke students in Borderworks Lab curated “Mapping the City: a stranger’s guide,” an exhibit featuring maps and atlases held by the Rubenstein Library. The exhibit is online and is very cool.

 

Works Cited

Kiser, Tim, and Nicole Smeltekop. “A Method for Creating Scanned Map Metadata for Geoportals, Library Catalogs, and Digital Repositories: Reworking Existing MARC Records of Paper Maps to Create New Records for Their Scanned Counterparts.” Journal of Map & Geography Libraries, vol. 14, no. 2-3, Feb. 2018, pp. 109–131. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts with Full Text, doi:10.1080/15420353.2019.1640166.

Lepore, Jill. These Truths: a History of the United States. W.W. Norton & Company, 2019.

Woodward, David. “Cartography and the Renaissance: Continuity and Change.” History of Cartography, vol. 3:1, University of Chicago Press, 2007, pp. 3–24.

The Satirist and Tinkerer, Hogarth

Blog post contributed by Liz Adams, Rare Materials Cataloger

large volume
Volume of Hogarth prints awaiting treatment in conservation.

Way back in 2018, back when the new decade was but a glint in our eyes, we received something very big (literally and metaphorically) here at the Rubenstein: a single volume of 83 prints associated with William Hogarth. The creation dates for these prints span from 1732 (Midnight modern conversation) to 1781 (Mr. Walpole). Some of them are sincere, like a portrait of the actor David Garrick as Richard III. Others chart corruption and vice, notably in the series A rake’s progress and A harlot’s progress. Still others are pointed rejoinders to Hogarth’s nemeses, which included people like the satirist Charles Churchill (The bruiser, C. Churchill), alcoholic beverages (Gin Lane), and the French military. The themes are varied; the production methods evolve; and even Hogarth’s role in the creation of these prints oscillates between publisher, printer, artist of original work, and artistic supervisor. The prints are thus unified by their differences.

Hogarth engraving: “The Sleeping Congregation.”  A note on the right corner notes that this engraving was “retouched & improved April 21 1762 by the Author.”  Description from catalog record: The scene is the interior of a perpendicular Gothic church. The sand in the hourglass has run out, but the preacher continues to lecture, oblivious to the fact that his congregation has fallen asleep….”

In 2019, I learned these differences were not just between prints but also within them. Hogarth was a tinkerer: He would return to the same copper plate, darkening and expanding shadows, adding crosshatching, changing clothing and facial features, and even excising text. He would do this work multiple times, releasing subsequent editions, or “states” of each print. There are at least ten different versions of some of Hogarth’s most famous prints, all subtly different and requiring the viewer to have excellent “I spy” skills. Luckily (for me and you, but mostly me), Hogarth is a very famous and well-studied artist.  Dr. Ronald Paulson’s Hogarth’s graphic works tracks every change, making it possible to differentiate between moderate cross-hatching and slightly deeper cross-hatching. Thanks, Dr. Paulson!

Hogarth engraving: “The bench : of the different meaning of the words character, caricatura and outrè in painting and drawing.”

I want to point out just one more wrinkle: After Hogarth’s death in 1764, his copper plates first went to his family, who then sold them to the publisher John Boydell. In 1790, Boydell published a volume of Hogarth’s works using the unaltered copper plates. Thus, a print that might be physically dated 1732 might really have been printed in 1790, long after Hogarth’s death. Furthermore, Boydell printed the plates on laid paper given to him by Hogarth’s wife Jane, as well as on a newer type of paper known as wove (Donihue). This can make dating quite complicated, as the use of laid paper might still mean that Boydell printed it, and not Hogarth. Some of our prints are also trimmed and mounted, making it hard to distinguish paper at all. In situations like that, caveats in catalog records really do work wonders.

This all leads me to 2020. The future that seemed far away is our present. Our once uncataloged volume of 83 Hogarth prints is now very much cataloged. You too can see what comes of industry and idleness (spoiler: basically what you’d expect) and what wigs looked like in the 18th century (elaborate and itchy). Happy new year, new decade, and new researching to you all!

