Down the Rabbit Hole with The Year of the Rabbit

by Anthony Murisco, Public Engagement Librarian

This past Sunday, January 22, brought in the celebration of Lunar New Year. It marked the beginning of the Year of the Rabbit.

A bronze rabbit nibbling a leaf as shown on the NYAM floor.

The lobby of the New York Academy of Medicine features artwork of animals that have contributed to the advancement of the science of medicine, close to Aesclepius, the Greek god of healing. This brass image of a rabbit nibbling an herb is found in the floor, and the pair of rabbits is in the ceiling. Rabbits were said to be beloved by Venus, the Goddess of Love. Due to their aptitude for procreation and abundant litter, their presence was believed to be a remedy for sexual dysfunction. This may be the earliest usage of their symbolic fertile nature.

Two rabbits as shown on our ceiling.

Let’s look at the Year of the Rabbit in Asian cultures.

The traditional story tells of the Jade Emperor who wants to find a way to measure time. The animals line up and race for a spot in this measurement. Along the way, there is a bit of trickery and double-crossing that some of these animals engage in to ensure they end up at the finish line. For others, it was kismet that brought them to the end.

Taken from De quadrupedib.’ digitatis viviparis libri… (1637)

As the story goes, the rabbit came in fourth place thanks to their resourcefulness with a little bit of empathy from an overhead friend. The dragon had seen the rabbit struggling on a log in the middle of the water and decided to give a little wind to bring them ashore.

Although the story originated in China, variations of the tale are found throughout Asia featuring animals native to those regions. In Vietnam, for example, the cat takes the place of the rabbit. In different countries, different creatures represent this year.

The Year of the Rabbit is said to be more subdued than the previous one, the Year of the Tiger. In Chinese mythology, the rabbit was one of the smaller animals vying for a place with the Emperor. Only careful planning on their part let them make it to the end. So the year is one of caution and playing it close!

While the rabbit waited for the log to move, it was a gust of wind above from the Dragon that luckily brought them to the finish line. The Year of the Rabbit is also said to be one of luck.

Turning to the Western world, we also link rabbits and luck with the rabbit’s foot, which is lucky for us and unlucky for them!

Taken from Food In History by Reay Tannahill (1973)

A long-held tradition in Western culture is saying “Rabbit rabbit rabbit,” or some variation, on the first day of each month. Some say this must be done first thing in the morning, while others are a little lenient as long as it is said sometime during the day. Fortunes that it may provide include luck, good health, and accruement of wealth.

Maybe it is no coincidence that the year of the rabbit and the year of the cat are one. Rabbits were seen as familiars (or assistants) to witches as often as felines! Legends involving Witch Rabbits casting spells also provide ways to negate bad luck, by turning the pockets of a cursed clothing item inside out or kissing the sleeve of the accursed animal. Witches were also known to moonlight as rabbits to spy on townsfolk.

Taken from Animals with Human Faces by Beryl Rowland.

Due to the timid and small nature of the creature, rabbits were used to emasculate soldiers. Just as rabbits burrow away to escape, so too did cowards. Medieval art used the animal to showcase traitors and those who had fled battle. The art above showcases two of these rabbit/soldiers who are paying for their cowardice.

Timid animals taking revenge! From the Medieval manuscripts blog.

Other medieval artists, perhaps early humorists, took it upon themselves to subvert the rabbit trope and instead showcased the creatures as killing machines. Perhaps this is where Monty Python’s killer rabbits came from!

Taken from our digital collection of William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards.

The story of the rabbit’s quest to the zodiac as well as its place in various cultures showcase the multitude of tales that we never consider when looking at the creature. Or maybe we are just content, as this young girl is, with cuddling up to the furry animal.

May your Year of the Rabbit (rabbit rabbit) be fruitful!

References:

Brown, Mabel Webster. “Art and Architecture of the Academy of Medicine’s New Home” Medical Journal & Record. 1st December 1926, 729-734.

