Ambroise Paré on gunshot wounds (Item of the Month)

By Lisa O’Sullivan, Director, Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health

The August item of the month is Ambroise Paré’s (1510 –1590) Les Oeuvres, or Works. Published in 1575 in 26 sections or books, the folio volume has 295 illustrations and includes Paré’s writings on anatomy, surgery, obstetrics, instrumentation, and monsters. This post focuses on Paré’s military surgery and is the first in a series of occasional posts looking at the relationship between medicine and war.

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Frontispiece of the first (1575) edition of Les Oeuvres, dedicated to King Henri III. Click to enlarge.

Dedicated to Henri III, Paré presents Les Oeuvres as an accumulation of his life’s studies and experience, and it incorporates many of his earlier publications. The French barber surgeon spent much of his life at war, serving in over 40 campaigns, and published numerous highly influential books, many of them directly based on his practice of military surgery.i Paré’s career was a prestigious one, progressing from working as an apprentice barber surgeon to great prominence as surgeon to Henry II, and subsequently his successors Francois II, King Charles IX, and Henry III.

Like his contemporary Andreas Vesalius, Paré is now celebrated as an emblematic figure of Renaissance thinking, willing to look beyond the established authorities and instead rely on the evidence of his own experience. In the Oeuvres, for instance, he mocks the use of “mummy” or “mummia,” a popular remedy ostensibly created from Egyptian mummies and used extensively by physicians.ii Such a position was particularly provocative given Paré’s identity as a surgeon, rather than a university trained physician with a formal education and knowledge of Greek and Latin.

Despite Paré’s close connections with many of its members, the Parisian Faculty of Medicine attempted to block the publication of the Oeuvres, arguing that the Faculty needed to approve all publications relating to medicine and surgery. In addition, they objected to Paré’s use of French, as he was among a small but increasing number of practitioners writing in the vernacular rather than the more scholarly Latin, making such works vastly more accessible to students of surgery operating outside the universities and the lay public.iii

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Reminiscent of a “wound man,” this illustration demonstrates techniques for extracting broken arrows from the body. Click to enlarge.

Much of Paré’s renown was based on his early work in the military context. Throughout the Oeuvres, he returns to examples of treating soldiers wounded during conflict. Perhaps the most famous vignette describes how, during his first campaign in 1536, Paré found that he had insufficient boiling oil to use in cauterizing gunshot wounds, and instead used a liniment made of egg yolk, rose oil, and turpentine. The following day, he discovered that those soldiers treated with the liniment were in a better condition than those whose wounds had been treated according to the prescribed manner. He subsequently argued for the treatment of gunshot wounds with liniments and bandaging, as well as removing affected tissue from the wound.iv

Gunpowder, whether projected from cannons or shot from firearms, had become a significant factor on European battlefields in the late 14th century. The use of gunpowder dramatically changed the practice of warfare. Increasingly numerous and accurate firearms contributed to the number of soldiers killed and wounded. These weapons produced new types of wounds that penetrated into the body, carrying foreign materials with them and leading to gangrene, while also deafening and blinding those near blasts.v

Descriptions of surgical tools, including a variety of tools for extracting bullets from wounds. On the top left, "crane bill" forceps for fragmented bullets; on right a shorter "duck bill" instrument designed for extracting whole bullets. At bottom, "lizard noses" for drawing out flattened bullets.

A variety of tools for extracting bullets from wounds. On the top left, “crane bill” forceps for fragmented bullets; on right a shorter “duck bill” instrument designed for extracting whole bullets. At bottom, “lizard noses” for drawing out flattened bullets. Click to enlarge.

Surgeons based their treatment of gunshot wounds on the belief that the gunpowder carried into the body by the bullets brought poison with it. This idea came from Giovanni da Vigo (1450–1525), an Italian surgeon whose 1514 Practica in arte chirurgica copiosa and 1517 Pratica in professione chirurgica were highly influential surgical texts. Rapidly translated into multiple European languages, these books include da Vigo’s suggestion to cauterize (burn) the wound with boiling oil in order to counteract the poisonous traces of gunpowder and to seal any severed arteries. This procedure became considered standard practice.viParé, after his experience with liniment rather than oil, experimented further, and recounts seeking advice from other surgeons and testing a folk remedy for onion poultices for burns suggested by an older local woman. Concluding that they were effective against blistering offered Paré another rhetorical opportunity to emphasize his commitment to observation and experimentation.vii

The evidence found in earlier surgical manuals suggests that medieval surgeons had made similar experiments, and that it was the popularity of the more recent ideas promulgated by da Vigo that led to treatments with cauterization and oil.viii While he was not the only surgeon to be working towards more humane and effective treatment of gunshot wounds, Paré became the most well-known and is often celebrated today as the “father” of modern military surgery.ix This reputation rests on not only his work around gunshot wounds but his broad interests, influence, and innovation. A future post will explore other aspects of Paré’s Oeuvres and its long-term impact on military surgery.

References

i.  A full bibliography of his works was produced by Academy librarian Janet Doe in 1937. See Janet Doe, A Bibliography of the Works of Ambroise Pare; Premier Chirurgien et Conseiller du Roy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1937).

ii. Ambroise Paré, Les Oeuvres de m. Ambroise Paré … Avec les figures & portraicts tant de l’anatomie que des instruments de chirurgie, & de plusieurs monstres. Le tout diuisé en vingt six livres … (Paris : Chez G. Buon, 1575), p399.

iii. Paré defended his publication with a written defense and in the Parisian courts. While the verdict was not recorded, the book went on sale and sold out almost immediately. See Wallace B Hamby, Ambroise Paré, Surgeon of the Renaissance (St. Louis: W.H. Green, 1967), pp153-156.

iv. Ambroise Paré, Les Oeuvres de m. Ambroise Paré, pp357-359.

v. John Pearn, “Gunpowder, the Prince of Wales’s Feathers and the Origins of Modern Military Surgery,” ANZ Journal of Surgery 82 (2012): 240–244, 241; Kelly R DeVries, “Military Surgical Practice and the Advent of Gunpowder Weaponry,” The Canadian Bulletin of Medical History / Bulletin canadien d’histoire de la médecine 7(2) (1990):131-46, p135.

vi. DeVries, “Military Surgical Practice and the Advent of Gunpowder Weaponry,” pp141-142.

vii. Ambroise Paré, Les Oeuvres de m. Ambroise Paré, p359.

viii. DeVries, “Military Surgical Practice and the Advent of Gunpowder Weaponry,” p142.

ix. Frank Tallett, War in Context: War and Society in Early Modern Europe : 1495-1715 (London, US: Routledge, 2010), pp108-110.