Hogarth engraving: “The five orders of perriwigs as they were worn at the late coronation, measured architectonically.”

These prints were a gift acquired as part of the Frank Baker Collection of Wesleyana and British Methodism.

Citations

Donihue, David. “Boydell Editions.” In Development: William Hogarth Prints: Boydell Editions, 17 Mar. 2005, http://www.greatcaricatures.com/articles_galleries/hogarth/html/editions/ed_boydell.html.

 

 

Emancipation from the Cook Stove and Getting Boys into the Kitchen: Early 20th Century Cookbooks

Post contributed by Stephanie Fell, Rare Materials Project Cataloger

When the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection was packed and shipped to Duke in early 2015, many of the materials were boxed thematically. Therefore, as we have been cataloging the collection, the materials tend to come in waves of various themes and subject matter. Lately a number of cookbooks and monographs relating to domestic arts have been coming across my desk. Some have been traditional cookbooks and domestic arts manuals, offering recipes, menus, and nutrition information, as well as advice to the home maker, from cooking, cleaning, and child care tips to household budgeting and how to decorate the home. I wanted to point out a couple of items in particular that caught my attention.

Red cover with gold. A woman kneels in front of a cook stove.
An example of the typical publisher’s binding cookbook from the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection

These particular books, at first glance, are traditional cookbooks or domestic arts manuals for women to help them maintain a healthy and happy home through cooking and good housekeeping. Looking more closely, however, they contain a subversive message that rejects traditional gender roles and encourages the reader to emancipate herself from the kitchen.

Book opening to an illustration of a man and woman standing in the kitchen
Foods and home making by Carlotta C. Greer

Foods and Home Making by Carlotta C. Greer, published in 1938, was intended to be used by teachers to train boys and girls to do household tasks better. This text looks typical of the genre and time period; it includes “many suggestions and devices to stimulate pupils to participate in home activities and to do their share in making their homes attractive and happy” (page iii-iv). Upon closer examination, the “To the teacher” note includes the following advice: “Much of the material of Foods and Home Making is suitable for boys as well as girls. Knowledge of food selection is necessary for boys. Stimulation of boys’ interest in home making contributes to their appreciation of home life” (page v). The author encourages the reader to get her sons involved (and appreciate!) the work involved with sustaining and maintaining a household.

Another noteworthy feature of the Rubenstein Library’s copy is that it contains manuscript annotations indicating the owner was using the volume to prepare for an exam. Part of my work as a rare materials cataloger is to include provenance-related information such as this in the library’s catalog record in copy-specific notes. This kind of information about the book is important to include in the bibliographic record, because it shows not only how a former owner used the item, but also helps to differentiate this copy from copies at other institutions.

Book page with notes written in pencil
Manuscript annotations show a former owner’s use of the item.

Another volume I cataloged recently is Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them by Mrs. & Mrs. Eugene Christian. Published in 1904, it is dedicated to “the women of America on whom depend the future greatness of our glorious country”. This unassuming volume includes more than just recipes and housekeeping advice. Scrolling through the table of contents, the reader will find that chapter 8 is entitled “Emancipation of Woman”. The authors advocate a raw food diet — one reason for this being simplicity: “There is nothing more complicated–more laborious and more nerve-destroying, than the preparation of the alleged good dinner. There is nothing simpler, easier and more entertaining than the preparation of an uncooked dinner” (page [39]). The authors argue that eating raw foods is healthier and will “emancipate [the reader] from the slavery of the kitchen and the cook stove” (page [49]). They continue, “… the use of uncooked or natural foods will surely bring relief and freedom” (page 52). Mr. and Mrs. Christian were admittedly ahead of their time in more than one regard.