Jackson, Eleanor (16 June 2021). “Medieval killer rabbits: when bunnies strike back” Medieval manuscripts blog. https://blogs.bl.uk/digitisedmanuscripts/2021/06/killer-rabbits.html, accessed 23 January 2023.

Hand, Wayland D. (ed.). The Frank C. Brown Collection of North Carolina Folklore Volume VII: Popular Beliefs and Superstitions from North Carolina. Durham: Duke University Press, 1964.

Rowland, Beryl. Animals with Human Faces. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1975.

Runeberg, Arne. Witches, Demons and Fertility Magic; Analysis of their Significance and Mutual Relations in West-European Folk Religion. Helsinki: Societas Scientiarum Fennica, 1947.

Tannahill, Reay. Food in History. New York : Stein and Day, 1973.

Frederick Banting and the Isolation of Insulin

By Paul Theerman, Director

F. G. Banting, December 27, 1922.
(All photos from the University of Toronto Libraries.)

One hundred years ago, on December 21, 1922, Frederick Grant Banting (1891–1941) addressed the New York Academy of Medicine. He had been invited to give a talk on his new therapy that used insulin to treat diabetes. Less than a year earlier, in January 1922, the first diabetes sufferer had been successfully treated for this invariably fatal condition. Less than a year later, on December 10, 1923, Banting’s name was read out at the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, as he and John Macleod were awarded the prize in Physiology or Medicine. During this Nobel month—the annual prizes were given out last Saturday, the 10th—we take a look at this signal discovery.

The story of the isolation and therapeutic use of insulin can be told as a remarkably short and direct one. After medical and surgical training at the University of Toronto and serving in World War I, Frederick Banting set up his medical practice in London, Ontario. He also taught there, at the University of Western Ontario, and as part of preparing for his lectures, he considered a possible solution to a persistent problem in diabetes studies. For over 50 years, medical researchers had explored the role of the pancreas gland in digestion, and specifically in diabetes. This condition is characterized by high levels of sugar in the urine, leading to frequent urination, increased thirst and hunger, and dramatic weight loss. The condition can progress to the acute symptoms of nausea, vomiting, and coma, eventually leading to death. There is no cure. In Banting’s time, sufferers faced a near-starvation diet as part of a difficult and short life.

By the turn of the century, diabetes researchers had focused on the role in diabetes of the “islets of Langerhans,” microscopic glands spread throughout the pancreas. They supposed that a hormone produced by these glands—called “insulin” from the Latin word for “island,” given its source in the islets—played a crucial role in sugar metabolism. To use this insight therapeutically, though, ran up against a seemingly insurmountable challenge. One could hope to treat diabetes by administering an extract from the glands, and the usual way of preparing such extracts was to grind up the organ and then isolate and purify the hormone. But most of the pancreas produces digestive juices, and these juices promptly broke down the hormone. In 1920, Banting, reading through the medical literature, had a crucial insight: tying off the pancreatic duct could cause the rest of the pancreas to deteriorate, leaving behind only the insulin-producing islets. He took his idea to physiologist J. R. R. Macleod (1876–1935) at the University of Toronto, who provided him with a laboratory, experimental animals, and a medical student to help, Charles H. Best (1899–1978).

By April 2021, Banting and Best had begun work, tying off the pancreatic ducts in dogs, waiting for the pancreas to deteriorate, and then isolating the insulin from the remaining pancreatic tissue.

They soon turned instead to fetal calves as an insulin source—at an early stage of development, the islets of Langerhans already produced the hormone, while the pancreas’s digestive enzymes had not yet begun to be produced. In December Macleod assigned biochemist James Collip (1892–1965) to the project, to help purify the insulin and avoid allergic reactions.

After success in dogs, in January 1922 came the first successful therapeutic use in humans, at Toronto General Hospital, on 14-year-old Leonard Thompson. Then living on a 450-calorie-per-day diet and shrunk to 65 pounds, Thompson responded well to the insulin injections, and went on to live many more years. On February 7 Banting and Best announced their success at the Academy of Medicine of Toronto.