The Origins of Automated Ice

By Danielle Aloia. Special Projects Librarian

This August, for most of us, ice is a second thought:  easily obtained for cooling drinks and chilling food, and usually only a few steps away.   An 1844 title in our collections offers an intriguing snapshot of a time when this was not always the case.

In 1844, a Londoner with a shop on Regent Street and an inventive mind published The Ice Book: Being a Compendious and Concise History of Everything Connected with Ice.  His name was Thomas Masters.   In this publication, Masters enumerates the practical uses–both culinary and medical– of his own patented ice machine.  In his introduction, Masters describes his obsession with the process of freezing:

The transformations narrated in the “Arabian Nights,” those gorgeous repositories of Eastern legendary lore, are not more marvelous or more speedy than the change of a liquid body to a block of solid ice.1

During the course of The Ice Book, Masters introduces his invention and its applications and takes readers on a whirlwind tour of ice through space and time.  Along the way, he also supplies some delectable frozen recipes–sign us up for the maraschino ice cream, the nectar ice and the punch a la Victoria, stat.

Masters reports that the Greeks and Romans were known to use snow from the surrounding mountains to cool their wine.2 Nero’s cooks flavored snow with “honey, juices, and pulp of fruits,” creating a precursor to the flavored ice of today, and eventually ice cream.3

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Depiction of a runner delivering snow from the mountains to Nero. Published in the National Dairy Council’s Ice Cream Through the Years, 1946.

Masters also describes Indian methods of making artificial ice, reporting that during the winter months, ice was created by filling rows of small earthen pans with boiled water, which was then cooled and left overnight.  The thin ice was gathered up, thrown in a pit that was lined with straw and layered with blankets, and pressed into a solid mass.  The pit was closed up with straw, blankets and a thatched roof.

Masters devotes a significant portion of his narrative to the promotion of his portable “patent freezing machine.”  In his introduction he writes:

The preparation of one of the most delectable refections known to this advanced era of modern culinary civilization, has been hitherto left to the experienced confectioner, on whose skill, not always within reach, depended the supply.  By attending to the instructions contained in the following pages, ices may now be procured from the machine within five minutes.4

A review of the book in The Patent Journal and Inventors’ Magazine offers this glowing endorsement of The Ice Book:

The specification of Mr. Masters’ patent appeared in #53 of our journal…it will be seen that he invented a number of very ingenious apparatus, by means of which, the luxury of cold liquors, &c. may be the most readily supplied; his Ice safes and well are excellent, and his ready mode of freezing, astonishing.  It is really a disgrace to buttermen and other shopkeepers to vend their edibles in the nasty state they frequently do, and the public should demand the use by tradesmen of these safes…5

The benefits of Masters’ machine were not limited to food and drink preparation.  Ice was used in medicine to relieve headaches, fever, hemorrhaging, and, believe it or not, symptoms of rabies.6 Masters includes testimonials from MDs.  One Dr. John Ryan writes that Masters’ machine will “enable [doctors] at all seasons, whether in the crowded fever wards of the hospital, or in private practice, to obtain for the patient a necessary adjunct to medical treatment.”7

An elevation of a double-motion machine with pails (B), a2 (machinery), and P (flapdoor).  Some were made with a drawer underneath, which serves as a wine-cooler.  Plate 1 published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, published in 1844.

An elevation of a double-motion machine with pails (B), a2 (machinery), and P (flapdoor).  Some were made with a drawer underneath, which serves as a wine-cooler.  Plate 1 published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, published in 1844.

A single-motion machine with a freezer that is rotated by turning the crank handle at the top.  Plate 3, published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

A single-motion machine with a freezer that is rotated by turning the crank handle at the top.  Plate 3, published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

The machine had various interchangeable parts and could be setup for private use to make blocks of ice, flavored ice and ice cream, and to cool wine and drinks. In plate 6 below, Figures 1-3 depict the special churns needed to get the fineness and smoothness necessary to keep the flavored ice or ice cream from separating; “a proper beating-up, a process which never can be accomplished by the hand.”8 Figures 4-5, depict separate ice preserving containers for game, fish, butter, etc. Figures 6-8, depict the cold storage for beverages, such as wine and beer.

Plate 6 published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Plate 6 published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Below, we’ve included a few tantalizing recipes from the book.  Masters supplies instructions for making plain and flavored ice creams:

Recipes for plain, pistachio, biscuit, maraschino, "nouveau" and cinnamon ice creams, from Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Recipes for plain, pistachio, biscuit, maraschino, “nouveau” and cinnamon ice creams, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Recipes for pine-apple, ginger, and apricot ice cream, from Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Recipes for pine-apple, ginger, and apricot ice cream, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Other recipes instruct on making flavored ices.

Wine ices, from Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Wine ices, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Raspberry water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Raspberry water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Apple water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Apple water ice et al., published in Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

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How to clarify sugar, from Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book 1844.

We found this errata slip laid in amusing:

Errata slip, Thomas Masters' The Ice Book, 1844.

Errata slip, Thomas Masters’ The Ice Book, 1844.

Another peculiar aspect of this work is the Appendix. Masters delights in supplying real-life anecdotes about ice.  Among the highlights are an ice storm in 1672 that destroyed numerous trees; an ice market in 19th-century St. Petersburg containing the bodies of thousands of frozen animals, captured inside ice; and in that same city, the Ice Palace of St. Petersburg built near the banks of the River Neva in 1739, which began to give way under its own weight before the last ice blocks were placed.9  We’ll be returning to this book again for these fascinating stories, and for the recipes within…particularly on hot summer days.

References

1.   Masters, Thomas. The Ice Book. London: Simpkin, Marshall, & Co., 1844.

2.  Masters, 6.

3.  National Dairy Council. Ice Cream through the Years.  Chicago: National Dairy Council, 1946.

4.  Masters, x.

5.  “Thomas Masters’ Ice Book:  The Ice Book: Being a Compendious and Concise History of Everything Connected with Ice.”  Patent Journal and Inventors’ Magazine, June 5, 1847, accessed online.

6.  Masters, pp. 180-187.

7.  Masters, pp. 185-187.

8.  Masters, pp. 194-196.

9. Masters, pp. 134-146.

 

Is Air-Conditioning Heating Up Our Environment?

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The former Sackett & Wilhelm printers’ building in Brooklyn, the place where Willis Carrier first put air-conditioning into practice in 1902. Image Credit: Stan Cox.