Title page of Uncooked Foods
Uncooked Foods & How to Use Them by Mr. & Mrs. Eugene Christian

As I’m cataloging the Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, which documents the work of women over the last 500 years, I’m not just describing the materials bibliographically, but I’m also trying to provide relevant access points and descriptive information for researchers. In addition to these items, the Rubenstein Library holds many other volumes related to cooking and domestic life. One can find other examples of domestic arts advice for women both inside and outside of this collection through Duke University Library’s online catalog. A genre term search for “Cookbooks” will return many items in that category and a keyword search for “prescriptive literature” may yield broader results.

The Phrenology of the Dukes

Post contributed by Brooke Guthrie, Research Services Librarian.

During the 1870s and 1880s, Dr. W. H. Barker traveled around North Carolina giving public lectures and, according to an 1873 article in The New Berne Times, “feeling the heads of the people.” This may seem strange, but Dr. Barker was no ordinary physician. He was a phrenologist and, as a phrenologist, touching heads was his specialty.

Announcement for Dr. Barker’s lecture in Wadesboro, N.C. in August 1883.
Announcement for Dr. Barker’s lecture in Wadesboro, N.C. in August 1883. (Found via Newspapers.com)

In the nineteenth century, the shape of a head was thought to reveal a lot about a person’s strengths and weaknesses. The size of various bumps or “organs” on your head could determine whether you, for instance, were combative, prone to secretiveness, or endowed with good digestive power. Phrenology began in Europe, but proved most popular in America. Phrenologists like Dr. Barker took advantage of the craze and began to offer professional readings to average people in small towns.

Illustration of a Head showing the location of phrenology “organs.”
Head showing the location of phrenology “organs.”

Phrenology was such an accepted “science” that practitioners were occasionally called as expert witnesses in court cases. Dr. Barker was subpoenaed in 1885 to testify at the murder trial of Ben Richardson. According to newspaper accounts, Dr. Barker was there “to determine Richardson’s insanity from a phrenological standpoint.” He also examined a state senator and concluded that the politician would do well in his job.

Dr. Barker was a respected practitioner. The Charlotte Observer stated in 1876 that Barker was “not a strolling humbug,” but rather a “gentleman of scientific attainment.” When Barker, a native of Carteret County, died in 1886, obituaries were published in several newspapers commenting on Barker’s wonderful skill and natural phrenological ability. Dr. Barker analyzed many heads during his career. Announcements for his lectures and head readings appear in newspapers across the state. Demand was so high that he often stayed in a town for weeks at a time speaking to large crowds and examining heads for several hours each night.

In May 1884, Barker analyzed a pair of rather famous heads: those belonging to Washington Duke and his youngest son, James Buchanan Duke.  In the 1880s, the Duke family’s tobacco company was thriving. James B. Duke had turned the firm of W. Duke Sons & Co. toward the mass manufacture and mass marketing of cigarettes. Barker’s phrenology readings were taken the same year that W. Duke, Sons and Company opened a factory in New York and eight years before, with the financial help of the Dukes, Trinity College would move to Durham. Perhaps Washington, then in his mid-sixties, and his son, in his late twenties, saw a phrenology reading as a way to celebrate the family’s successes.

Portrait photograph of Washington Duke sitting in an armchair.
Washington Duke

Portrait photo of James Buchanan Duke in a boater hat.
James Buchanan Duke

Dr. Barker recorded his assessment of the Dukes in New Illustrated Self-Instructor in Phrenology and Physiology. This small book, written by O. S. and L. N. Fowler, two of America’s foremost phrenologists, provides a chart for a personal phrenology exam along with a detailed explanation of how certain head “organs” correspond to certain traits. The Rubenstein Library has two copies of New Illustrated Self-Instructor, one for the analysis of each Duke.

Title pages from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing names of Washington Duke, James B. Duke, and Dr. W. H. Barker.
Title pages from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing names of Washington Duke, James B. Duke, and Dr. W. H. Barker.

The next two images are charts from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings of Washington and James B. Duke. The far left column of the chart lists the “conditions” that can be measured with phrenology. The next six columns allow Dr. Barker, after feeling and measuring each Duke’s head, to note the size of the skull portion that corresponds to each condition. Washington Duke, for instance, was marked as having a “large” organ for firmness. (James B. Duke was also “large” in this area.)

