Tag Archives: history of medicine

Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series Event, Nov. 19: Education of American Surgeons, 1900-1960

Post contributed by Rachel Ingold, Curator, History of Medicine Collections.

Date: Tuesday, November 19, 2019
Time: Noon (12 p.m.)
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room (Room 153), Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919)684-8549

Please join us Tuesday, November 19 at noon for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series. Justin Barr, M.D., Ph.D., will present Creating a Profession: The Education of American Surgeons, 1900-1960.

In 1900, anyone with a medical degree could declare themselves a surgeon and operate on patients.  By 1960, American surgeons had to complete rigorous, uniform, and regulated training called residency.  Influenced by war, supported by the federal government, and driven by professional organizations, the transformation of residencies over these decades from extraordinary, unique experiences to mandated, standardized education helped create a unified profession of surgery that continues to influence health care in this country.

Dr. Barr is currently a general surgery resident and an instructor in the Department of History at Duke University.

All are welcome to attend. Light lunch will be served.

Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

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.

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.

April 30: Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series: Contraception Crossroads

Date: Monday, April 30, 2018
Time: Noon (12 p.m.)
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919)684-8549

Photo of Dr. Raul Necochea in his office, with bookshelves behind him.Please join us Monday, April 30th at noon for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series. Raul Necochea, Ph.D., will present Contraception Crossroads: Health Workers Encounter Family Planning in Mid-20th Century Latin America.

 Between the 1930s and the 1970s, health workers of different types began to embrace, slowly and selectively, the value of smaller families for all people in the region as well as to become used to new types of contraceptive technologies. What were the circumstances under which physicians, nurses, midwives, and social workers first encountered the use of birth control in Latin America? What they did do to advance and limit the use of contraception? How did they interact with birth control users? The answers to these questions help us better understand the context and the mindsets of people on the forefront of a momentous development: the normalization of family planning in the so-called Third World.

Dr. Nechochea is Associate Professor in the Department of Social Medicine & Adjunct Associate Professor, Department of History at the University North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

All are welcome to attend. Light lunch will be served.

Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections in the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.

(CANCELLED) Trent Lecture Series, 2/21: Dr. Gerrit Bos on Moses Maimonides

Please note: this event has been cancelled due to illness. We hope to reschedule at a later date and will post updated event information on The Devil’s Tale.

Date: Wednesday, February 21, 2018
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919)684-8549

Illustration of Moses Maimonides. From Medicine: An Illustrated History (New York: Abradale Press/Abrams, 1987).
Illustration of Moses Maimonides. From Medicine: An Illustrated History (New York: Abradale Press/Abrams, 1987).

Please join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Gerrit Bos, Ph.D., will present
“Moses Maimonides, medical doctor and author: Aspects of his work, medical training, theory, and practice.”

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, most commonly known as Maimonides, was a 12th century philosopher and physician. Maimonides authored numerous philosophical and medical treatises. In his talk, Professor Bos will cover a short survey of Maimonides’ medical works, his training as a doctor, and some central aspects of his medical theory and practice such as proper regimen, including the sex res non-naturales (six things non-natural), the role of one’s nature, and his wariness to apply bloodletting.

Dr. Bos is Professor Emeritus and former Chair of the Martin Buber Institute for Jewish Studies at the University of Cologne. His main fields of research are medieval Jewish-Islamic science, especially medicine, medieval Hebrew, and Judeo-Arabic studies.

The event is free and open to the public.

Oct. 25th: Race, Medicine, Authorship and the “Discovery” of Sickle Cell Disease in 1910-1911

Date: Wednesday, October 25, 2017
Time: 5:00 PM
Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, 153 Rubenstein Library
Contact: Rachel Ingold, rachel.ingold@duke.edu, (919) 684-8549

Photo of Todd SavittPlease join the History of Medicine Collections for our next Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series event. Todd Savitt, Ph.D. will present Race, Medicine, Authorship and the ‘Discovery’ of Sickle Cell Disease in 1910-1911.

The first two case histories of sickle cell disease (SCD) appeared in the medical literature within three months of each other in 1910 and 1911.  The very divergent stories of the first two sickle-cell patients and their physicians are told against the backdrop of a racially divided America and of a highly competitive scientific community. Dr. Savitt’s talk will discuss how race and class affected the discovery of SCD and how credit for the two discoveries were apportioned. Dr. Savitt will also talk about his own “adventures” in tracking down the identities and backgrounds of these first two SCD patients.

Dr. Savitt is a medical historian and professor in the Department of Bioethics and Interdisciplinary Studies in the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University.

All are welcome to attend.