There was an immediate world-wide response. Patients flocked to Toronto for treatment. By 1923, the Eli Lilly Company was producing insulin commercially. In June 1923, John D. Rockefeller, Jr., contributed $150,000—equivalent to over $2.6M today—to 15 hospitals in the United States and Canada to support the use of insulin, including two New York hospitals, the Physiatric Institute and Presbyterian Hospital; two hospitals in Toronto; and $5,000 for the Banting-Best Fund of the University of Toronto. By December 1923, J. Sjöquist in his Nobel Presentation Speech could state: “Since [its discovery], the new remedy, the production of which does not offer any great technical difficulties, has come into use in practically all countries and with favourable results.”

Banting’s rewards were immediate and great. In 1922, he was given a Senior Demonstrator position at the University of Toronto, and the next year elected to the Banting and Best Chair of Medical Research at the University of Toronto. In August 1923 he made the cover of Time magazine. In December 1923 he and Macleod were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology. Banting shared the credit and his prize money with Charles Best while Macleod did the same with James Collip. In 1925, the Banting Research Foundation was established, a private institution that supported his research, as well as that of other Canadian scientists. In 1934, he received a knighthood from King George V, and the following year was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.

In 1930, Banting was appointed the inaugural departmental chair of the Banting and Best Department of Medical Research. There he developed an interest in aviation medicine. With his help, Wilbur R. Franks (1901–1986), his Toronto colleague, developed an aviation “g-suit.” This garment used water-filled bladders to counteract the g-forces that developed during rapid acceleration that pulled blood away from the brain and caused blackouts. Banting was on his way to England to assist Franks in testing the suit for wartime use when his plane crashed in Newfoundland, near the town of Musgrave Harbour. He died February 21, 1941, at the age of 49. The New York Academy of Medicine had awarded Banting honorary Fellowship in 1933; at their May 1941 meeting, the Fellows honored his memory.

The story of insulin is, of course, more complex than this quick sketch affords. Historian Michael Bliss has looked more closely at Banting’s complicated life, and various authors have considered Banting’s long line of predecessors, the tensions among the Toronto team, and how credit was granted—or not—for isolating insulin. What is sure, though, is that this advance improved the lives of millions within a dramatically short span of time—a rare feat in the history of medicine.


Bibliography

Frederick G. Banting, “Facts; Biographical; Nobel Lecture,” The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1923, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1923/banting/facts/, accessed November 30, 2022.

F. G. Banting and C. H. Best, “The Internal Secretion of the Pancreas,” The Journal of Laboratory and Clinical Medicine, 7 (5; February 1922): 256–71.

Michael Bliss, Banting: A Biography (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1992).

Michael Bliss, The Discovery of Insulin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982).

Alberto de Leiva, Eulàlia Brugués, and Alejandra de Leiva-Pérez, “El descubrimiento de la insulina: continúan las controversias después de noventa años/The discovery of insulin: Continued controversies after ninety years,” Endocrinología y Nutrición (English Edition) 58/9 (November 2011): 449–56. DOI: 10.1016/j.endoen.2011.10.001. https://www.elsevier.es/en-revista-endocrinologia-nutricion-english-edition–412-articulo-the-discovery-insulin-continued-controversies-S2173509311000614, accessed November 30, 2022.

“The Discovery and Early Development of Insulin,” The University of Toronto Libraries, March 2003, https://insulin.library.utoronto.ca/, accessed November 30, 2022.

Allison Piazza, “Shoot That Needle Straight (Item of the Month),” Books, Health, and History, November 18, 2016, https://nyamcenterforhistory.org/2016/11/18/shoot-that-needle-straight-item-of-the-month/, accessed November 30, 2022.

“Rockefeller Gives $150,000 for Insulin,” The New York Times, June 20, 1923.