The readings reveal quite a bit about the Dukes. Washington Duke is slightly less cautious than his son. The organ associated with vitativeness is very large in both men, indicating that they “shrink from death, and cling to life with desperation.” James B. Duke ranks higher in the condition of approbativeness, suggesting that the son is “over-fond of popularity” and ostentatious. Perhaps fittingly, approbativeness is described as the main organ of the aristocracy. Fortunately for Washington Duke, a man older than his son by several decades, he has higher circulatory and digestive power. Both rank as “full” in the parental love category indicating that they “love their own children well, yet not passionately.” One wonders what James B. Duke thought of this assessment of his father’s parenting skills.

Chart from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings for Washington Duke

Chart from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings for James B. Duke.
Charts from New Illustrated Self-Instructor showing the readings for Washington (top) and James B. Duke.

The readings of both men are overwhelmingly positive. They are, apparently, below average in no way. It is certainly possible that both men were well-endowed in all qualities, but it also just as likely that Dr. Barker, a businessman himself, would want to flatter his wealthy clients. We can only guess at the response Dr. Barker would have received if he had concluded that the Duke men were weak and dull with low self-esteem.

After 1884, the Duke family continued to prosper. James B. Duke formed the American Tobacco Company in 1890 and the family soon entered the textile business. Duke-led companies would, by the early 1900s, control the national tobacco market and the Dukes would make an enormous fortune in a variety of industries. Washington Duke died in 1905 at the age of 84. In 1924, James Buchanan Duke established The Duke Endowment, with Trinity College as one of its main beneficiaries, and the school was renamed in honor of Washington Duke and his family.

While Duke University saw enormous growth in the twentieth century, critiques of phrenology appeared as early as the 1840s and its popularity waned in the following decades. Now considered a pseudoscience, phrenology is often associated with racist and sexist theories.

Women’s Work in the Woods: Women Loggers During World War I

Post contributed by Jessica Janecki, Rare Materials Cataloger

Today’s blog post features a photograph album of 20 gelatin silver prints that depict women loggers at work in England during World War I. This item is from the  Lisa Unger Baskin Collection which documents women’s work across the centuries, from the 13th to the 20th. We chose to highlight this photograph album because it unites two of the Rubenstein’s collecting areas, women’s history and documentary photography.

Red leather spine of book.
The Great War: Glimpses of Women’s Work in the Woods.

Although the title, Glimpses of Women’s Work in the Woods, verges on the whimsical, these photographs show young women hard at work doing the grueling manual labor that, until the Great War, had been done almost exclusively by men.

Woman swinging axe.
Timber felling near Petworth. A typical feller using her axe on a small fir tree.

The women depicted in the photographs were members of the Timber Corps. During World War I, forestry, like many male-dominated industries, was left critically under-staffed and the British government encouraged women to do their part for the war effort by taking on these vital jobs. The images show women loggers felling trees with hand-axes and saws, trimming and “barking” felled trees, carrying logs, and driving horses. These photographs were taken in the summer of 1918 around the towns of Petworth and Heathfield in Sussex, England.

Photograph of tree falling and women fellers.
The tree falling.
Photograph of 6 women scraping the bark off three logs.
Heathfield. “Barking.”
5 women carrying a log.
Heathfield. Carrying the poles out of the wood.
Photograph of two horses and two women.
Timber felling near Petworth. Horse girls bringing logs down to railroad.

These images were captured by Horace Nicholls, a British documentary photographer and photojournalist. He had been a war correspondent during the Second Boer War and later returned to England to work as a photojournalist. Prevented from serving in World War I due to his age, in 1917 he became an official photographer for the Ministry of Information and the Imperial War Museum, documenting life on the home front.

The series was not issued commercially and the album in the Baskin Collection appears to be a unique production. The 20 gelatin silver prints are carefully mounted on cream card stock with gilt edges. The binding is full red leather with the title in gold on the front cover and spine. Each print has a hand lettered caption. Click this link to view the full catalog record.