Global Health Humement Project & World AIDS Day Event

When: Wednesday, November 30, 2016
Time: 3:00 – 5:00 p.m., reception to follow
Where: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room (room 153) of the Rubenstein Library

This semester, Global Health Professor Kearsley Stewart’s HIV/AIDS Narratives class is tackling a new project using Rubenstein Library collections. Working with poet and writer Kelley Swain, students are exploring the Maria de Bruyn Papers, a rich collection of global health materials related to de Bruyn’s work as a medical anthropologist globally addressing HIV/AIDS.

Students in Stewart’s HIV/AIDS Narratives explore the de Bruyn papers.
Students in Stewart’s HIV/AIDS Narratives explore the de Bruyn papers.

Students are delving into the de Bruyn papers as they work with Kelley Swain and learn more about the Humement project, based on the work of artist Tom Phillips, and apply this to their class. You can find details about their work in a recent DGHI newsletter. (A very important note: Original materials were not altered. Students spent an afternoon selecting original documents to scan and reproduce for their projects.)

In conjunction with the work of Professor Stewart’s class, the History of Medicine Collections is co-sponsoring an event with the Franklin Humanities Institute, the Health Humanities Lab, and the Trent Center for Bioethics, Humanities & the History of Medicine to recognize World AIDS Day. The event will be held on Wednesday, November 30, from 3:00 – 5:00 p.m. with a reception to follow, held in Room 153, the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room of the Rubenstein Library. The event is free and open to the public.

Speakers will include Maria de Bruyn, Alicia Diggs of North Carolina AIDS Action Network (NCAAN), poet and writer Kelley Swain, and students from Professor Stewart’s HIV/AIDS Narratives class.

An exhibit in the Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Room will highlight a small sample of what can be found in the Maria de Bruyn papers. In addition, students in Professor Stewart’s class will be showcasing their work on the Student Wall in Perkins Library in December and January.

The Apothecary Ledger of Hugh Mercer

Post contributed by Thomas Gillan, Josiah Charles Trent History of Medicine Intern.

Apothecary Shop: Engraving by Clemens Kohl featuring the interior of an apothecary shop. History of Medicine Picture File, History of Medicine Collections.
Engraving by Clemens Kohl featuring the interior of an apothecary shop. History of Medicine Picture File, 1523-2002, History of Medicine Collections.

Among the 20,000 books and 4,000 manuscripts that together comprise the History of Medicine Collections at Duke’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library—not to mention the collection’s hundreds of medical instruments and artifacts—is a large, leather-bound account ledger in folio kept by Hugh Mercer, an apothecary in Fredericksburg, Virginia, from 1771 to 1775.

Born in Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1725, Mercer went on to study medicine at Marischal College, graduating in 1744 before taking up a post as an assistant surgeon in the army of Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie.

With the Scots’ defeat at Culloden in 1746, Mercer fled to America, arriving in Philadelphia in 1747. Mercer settled in what is now Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, where he practiced medicine for eight years. During the Seven Years’ War, Mercer served in the British army, where he met and befriended Colonel George Washington. Following his service, Mercer resettled in Fredericksburg, Virginia, a decision no doubt influenced by Washington.

It was in Fredericksburg that Mercer, along with his business partner and fellow physician Ewen Clements, opened his apothecary shop. On May 28, 1771, in the Virginia Gazette, Mercer and Clements, “partners in the practice of physic and surgery,” announced that they had “opened a shop on the main street, opposite to Mr. Henry Mitchell’s store, furnished with a large assortment of drugs and medicines of the best quality, just imported from London; where Gentlemen of the profession and others may be supplied at easy rates, for ready money.” Together, Mercer and Clements compounded and dispensed medicines, diagnosed patients’ disorders, and prescribed and administered treatments.

The ledger kept by Mercer, which documents the history of his practice from 1771 to 1775, is a microcosm of the social and intellectual worlds of eighteenth-century Virginia. It contains entries for more than three hundred different accounts. Below each entry, Mercer meticulously documented his visits with patients, the medicines he dispensed, the treatments he prescribed, as well as the fees he charged.

An entry in Mercer’s ledger for the account of Colonel Fielding Lewis, a Fredericksburg merchant and George Washington’s brother-in-law.
An entry in Mercer’s ledger for the account of Colonel Fielding Lewis, a Fredericksburg merchant and George Washington’s brother-in-law. Click image to enlarge.

Among Mercer’s many patients were Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother; Betty Washington Lewis, George Washington’s sister, and her husband Colonel Fielding Lewis; Thomas Ludwell Lee; John, Henry, and William Fitzhugh; and Mann Page. Mercer often noted the occupations of his patients, who ranged from merchants, planters, and gentlemen to tradesmen, schoolmasters, undertakers, and stage players. A number of women, many of them widows, kept their own accounts with Mercer. Also among Mercer’s patients were the enslaved men, women, and children whose visits were charged to their masters’ accounts.