This summer, we’re teaming up with our friends at The Museum of the City of New York to offer “Fast, Cool & Convenient: Meeting New Yorkers’ High Demands,” our free three-part talk series supported by a grant from The New York Council for the Humanities.

Tomorrow night (Thursday the 11th) the Academy will host the second of these three events, entitled COOL: Uncomfortable Truths About Our Air-Conditioned City.  The speaker will be Stan Cox, Ph.D., research coordinator and climate change expert at The Land Institute in Salina, Kansas.  The event will begin at 6:30pm; please register in advance here.

This week, Dr. Cox has guest-authored “Is Air-Conditioning Heating Up Our Environment?” for the Academy’s Urban Health Matters blog.  You’ll find a link to the post here.  Enjoy, and we hope to see you tomorrow evening!

Historical Advice on Breastfeeding in Honor of World Breastfeeding Week

By Becky Filner, Head of Cataloging

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“Mother nursing twins simultaneously.”  From Reginald Charles Jewesbury’s Mothercraft, antenatal and postnatal.

World Breastfeeding Week – August 1-7, 2016 – seeks to promote, protect, and support breastfeeding. How was breastfeeding regarded in the past? To answer this question, I consulted books on child rearing from the early 19th century to the mid-20th century.

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Title page, William Buchan’s 1804 Advice to Mothers.

The earliest book I looked at, Dr. William Buchan’s 1804 Advice to Mothers, on the Subject of Their Own Health; and on the Means of Promoting the Health, Strength, and Beauty, of Their Offspring, is extremely critical of women who do not breastfeed:

Unless the milk….finds the proper vent, it will not only distend and inflame the breasts, but excite a great degree of fever in the whole system… It may be said, that there are instances without number, of mothers who enjoy perfect health, though they never suckled their children. I positively deny the assertion; and maintain, on the contrary, that a mother, who is not prevented by any particular weakness or disease from discharging that duty, cannot neglect it without material injury to her constitution.1

At the end of the 19th century, Dr. Genevieve Tucker’s Mother, Baby, and Nursery: A Manual for Mothers (1896) also strongly advocates breastfeeding:

Every mother who has health sufficient to mature a living child ought, if possible, to nurse it from her own breast. Her own health requires it, as the efforts of the child to draw the milk causes the uterus to contract, and nothing else will take its place to her infant.2

Much of her other advice seems outdated now, including her claim that “nursing babies suffer from too frequent nursing” and her suggestion to nurse “as seldom as possible at night.” Perhaps strangest to modern ears is her analysis of a woman’s ability to nurse based on her physical and emotional state:

Different temperaments and constitutions in women have great influence in the quantity and quality of milk. The richest milk is secreted by brunettes with well developed muscles, fresh complexions, and moderate plumpness. Nervous, lymphatic, and fair-complexioned women, with light or auburn hair, flabby muscles, and sluggish movements, as a rule, secrete poor milk. Rheumatic women secrete acid milk, which causes colic, diarrhea, and marasmus in the child.3

Tucker also suggests that a nursing mother should be producing a whopping forty-four ounces of breast milk every twenty-four hours.

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Breastfeeding baby, from Stella B. Applebaum’s Baby, A Mother’s Manual, published ca. 1946.

Dr. Charles Gilmore Kerley in his Short Talks with Young Mothers: On the Management of Infants and Young Children  wrote in the early 19th century that contemporary pressures on women hinder their breastfeeding abilities:

A mother, to nurse her child successfully, must be a happy, contented woman… The American women of our large cities assume the cares and responsibilities of life equally with men. Among the so-called higher classes, — those who have all that wealth and position can give, — there is a constant struggle for social pre-eminence. Among the majority of the so-called middle classes the contest for wealth and place never ceases from the moment the school days begin until death or infirmity closes the scene. Among the poor there are the ceaseless toil, the struggle for food and shelter, the care of the sick, and the frequent deaths of little ones in the family whom they are unable properly to care for. In all classes, therefore, the conditions of life are such as seriously to interfere with the normal function of nursing, no matter how excellent may be the mother’s physical condition.4

This emphasis on a woman’s mind being at rest is repeated in much of the early 20th- century literature on breastfeeding.

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“Hungry!” from Myrtle M. Eldred and Helen Cowles Le Cron’s For the Young Mother, 1921. p. 31.

Most of the books from the first few decades of the 20th century contain a passage about keeping the breasts and nipples clean. Kerley and others recommend washing the nipples (and even the child’s mouth!) with a solution of boracic (boric) acid. Myrtle M. Eldred and Helen Cowles Le Cron write in For the Young Mother (1921) that “the breasts are tender and easily infected at first, so that the boric acid acts as a cleanser to protect the baby from possible germs and as a preventive of abscessed breasts.5”Boric acid, though it is sometimes used as an antiseptic, is toxic to humans if taken internally or inhaled in large quantities. Other books recommend rinsing the breasts with hot water prior to nursing.6

Many books also contain lists of foods the nursing mother should and should not eat. Dr. Anne Newton, in her Mother and Baby: Helpful Suggestions Concerning Motherhood and the Care of Children (1912), advises mothers to practice “sacrifice and self-denial” in eating meals, and to avoid rich and seasoned foods altogether.7 Newton specifies that mothers should eat “nothing about which there is any question of fermentation. Such vegetables as cabbage, turnips, cauliflower, and tomatoes should not be given until the baby is four months old at least, and even then certain things may cause discomfort and cannot be indulged until the child is weaned.8” Dr. Thomas Gray, in Common Sense and the Baby: A Book for Mothers, notes that the breastfeeding mother should “eat an abundance of wholesome, nutritious food; avoid indigestible pastries and salads. Take sparingly of tea and coffee. Drink freely cocoa and milk. Eat fruits – not acid.9”  Some more recent books are much less rigid about the mother’s diet. Dr. Dorothy Whipple, writing in 1944, is less cautious, and argues that there’s very little a mother can eat that harms a nursing baby, mentioning only certain foods like onions that may, in breast milk, deter babies with its “unusual taste.10

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A mother breastfeeding and a selection of foods recommended for the breastfeeding mother, taken from Stella B. Applebaum’s Baby:  A Mother’s Manual (1946).

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Front cover of the New York City Health Department’s The Care of Baby, 1932.

None of the books I consulted recommended breastfeeding to two years or beyond, the WHO’s current recommendation on breastfeeding. Most books recommend weaning the baby between eight and fourteen months of age.  The New York City Department of Health warns against weaning in summer because of the risk of spoiled cow’s milk:

If possible, do not wean your baby during the hot summer months…. If you are well, it will not harm you to nurse your child until the dangerous, hot weather is over. This precaution may mean saving your child’s life.”11

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“One of life’s richest experiences,” from Dorothy Whipple’s Our American Babies, published in 1944.