Understanding the Eye through Pictures

Post contributed by Wenrui Zhao, a Ph.D. candidate in the History Department at Columbia University and a History of Medicine Collections travel grant recipient

What did people know about the anatomy of our eyes and the causes of eye diseases in Europe in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries? How did they understand vision and think about the sense of sight? My dissertation “Dissecting Sight: Eye Surgery and Vision in Early Modern Europe” tries to answer these questions. Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, I could consult the wonderful collections at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library to support my project.

The absolute highlight of my visit is the book Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst by the German surgeon Georg Bartisch, published in 1583 in Dresden. It is one of the earliest publications on eye diseases and eye surgery, and is written in vernacular German. Bartisch was a man of modest upbringing who never received university medical training, yet he was appointed oculist to the Elector of Saxony late in his life.

Bartisch’s treatise is about the mechanism of seeing, but also enacts an experience of seeing. The most striking feature of this book is the great number of finely-executed illustrations alongside the texts. These woodcuts depict various subjects related to ocular disorders and surgical techniques. The Rubenstein Library has one of the very few hand-colored copies of this treatise. While I have already seen this edition in black and white elsewhere, examining this beautiful hand-colored copy was a very different experience and brought new insights.

Color photo of movable flap illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing the interior of the head.

Two sets of the illustrations are movable flaps, representing the internal structure of the head and the anatomy of the eye respectively. The red blood vessels, light brown iris, and the meticulous shading and cross-hatching help distinguish different parts of the eye. They evoke the ocular surgical procedure, and prompt the readers to ponder their own faculty of vision when they lift these sheets layer by layer.

Color photo of movable flap illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing the anatomy of the eye.

Color photo of illustration from Ophthalmodouleia, das ist Augendienst showing a pair of scissors highlighted in gold and silver.Some of the images representing surgical tools were even heightened by gold and silver, such as this pair of scissors, thereby accentuating their intricate and elegant design.

Bartisch’s Ophthalmodouleia represents an emergent interest in the anatomy and physiology of the eye from the late sixteenth century. It also serves as a great example of how medical knowledge could be visualized and communicated at that time.

Anything and All Things of Interest to Women: The Sarah Westphal Collection

Post contributed by Laura Micham, Merle Hoffman Director of the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture

Join the staff of the Bingham Center as we celebrate the newly acquired Sarah Westphal Collection and the opening of an exhibition of works from the collection.

The attention to recovering traces of women’s voices and women’s agency that motivates all of Sarah’s research and work in the field of medieval gender studies also underwrites her approach to building her collection.

—Ann Marie Rasmussen, Professor and Diefenbaker Memorial Chair in German Literary Studies, University of Waterloo

Date: Wednesday, July 25, 2018
Time: 2:00pm to 3:00pm
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library 153
RSVP on Facebook (optional)

Speakers:

  • Jean Fox O’Barr, Duke University Distinguished Service Professor
  • Ann Marie Rasmussen, Professor and Diefenbaker Memorial Chair in German Literary Studies, University of Waterloo
  • Thomas Robisheaux, Duke University History Department

The exhibit will be on display in the Michael and Karen Stone Family Gallery from July until December, 2018

Sarah Westphal, who received her PhD from Yale in 1983, was a member of the Department of Germanic Languages and Literature and an affiliate of the Program in Women’s Studies at Duke from 1983-1986. In addition to her long academic career as a scholar of medieval German literature, Westphal has spent thirty-five years amassing a collection of over six hundred books written, printed, illustrated, or published by women from the seventeenth to the twentieth century. Westphal’s particular interest is women in Britain and continental Europe in the eighteenth century. The collection includes monumental works such as a beautifully-bound first edition of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792) as well as previously unrecorded works and unique manuscript collections.

In Sarah Westphal’s own words the collection is “anything and all things that women published or were interested in, especially in the eighteenth century.” The collection ranges from literature for children and adults to science, cookery, travel writing, prescriptive literature, political and philosophical treatises, biographies of women by women, and works by women printers and artists. This exhibition presents eighteen items selected by Westphal, each with its own complex story.