Mercer kept a running index in the back of the ledger for each of his accounts.
Mercer kept a running index in the back of the ledger for each of his accounts. Click image to enlarge.

Mercer offered a range of treatments and services to his patients, from bleeding, purging, and pulling teeth to blistering, vomiting, and setting broken bones. He likewise dispensed a variety of compounds and medicines. These included saline mixtures, purging pills, febrifuge drops, liquid laudanum, balsam honey, magnesia, glauber salts, and stomach elixirs. In keeping with the medical science of his day, Mercer’s treatments were aimed at restoring the delicate balance of his patients’ four humors—black bile, yellow bile, phlegm, and blood—and ensuring equilibrium among the body’s solids and fluids.

In all, Hugh Mercer’s ledger offers a unique window into the prevailing medical beliefs and practices of eighteenth-century Virginia society and represents only a sample of the Rubenstein Library’s rich collection in the history of medicine.

Lecture: The History and Legacy of Ivory Anatomical Manikins

Date: Tuesday, October 25, 2016
Time: 4:00 p.m.
Location: Rubenstein Library Room 153 (Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room)

Cali Buckley
Cali Buckley

Join the Trent History of Medicine Lecture Series for our next lecture by Cali Buckley on “The History and Legacy of Ivory Anatomical Manikins.” Ivory anatomical models comprise a little-known set of objects that were popular with male doctors of the late 17th- and 18th-centuries. Their narrative is currently being revised in light of a history of questionable assumptions. Though small and largely inaccurate, the story of anatomical manikins reveals how the politics of medicine impresses meaning on medical objects – often transcending the needs of the scientific community. Ms. Buckley will present on her current hypotheses as well as the process by which medical objects can be examined according to social history, connoisseurship, and material culture.

Cali Buckley is a Ph.D. candidate in art history at Penn State University. She received a Fulbright U.S. Student Award that allowed her to spend the 2015–16 academic year in Germany working on her dissertation, “Early Modern Anatomical Models and the Control of Women’s Medicine.”

The talk will be held in the Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room, Room 153, of the Rubenstein Library at Duke University. All are welcome to attend.  Sponsored by the History of Medicine Collections.

Measuring the Children of the Corn

“The babies are entered like any other exhibit at an agricultural fair. . . . They are examined by judges, just as live stock [sic], grain or apples are examined. . . . The result is bound to be – not prettier babies, – but better babies at each year’s fair, – a stronger, healthier race of people on the farms, in small towns and in the state.”

This excerpt from a Better Babies Bureau circular, from the papers of Victor Bassett, contains several templates for Better Baby Contest advertisements. Popular at local fairs in the early 20th century, Better Baby Contests presented a lighthearted way to challenge infant mortality and promote fitter populations. However, they also reveal governmental eugenic efforts to objectively quantify and thus improve American health.

Announcement for Better Babies Contest.
Announcement for Better Babies Contest.

Examiners judged children under five years old on their measurements and proportions, mental and developmental states, vision and hearing, and physical development. These tests set government-determined averages as the standard by encouraging families to “produce” children who met or exceeded these ideals. Additionally, they served to cement the public health as existing in the realm of scientific medicine and the government, rather than in the home. These kinds of contests illustrate the complex relationship between eugenics, popular movements, and public health.

Thanks to a generous History of Medicine travel grant, my visit to the Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library allowed me to conduct research to support my dissertation, “Measuring Health: The United States Sanitary Commission, Statistics, and American Public Health in the Nineteenth Century.” I examine the statistical work of the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC).

During the American Civil War, the USSC attempted to improve the health of the Union Army. The leaders of this organization understood their work as forwarding ideas about preventative medicine and improving sanitation. Yet with the entirety of the Union army at their disposal, the USSC also inspected and measured over one million soldiers and sailors. These records include tabulations not simply of height and weight, but also the distance between a man’s eyes, the size of his head, and angles of his face. The statisticians presented their findings in groups divided by race and education level, and, while they provided limited interpretation of these numbers, they were made available to the broader scientific and anthropologic communities. It was in their hands that these numbers defined medical standards for Americans and shaped the nature of American public health.

My project explores why these statistics were collected and how they were used, and, more broadly, the Commission’s public health legacy. By using these statistics as a starting point, I explore the ties between the USSC and changes in public health, and how research from a 19th century organization continues to impact later public health issues. These Better Baby Contests represent the Commission’s legacy of measuring the quality and usefulness of a human being and of using governmental authority to establish scientific authority.

Post contributed by Sara Kern, a Ph.D. candidate in History & Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State University.