Another common thread in the literature about breastfeeding is an emphasis on the pleasure and health benefits experienced by the nursing mother.  According to Tucker, “under the right conditions of lactation, … the mother should thrive and even grow stout.12” Others emphasize that breastfeeding will help the mother “get her ‘good figure’ back much more quickly than the mother who doesn’t nurse” because “nursing causes the uterus or womb to contract.13” Stella Applebaum provides this summary of the mother-baby nursing relationship:

Mother’s milk is the perfect baby food. From a healthy mother’s clean nipples, this pure, fresh, warm, nourishing, digestible food is delivered, germ-free, directly into the baby’s mouth. At the same time mother’s milk protects him against certain diseases. Suckling at the breast makes the baby feel close to his mother, happy, and secure.

Nursing benefits you, too. It stimulates the uterus to contract to normal size and contributes to your personal enjoyment and contentment. Propped in a comfortable chair or bed, you share a uniquely satisfying experience with your baby.14

Other writers underscore the vital role nursing plays in strengthening the emotional bonds between mother and child.   Buchan writes in 1804 that “the act itself is attended with sweet, thrilling, and delightful sensations of which those only who have felt them can form any idea.15” Dorothy Whipple has the last word:

…to sit in a comfortable chair and hold a little snuggling baby in your arms, to watch him grab that nipple with all the fury of his tiny might and suck and work away until he reaches that complete satisfaction that comes to a baby with a full stomach is one of the pleasantest sensations in life.16

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A mother and her baby breastfeeding while lying down, from Louise Zabriskie’s Mother and Baby Care in Pictures, published in 1941.

References

1.  Buchan, William. Advice to Mothers, on the Subject of Their Own Health; and on the Means of Promoting the Health, Strength, and Beauty, of Their Offspring. Philadelphia: John Bioren, 1804, p. 75-76.

2-3. Tucker, Genevieve. Mother, Baby, and Nursery: A Manual for Mothers. Boston: Roberts Brothers, 1896, p. 85-87.

4. Kerley, Chalres Gilmore. Short Talks with Young Mothers: On the Management of Infants and Young Children. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1904, p. 13-15.

5.  Eldred, Myrtle M. For the Young Mother. Chicago: The Reilly & Lee Co., 1921, p. 37.

6.  Kenyon, Josephine Hemenway. Healthy Babies Are Happy Babies: A Complete Handbook for Modern Mothers. Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1934, p. 55-56; Zabriskie, Louise. Mother and Baby Care In Pictures. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1941, p. 131.

7.  Newton, Anne B. Mother and Baby: Helpful Suggestions Concerning Motherhood and the Care of Children. Boston: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Co., 1912, p. 74.

8.  Ibid., p. 78.

9.  Gray, Thomas N. Common Sense and the Baby: A Book for Mothers. New York: the Bewick Press, 1907, p. 39.

10. Whipple, Dorothy V. Our American Babies: The Art of Baby Care. New York: M. Barrows and Company, Inc., 1944, p. 139.

11.  New York City Department of Health. The Care of Baby. New York: Department of Health, 1932, p. 10.

12. Tucker, p. 86.

13. NYC Dept. of Health. The Care of Baby, p. 5.

14. Applebaum, Stella B. Baby: A Mother’s Manual. Chicago and New York: Ziff-Davis Publishing Company, 1946.

15. Buchan, p. 79.

16. Whipple, p. 122.

Godman’s mammals: An Illustrated Natural History

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

I have our rare book cataloger, Tatyana Pakhladzhyan, to thank for introducing me to American Natural History, a delightful three-volume set by John D. Godman (1794-1830), a physician, lecturer, and naturalist. She initially came across it in our S.132 section, which comprises books on zoology, natural history, and mineralogy (The Academy library has a unique classification system – watch the blog for an upcoming series on our staffers’ favorite sections.)   After consulting with our curator, the decision was made to move the book into our Americana collection.

Godman, American Natural History, 1826-1828.

Engraved, added title page in Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828.

Though he is best known as a naturalist, Godman first made a name for himself as a medical man. Godman studied at the University of Maryland Medical School, graduating in 1818. He then moved around Pennsylvania and Maryland for a few years and succeeded in Philadelphia as a lecturer. Godman moved to Cincinnati in 1821, where he briefly taught at the Medical College of Ohio.1,2

In 1822, Godman moved back to Philadelphia. The next year he took over leadership of the Philadelphia School of Anatomy.1 Godman had a lifelong interest in nature, but it is in this period that he began to focus on his natural history studies. He became a member of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, the Franklin Institute, and American Philosophical Society.2 In 1826, he became the chair of anatomy at the Rutgers Medical College in New York City, but he was ill with tuberculosis and soon resigned. Too sick to lecture, he devoted himself to his literary pursuits and died in 1830. In his later years, he wrote a series of nature essays that were first published in a magazine and then posthumously as a collected work, Rambles of a naturalist.1,2 These essays are considered to be significant yet understudied American nature writings.2

Godman also contributed to medical literature, both as a writer and editor. He published a work on fasciae of the human body, Anatomical Investigations, in 1824. While living in Cincinnati, he edited the short-lived Western Quarterly Report of Medicine, Surgical, and Natural Science, which was the first medical journal published west of the Alleghanies.1,2 He later served on the editorial board of the Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences, which was renamed the American Journal of Medical Sciences thanks to his efforts.1

American Natural History is Godman’s effort to document and classify North American mammals. The creatures include wolves, bears, seals, cats, weasels, the domestic dog, and the decidedly American bovine, the bison. The descriptions are accompanied by illustrations depicting the animals with remarkably expressive faces.

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Bats from Volume I of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828.

As Godman details in the preface, he started on American Natural History in 1823 and anticipated a speedy year to year and a half of work to publish the first volume. Instead, the first two volumes were published in 1826 and the third followed in 1828. He explains the delay:

“It has been frequently necessary to suspend it for weeks and months, in order to procure certain animals, to observe their habits in captivity, or to make daily visits to the woods and fields for the sake of witnessing their actions in a state of nature. On other occasions we have undertaken considerable journies, in order to ascertain the correctness of statements, or to obtain sight of an individual subject of description.” (pp v-vi).

Godman’s emphasis on observation paid off; his work is noted for its accurate descriptions.2,3

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Title page of Harlan’s Fauna Americana, 1825. Click on enlarge.