Color photograph of Sarah Westphal

May 23rd: The Menopause Monologues

Color illustration of the anatomy of the uterus and ovaries. From The Viavi Gynecological Plates: Designed to Educate Mothers and Daughters Concerning Diseases of the Uterine Organs by Hartland Law. The Viavi Press, 1891.
Plate II, “Structure of Womb and Ovaries” from The Viavi Gynecological Plates: Designed to Educate Mothers and Daughters Concerning Diseases of the Uterine Organs by Hartland Law. The Viavi Press, 1891.

Date: Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Time: 3:00pm to 4:30pm
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Rubenstein Library 153
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu,
RSVP or share via Facebook (optional)

You are cordially invited to a dramatic reading of excerpts from pertinent texts that will bring to life the voices of women and men, past and present, whose perspectives on menopause range from “the historical to the hysterical.” In addition to the readings, individuals are also encouraged to share their own stories and experiences of “the change.”

The reading complements an exhibit, The Change of Life: Menopause and Our Changing Perspectives, on display through July 14 in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room.

Co-sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections and the Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture.

The Change of Life: Menopause and Our Changing Perspectives

This post is contributed by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, History of Medicine Collections.

Image from book showing women's faces.
Essays on physiognomy : designed to promote the knowledge and the love of mankind. Johann Caspar Lavater. London: Printed for Thomas Tegg, 1840, pg. 181.

“…there is no limit to the marvelous powers attributed to females” (Pliny, NH, 28.23).

When Pliny the Elder spoke of female powers in his Natural History, he attributed the most marvelous among them to menstrual blood. A menstruating woman could sour crops, tarnish mirrors, blunt razors, kill bees, drive dogs insane, and stave off hailstorms.

How unfortunate that the same womb which, in a woman’s younger years was blamed for such chaos, could be even more problematic in her later life.

Glass lantern slide for teaching obstetrics.
Glass lantern slide for teaching obstetrics, late nineteenth to early twentieth century. Philadelphia, PA: N.H. Edgerton; Received from George D. Wilbanks, MD and Evelyn R. Wilbanks, Ph.D. History of Medicine artifacts collection, 1550-1980s.

For centuries it was believed that the menses were a means to cleanse poisons from a woman’s blood. When a woman’s menstrual period came to a permanent end, toxins could accumulate and stimulate disease (in addition to a slew of physical and mental conditions). “The Change of Life,” as the cessation was referred to, was the harbinger of both barrenness and wildness, sullenness and excitability, lethargy and hysteria, volubility and melancholy. Pathologized and medicalized, this physiological transition was viewed as anything but a natural, biological process.

The term now widely used to describe this phase – menopause – comes from the Greek words men (“month”) and pausis (“cessation”). Since French physician Charles-Pierre-Louis de Gardanne coined the term in 1821, knowledge about what menopause denotes has grown significantly.

Image showing the structure of the womb and ovaries.
The Viavi gynecological plates : designed to educate mothers and daughters concerning diseases of the uterine organs constructed under the supervision of Hartland Law, M.D.; Herbert E. Law. San Francisco : The Viavi Press, 1891

The items in this exhibit trace changing perspectives on menopause – from early proponents who labelled it a debilitating disease to the women who have reclaimed it as an empowering transition. The exhibit aims to make visible the experience of menopause, dispel myths, and encourage public conversation about a topic that has, for too long, been considered taboo. Its curation was inspired by the words of feminist Rosetta Reitz:

“I’m going to pull menopause out into the open, remove the cobwebs, clean it off, and look at it.” [1]

Curated by Erin Rutherford, Josiah Charles Trent Intern, The Change of Life: Menopause and our Changing Perspectives, runs from March 20 – July 14, 2018, and is on display in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room.

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[1] Menopause: A Positive Approach. Rosetta Reitz (1924-2008). New York: Penguin Books, 1979, c1977, pg. 1.