Looking further down the same shelf, we found another early American book on mammals, Richard Harlan’s Fauna americana: being a description of the mammiferous animals inhabiting North America. This was published just a year before American Natural History. Harlan’s book was based on A. G. Demarest’s Mammologie (1820). Godman openly criticized Harlan for this reason and maintained the superiority of his work. A rivalry developed between the two, with Godman generally considered the victor.2 Wesley C. Coe corroborates this in his article “A Century of Zoology in America.” He regards Harlan’s text as “a compilation of work from European writers…[that] had little value,” while Godman’s is an “illustrated and creditable work.”4 Nevertheless, Fauna americana will soon join American Natural History on the shelves of our Americana collection.

Please enjoy this selection of illustrations from American Natural History:

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Common wolf and dusky wolf in Volume I of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828. Click to enlarge.

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Common and hooded seals from Volume I of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828. Click to enlarge.

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Canada lynx and wild cat in Volume I of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828. Click to enlarge.

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Harp seal and walrus in Volume I of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828. Click to enlarge.

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American gerbillus in Volume II of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828. Click to enlarge.

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Opossums in Volume II of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828.

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Mountain goat and prong-horned antilope in Volume II of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828.

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Bison in Volume III of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828. Click to enlarge.

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Dolphin in Volume III of Godman’s American Natural History, 1826-1828. Click to enlarge.

References

  1. “Godman, John Davidson.” In Dictionary of American biography, edited by Allen Johnson. New York : Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1931.
  1. Rosen, Susan A. C. “John D. Godman, MD.” In Early American nature writers: a biographical encyclopedia, edited by Daniel Patterson, Roger Thompson, and J. Scott Bryson. Greenwood Publishing Group, 2008. Retrieved from http://books.google.com, July 28, 2016.
  1. Faul, Carol. “Godman, John Davidson.” In Biographical Dictionary of American and Canadian Naturalists and Environmentalists, edited by Keir B Sterling. Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1997. Retrieved from http://books.google.com, July 28, 2016.
  1. Coe, Wesley. “A Century of Zoology in America.” The American Journal of Science series 4, 46 (1918): 355-398. Retrieved from http://books.google.com, July 28, 2016.

 

The Influence of Sunshine and Pure Air: New York City Parks and Public Health

By Emily Miranker, Project Coordinator

My first picnic of the summer was picture-book perfect. Norman Rockwell would have approved: my friends and I clustered on blankets sipping lemonade, lightly toasted by the sun and gently cooled by a breeze, occasionally tossing a stray ball back to a child or sharing tidbit of our cold chicken lunch with an eager puppy.

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Central Park’s Harlem Meer.  Photo:  Emily Miranker

The belief that public parks are “a fundamental need of city life,”1  goes very deep. The father of American landscape architecture, Frederick Law Olmsted ‑to whom (along with Calvert Vaux) New York City owes not only Central Park; but Prospect Park, Carroll Park, Fort Greene Park, the Parade Ground and Von King Park,2 commented that it was more than delight in nature that made parks so vital. There was a health benefit too. “The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system.”3

The Park Association of New York City (today New Yorkers for Parks) took up Olmsted’s charge after his death. Several small associations banded together in 1908 to form The Parks and Playgrounds Association of the City of New York; primarily concerned with advocating for children with no outdoor spaces in their neighborhoods. This organization merged with the Battery Park Association and the Central Park Association to become the Park Association in 1928. “Our purpose,” they declared, was to advocate park extension, defense and betterment, as parks were “essential to the mental, moral and physical well-being of city dwellers.”4  The starting point was that ever persistent New York City need: land.

Our collection boasts a wonderfully-designed pamphlet from this period soliciting support for the Park Association.  The pamphlet argues for the maintenance of city parkland, and the acquisition and development of more land dedicated to greenspace.

The pamphlet includes a colorful fold-out map. On the map, green illustrates the city’s parks as of 1927, yellow, the land purchased and intended for park use but not yet developed, and red, land recommended for purchase by the 1927 Metropolitan Conference on Parks but not yet purchased by the city.

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Fold-out map published by the Park Association of New York City.  To Protect and Extend our City Parks for Posterity.  ca. 1927.

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Inside of pamphlet with introductory letter from President Nathan Straus.  To Protect and Extend our City Parks for Posterity.  ca. 1927.

The pamphlet’s call to action is to “make the yellow and red green.” Indeed, many of those patches on the map have since become green.

The Trust for Public Land (TPL), whose mission to create and protect land for people ensuring healthy and livable communities is much like the Park Association’s just on the national scale, spends a fair amount of time bolstering their advocacy for parks with research on the health benefits they provide. In 2006, TPL released a white paper on the health benefits of parks, underscoring the argument that parks are a wise investment for communities.5 You can read the report online for percentages, statistics, financials, and citations of peer-reviewed work; but in brief: greenways enable people to exercise, improve mental health, offer vital space for child play, and contribute to the creation of stable communities

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A 2011 geographic map of the distribution of parks and playgrounds done by the Built Environment and Health research team at Columbia University.6

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Map of New York City parkland (the dark green) created by The Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore rating system.7

A Fellow of The New York Academy of Medicine wrote on this very topic back in 1899. Dr. Orlando B. Douglas bemoans the lack of numbers to support his firm belief in the rejuvenating power of parks in The Relation of Public Parks to Public Health, written for the American Park and Outdoor Art Society. What he lacks in hard scientific data, he makes up for in poetic writing:

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Orlando B. Douglas’ The Relation of Public Parks to Public Health, published in 1899.

While he didn’t have the same kind of data to fortify his arguments available to TPL more than a hundred years later, Douglas supports his claims that “the public park system in cities resulted in diminishing the rate of nervous disease [and] the improvement of the general health in cities”9 with testimony from twenty-one other doctors throughout the state of New York. I imagine that Dr. Douglas would have been thrilled at our ability today to quantify the beneficial effects of parks; though his pamphlet is more enjoyable reading than modern white papers.

References

1.  To Protect and Extend our City Parks for Prosperity. New York: Park Association of New York City; 1929.

2. “Olmsted-Designed New York City Parks,” NYC Parks. Accessed June 14, 2016. https://www.nycgovparks.org/about/history/olmsted-parks

3. Frederick Law Olmsted, “The Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees,” The Saturday Evening Post, July 18, 1868.

4. To Protect and Extend our City Parks for Prosperity. New York: Park Association of New York City; 1929.

5. “Parks,” Built Environment and Health Research Group at Columbia University. Accessed June 14, 2016. https://beh.columbia.edu/parks/

6. “ParkScore: New York, NY,” The Trust for Public Land. Accessed June 14, 2016. http://parkscore.tpl.org/map.php?city=New%20York

7.  https://www.tpl.org/health-benefits-parks accessed June 14, 2016.

8.  The Relation of Public Parks to Public Health. Boston: Rockwell and Churchill Press; 1899.

 

Walt Whitman, ‘Manly Health,’ and the Democratization of Medicine

Today’s post is by Zachary Turpin, a doctoral candidate in English at the University of Houston. Back in April, The New York Times published an article announcing Mr. Turpin’s uncovering of a nearly 47,000-word journalistic series called “Manly Health and Training” written by the poet Walt Whitman under a pseudonym.  Learn more about Whitman’s health writings here in New York this coming Monday, July 18th at 6pm and join Zachary Turpin for his talk Up!: Manhood, Democratic Medicine, and Walt Whitman’s Secret Health Writings. The lecture is co-sponsored by The New York Public Library. Mr. Turpin will be joined by Dr. Isaac Gewirtz, Curator of The Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection at The New York Public Library, for a conversation about Whitman’s interests in health and poetry.  The talk is free, but please register here.  

Near the beginning of “Manly Health and Training” (1858), Walt Whitman’s covertly published health and physiology tract, the poet says the following to the young men of America:

If you are a student, be also a student of the body, a practiser of manly exercises, realizing that a broad chest, a muscular pair of arms, and two sinewy legs, will be just as much credit to you, and stand you in hand through your future life, equally with your geometry, your history, your classics, your law, medicine, or divinity. Let nothing divert you from your duty to your body. Up in the morning early! Habituate yourself to the brisk walk in the fresh air—to the exercise of pulling the oar—and to the loud declamation upon the hills, or along the shore. Such are the means by which you can seize with treble gripe upon all the puzzles and difficulties of your student life—whatever problems are presented to you in your books, or by your professors. Guard your manly power, your health and strength, from all hurts and violations—this is the most sacred charge you will ever have in your keeping.

Whitman’s formal schooling ended at the age of 11, but he was never an anti-intellectual (quite the opposite.) Why, then, does he position exercise—and in particular, a muscular body—as more vital to readers’ lives than math, history, law, medicine, or spirituality? Is he sincere?

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Daguerreotype portrait of Walt Whitman, 1853.  Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library.

These are some of the questions I will attempt to answer in my upcoming talk at The New York Academy of Medicine (July 18th). But I will begin, here, by emphasizing that Whitman almost certainly means what he says.

In the U.S. in the mid-19th century, medicine was reaching the end of a long, slow shift in its epistemological foundations. What for centuries had been a stubbornly inductive system of assumption and a priori logic, had gradually come to rely more and more upon observation and deduction. By the time Whitman was secretly writing “Manly Health,” Americans were less likely than ever to approach their bodies as perfect creations, or illness as a mere deviation from perfection. Instead, physiologically the body had gradually been recast—based on extensive physiological observation—as an imperfect thing.

Gone was the Vitruvian man, of perfect geometric proportions:

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Leonardo da Vinci.  The Proportions of the Human Body According to Vitruvius (The Vitruvian Man.)  Image in the public domain.

In his stead, grew the “sciences”—which we now generally agree are pseudosciences—of physiognomy, phrenology, and eugenics. These pursuits combined complicated measurement and categorization with the belief that, based on variations of external physiology one could deduce the internal characteristics of personality, morality, and social worth. In part, such systems may be considered reactions to increasing cultural diversity in America. It is notable that the original theorists of many such systems were white; furthermore, American physiognomists and phrenologists tended to assign the highest values to classically white-European, or “Teutonic,” features: high foreheads, “noble” brows, “patrician” noses, and so on. Such values have had a deep effect on the social mores of the US—and not a few are still floating around today, as hard-to-eradicate racist rationalizations.

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Books like How to Read Character: A New Illustrated Hand-Book of Phrenology and Physiognomy published in 1874 were popular during Whitman’s lifetime.

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Frontispiece illustration in Joseph Simms’ Physiognomy Illustrated; or Nature’s Revelations of Character, published in 1891.

But beyond obsessions with racial and ethnic categorization, deductive reasoning had a further influence on American physiological discourse. It made it a democratic enterprise.

To put it plainly, if a body begins in imperfection, by definition it may be improved upon. The notion that the body is malleable—may be changed, manipulated, whittled down or built up—mirrors a longstanding American mythos of self-reliance, one that has its roots in the writings of everyone from John Smith and Jonathan Edwards, to J. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Not to mention, Walt Whitman himself. Such a narrative of “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is still present today, and in the field of health and wellness is perhaps more powerful than ever. The popularity of extreme cardiovascular workouts, cosmetic surgery, yoga clothing lines, self-help books, and diet narratives of all types—from “paleolithic” to “blood type” to “detox” to “alkaline”—are a testament to that. (And incidentally, they all have long histories in American fad dieting—Whitman would likely recognize a number of them.)

There is a further corollary here. If the body had come to be defined by its measurement and malleability (which it was, and arguably still is), and scientific observation grew to be a more widespread, middle-class pursuit (which it had), then nearly anyone with a pen and paper could theorize, publicize, and popularize their own “answer” to physiological problems. Such answers are overwhelmingly evident in 19th-century periodical literature, which is positively overflowing with fad diets, patent medicines, calisthenic regimens, baldness cures, skin bleaches, snake oils, and self-help narratives of all types.

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Mrs. Winslow’s Soothing Syrup, formulated in Maine in 1849,  contained 65 milligrams of morphine per fluid ounce.  Image from our William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards.

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Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, first produced by a Charleston druggist in 1865, claimed to cure coughs and contained an opium derivative.  Image from our William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards.

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Ad published in The Practical Druggist and Pharmaceutical Review of Reviews, volume 5, number 5, 1899.

Walt Whitman’s newly rediscovered self-help narrative, “Manly Health and Training,” is unique in its importance to the history of American physiological and medical thought, but it was by no means unusual for its time. In my upcoming talk at the Academy, I look forward to talking more about its discovery, its place in Whitman’s life’s work, and its implications for American literary and medical discourses.

Anatomical Illustrations: A Round-Up from our Visualizing Anatomy Workshop

Kriota Willberg, the author of today’s guest post, explores the intersection of body sciences with creative practice through drawing, writing, performance, and needlework.

On Mondays in June, I taught a drawing class in collaboration with staff at The New York Academy of Medicine Library.

The Visualizing and Drawing Anatomy workshop was open to artists as well as first time drawers willing to be challenged by the visual complexity of the human body in a short four-week course. Using the Academy’s historical collection as reference and instruction, artists and hobbyists learned to draw the body and found inspiration in the variety of illustrations.

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Historical Collections Librarian Arlene Shaner shared her knowledge about the collection with participating artists.

Working with rare books, a live model, and short presentations about the musculoskeletal system, workshop participants practiced looking through the skin to the model’s bony structures and large muscle groups.

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Drawing muscular anatomy on the model, we can compare a living body to images from historical texts.

Participants drew the model’s anatomy in class, and practiced during the week by doing various homework assignments.

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Artists drawing in our Hartwell Reading Room from our live model.

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Whit Taylor’s in class sketches of muscular anatomy from the live model.

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A second sketch by workshop participant Whit Taylor.

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Debbie Rabina’s in class sketch of the live model.

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Allison White’s in class sketch of muscular anatomy from the live model.

Some homework used copied images from Vesalius and Dürer as subjects to anatomize with skeletal and muscular systems.

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Susan Shaw’s homework of anatomized Dürer images.

One of the participants proposed earning some extra credit, and anatomized two characters drawn by cartoonist Josh Bayer.

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Susan Shaw did a great job of re-configuring these skeletons to suit Josh Bayer’s iconoclastic drawing style.

Josh Bayer’s original cartoon can be viewed here.

Working with the historical collection as a teaching tool was very gratifying. I found new points of interest in familiar images, and developed a deeper appreciation for the artists and anatomists who generated so much rich material.

I love watching people draw.  As I watched this group work with the collection and the live model, I could observe and celebrate their growth during the course of the workshop. Witnessing the hard work, diligence, and growth of this group was truly inspiring!

Deafness as a Public Health Issue in the 1920s & 1930s (Part 2 of 2)

Today we have part two of a guest post written by Dr. Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi, the 2016 Klemperer Fellow in the History of Medicine at the New York Academy of Medicine and a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. She is working on her first book, Hearing Happiness: Fakes, Fads, and Frauds in Deafness Cures, which examines the medical history of hearing loss and “quack cures” for deafness. Some of these cures are explored on her blog, From the Hands of Quacks. You can find her on twitter as @jaivirdi.

Promotional photo by the New York League for the Hard of Hearing and its hearing clinic for testing and examination (The Bulletin, Dec. 1935)

Promotional photo by the New York League for the Hard of Hearing and its hearing clinic for testing and examination (The Bulletin, Dec. 1935)

The New York League for the Hard of Hearing launched several campaigns during the 1930s addressing the “psychological aspect” of acquired deafness mentioned by Wendell C. Phillips. Since deafness is an invisible affliction, Phillips emphasized the deafened person often feels isolated and unable to adjust to the sensory change, especially if the hearing loss occurred suddenly. Other otologists agreed as many patients narrated similar stories: their hearing was perfectly fine and normal, then one day something happened and they became deaf, and the process of coming to terms to the newfound deafened state was a difficult one. Illness such as influenza, pneumonia, meningitis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, measles, or ear abscesses were usually the culprit. So too were heard injuries, age-onset deafness in the elderly, misuse of drugs such as quinine, a poor diet (including too much sugar), and other ordinary factors:

“It is well to bear in mind the effects of hair-dyes, excessive smoking or drinking, and indeed, improper underwater swimming and diving. Vigorous blowing of the nose is also frequent causes of hearing impairment.”[1] 

Otologists claimed individuals needed to take responsibility for their hearing—to conserve what hearing one had, through proper diet, lifestyle, and hygiene, before it disintegrated. This was a remarkable shift from the 1920s “prevention of deafness” campaigns that concentrated on a screening program of early detection and medical care. While constant surveillance was still promoted, the late-1930s campaigns transformed hearing loss into an affliction that could easily be treated or managed by good habits.

Pamphlets reveal how parents were encouraged to become more “ear-minded” toward their children, that is, to pay attention if their child exhibits any signs of hearing loss, to avoid a circumstance in which a neglected hearing issue ends up turning a deafened child into a problem.

Advertisement for the New York League Hard of Hearing (The Bulletin, 1934).

Advertisement for the New York League Hard of Hearing (The Bulletin, 1934).

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Advertisement for the New York League for the Hard of Hearing (The [Hearing] News, October 1935)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In other words, the “problem of deafness” became less about the triumphs of medical cures for hearing loss or social organizations providing communication services, but more about conserving one’s hearing before it was gradually diminished. Themes for “Better Hearing Week” especially reflect this: the 1937 theme was “It’s Sound Sense to Conserve Hearing,” while the 1938 was “Help Conserve Hearing.”

Front page of the October 1937 issue of The Bulletin magazine, promoting the National Hearing Week, with reprints of letters from FDR.

Front page of the October 1937 issue of The Bulletin magazine, promoting the National Hearing Week, with reprints of letters from FDR

The American Society for the Hard of Hearing also launched their own campaigns. In 1937, the organization listed a four-point program publicizing their mandates: the prevention of deafness, the conservation of hearing, the alleviation of social conditions affecting the hard of hearing, and rehabilitation. In addition to popular radio broadcasts on the National Broadcasting System, 327 feature articles and 189 editorials were released in over 1600 newspapers.

“Hearing through Life,” a national campaign launched by the ASHH (Hygeia, October 1937).

“Hearing through Life,” a national campaign launched by the ASHH (Hygeia, October 1937).

The publicity campaigns of the 1920s and 1930s were really about transforming public perceptions of the hard of hearing and deafened as handicapped persons, rather than as “defectives”—an important observation in light of the eugenicist concerns of the period. But they were also about addressing hearing impairment not as a social or educational issue, but as a public health issue, one that required cooperation between different levels of civic infrastructures. As otologist Edmund Prince Fowler noted in 1940, the hearing impaired “should never be dismissed with the thought, “Nothing can be done.”[2]

Promotional photo for the League’s “Children’s Auditory Training Project” campaign of the 1940s (The Bulletin, Nov-Dec, 1949)

Promotional photo for the League’s “Children’s Auditory Training Project” campaign of the 1940s (The Bulletin, Nov-Dec, 1949)

Special thanks are owed to Arlene Shaner at the NYAM Library for her generous research assistance and lively conversations.

References

[1] Samuel Zwerling, “Problems of the Hard of Hearing,” Hearing News (January 1938).

[2] Bulletin of the New York League for the Hard of Hearing, 18.7 (November 1940).

Deafness as a Public Health Issue in the 1920s & 1930s (Part 1 of 2)

Today we have part one of a guest post written by Dr. Jaipreet Virdi-Dhesi, the 2016 Klemperer Fellow in the History of Medicine at the New York Academy of Medicine and a SSHRC Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of History at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario. She is working on her first book, Hearing Happiness: Fakes, Fads, and Frauds in Deafness Cures, which examines the medical history of hearing loss and “quack cures” for deafness. Some of these cures are explored on her blog, From the Hands of Quacks. You can find her on twitter as @jaivirdi.

In 1935, physician Francis L. Rogers of Long Beach read a paper addressing the worrisome statistics of deafness. One study discovered nearly thirty-five thousand Americans were deaf. Another found that out of a million people tested for their hearing, 6% had significant hearing impairment. Yet another study reported three million people had some kind of hearing impairment. This “problem of deafness,” Rogers emphasized, “is primarily of public health and public welfare.” Not only were there too many people failing to adequately care for their hearing, but many cities, schools, and governments lacked the proper infrastructure to educate the public on the importance of hearing preservation. Indeed, as Rogers stressed: “Today the three great public health problems confronting the world are heart disease, cancer, and deafness.”[1]

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A window display in Detroit (Hearing News, June 1942)

The notion of deafness being statistically worrying as a public health issue actually dates to the late nineteenth century, especially to the work of otologist James Kerr Love of Glasgow. Love conducted several statistical studies of the ears of deaf schoolchildren, discovering that the majority of them were not completely deaf, but had some level of “residual” hearing. With proper medical treatment, the hearing could be intensified enough to warrant a “cure.” For other cases, children could be taught to make use of that residual hearing through invasive training using acoustic aids and other kinds of hearing technologies.

Love’s research concluded that many deafness cases could actually be relieved if the ears of children were examined early and frequently—that is, deafness could be prevented. His “prevention of deafness” concept was influential for the new generation of otologists in America, especially those who were members of the New York Academy of Medicine’s Section of Otology during the first three decades of the twentieth century.

To raise awareness on the necessity of proper medical examinations and frequent hearing tests, these otologists collaborated with social organizations such as the New York League for the Hard of Hearing, which was established in 1910. The League was a progressive group catering to the needs of hard of hearing or deafened persons who were raised in a hearing society rather than in a D/deaf community and communicated primarily with speech and lip-reading rather than sign language. Composed mostly of white, middle-class, and educated members who lost their hearing from illness, injury, or progressive deafness, the League strove to construct hearing impairment as a medical issue. They argued hearing impairment was not an issue of education or communication, but rather a handicap.

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An otologist examining a young patient’s ear (Hygeia, June 1923)

The collaboration between New York otologists and the League eventually created a national network of experts, social services, teachers, physicians, and volunteers who banded together to address the so-called “problem of deafness.” That is, the problem of how to best integrate the hard of hearing, the deafened, and to some extent, even the deaf-mutes, into society. One key achievement of the League was the establishment of hearing clinics to properly assess hearing impairment, especially in children, to ensure medical care could be provided before it was too late. This project was primarily spearheaded by Harold M. Hays (1880-1940), who was recruited as president of the League in 1913, becoming the first active otologist collaborating with the League. After the First World War, Hays set up a clinic for treating hearing loss in children at the Manhattan Eye, Ear, and Throat Hospital.

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Group hearing tests of schoolchildren, using an audiometer. Headphones are used first on the right ear, then the left. (Hygeia, February 1928)

Hays claimed that hearing impairment might be a handicap, but “the sad part of it is that 90 percent of all hearing troubles could be corrected if they were treated at the proper time.” With regular hearing tests, this was possible. Yet, as Hays argued, regular hearing tests were not considered on par with other hygienic measures under public health services:

We are saving the child’s eyes! We are saving the child’s teeth! Is it not worth while to save the child’s ears?”[2]

During the 1920s, Hays’ activism for regular hearing tests was so instrumental that in 1922, the League’s newsletter, The Chronicle, told its readers “we believe that the League would justify its existence if it did no other work than to prevent as much deafness as possible.”  To achieve this mandate, the League launched a large public campaign to raise awareness on the importance of medical care. Indeed, in one report for the League, Hays remarked that with the increased publicity, there were 10,000 calls to the League in 1918 alone inquiring about aural examinations. A steady increase in patients would follow: 17 clinic patients in 1924, 326 in 1926, and then 1,531 in 1934.

Another publicity campaign spearheaded by the League was the establishment of “Better Hearing Week” in 1926, a week-long awareness program (later renamed “National Hearing Week”). Held in October, the campaign included symposium discussions on the “Problems of the Hard of Hearing,” including topics on the relationship between the physician and his deafened patient, how the deafened could build their lives, and even on newest technological developments in hearing aids. October issues of The Bulletin (the renamed League newsletter) and the Hearing News, the newsletter of the American Society for the Hard of Hearing (ASHH) included reprints of letters from prominent leaders supporting the mandates of “Better Hearing Week,” including letters from President Roosevelt and New York Mayor LaGuardia.

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Advertisement for Western Electric Hearing Aid, the “Audiophone.” These before-and-after shots were powerful for demonstrating the effects of “normal” hearing, sending the message that outward signs of deafness, such as the “confused face,” could easily disappear once being fitted properly with a hearing aid. (Hearing News, December 1936)

The 1920s publicity campaigns were primarily focused on fostering ties between otologists and the League, in cooperation with hospitals and schools. In 1927, the League purchased audiometers and offered invitations to conduct hearing tests in schools across New York, so children with hearing impairment could be assessed accordingly. Two years later, the League worked with Bell Laboratories to further substantiate the conviction that deafness was a serious problem amongst schoolchildren and that something needed to be done.

At the same time otologists across America established joint ventures between organizations like the America Medical Association and the American Otological Society. They formed committees to write reports to the White House on the national importance of addressing the “prevention of deafness.” Wendell C. Phillips (1857-1934), another president of the League and the founder of ASHH, particularly emphasized the need to address the “psychologic conditions and mental reactions” of the deafened patient, for the tragedy of acquired deafness meant it is a “disability without outward signs, for the deafened person uses no crutch, no black goggles, no tapping staff.”[3] It was an invisible handicap that needed to be made visible if it was to be prevented, if not cured.

References

[1] The Federation News, August 1935.

[2] Harold M. Hays, “Do Your Ears Hear?” Hygeia (April 1925).

[3] Wendell C. Phillips, “Reminiscences of an Otologist,” Hygeia (October 1930).