James Ralph Scott, “In Memoriam, Frederick Grant Banting,” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 17 (5; May 1941): 400–402.; https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1933643/?page=1, accessed December 13, 2022.

J. Sjöquist, “Presentation Speech [on the occasion of the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Frederick Grant Banting and John James Richard Macleod],” December 10, 1923. The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1923, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/medicine/1923/ceremony-speech/, accessed November 30, 2022.

Ignazio Vecchio, Cristina Tornali, Nicola Luigi Bragazzi, and Mariano Martini, “The Discovery of Insulin: An Important Milestone in the History of Medicine,” Frontiers in Endocrinology. 9 (23 October 2018): 613. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2018.00613. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6205949/, accessed November 30, 2022.

Library Luminaries: Gertrude Annan

This post is the last in a four-part series showcasing notable figures in the history of the Academy Library as we celebrate our 175th anniversary. The first post focused on Dr. Samuel Smith Purple, the second post featured Dr. Archibald Malloch, and the third post featured Frank Place. A blog post on Janet Doe, another Library Luminary, appeared in 2021.

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

In a Medical Library Association Oral History Committee interview published in 1978, Gertrude Annan (1904–1993), recounted the serendipitous turn of events that led her to the Library at the New York Academy of Medicine. Annan was born on December 4, 1904, grew up in Rhode Island, and graduated from Brown University in 1925 with a degree in English. A problem with her eyes initially prevented her from working, and during that time she decided not to pursue a teaching career, enrolling in secretarial school instead. She then accepted a job at the John Carter Brown Library, working for the librarian, Lawrence Wroth. Here she found the “most exciting, rewarding, enriching world that I never knew existed.”[1] Wroth recognized how talented she was, quickly shifted her away from her secretarial duties and took her on as his assistant, teaching her about the history of books and printing, and how to catalog rare materials.

For two years Annan worked on a cataloging project at the JCB, but when she expressed an interest in going to New York, Wroth provided her with letters of introduction to scholars and bookmen. The book dealer Lathrop C. Harper introduced her to Archibald Malloch, who had become the Librarian at the Academy in 1926. Malloch already had plans to enrich the Library with a Rare Book and History Room, having purchased the Edward Clark Streeter collection of rare historical medical texts in 1928. When he offered Annan a job in 1929, Wroth told her to “Give it a good try. Stay at least 6 weeks.”[2] She stayed for 41 years.

Annan took on the position of Head of the Rare Books Department shortly after her arrival in the Library, serving in that role for the next quarter century, a period of significant growth. The deep knowledge of Americana and the history of books and printing that she developed at the JCB combined with Malloch’s expertise in the history of medicine to make them ideal partners. Committed to developing the rare book holdings, they also recognized that building an extraordinary collection of reference books about the history of books and printing and the history of science and medicine was the key to making the Library even more useful. Their legacy endures: these reference works continue to be consulted by readers and library staff alike.

With her encouragement, in 1946 a group of interested Fellows formed the Friends of the Rare Book Room, and she worked closely with that group from its inception until her retirement. When the Friends decided in 1948 to launch a small periodical, The Academy Bookman, they did so because they were assured of her full collaboration. She collected content, provided editorial assistance, and documented the many gifts and purchases that arrived in the Library due to the generosity of the Friends and other donors in issue after issue over the course of the next several decades.

In 1953, Janet Doe, who stepped into the role of Librarian in 1949 after Malloch’s retirement, moved Annan into the position of Associate Librarian, and she became the Librarian herself when Doe retired in 1956. Annan and Doe already had a history of collaboration. Doe asked her to write two chapters, one on rare books and the history of medicine and the other a guide to the most useful reference works for a historical medical collection, for the first edition of the Handbook of Medical Library Practice, published in 1943. Annan later took on the role of editor herself, with Jacqueline Felter, for the third edition, which appeared in 1970.

As she shifted into her new administrative role in the Library, Annan also took on national leadership roles, as the leader or a member of the publication, finance, and nominating committees of the Medical Library Association, and then as its president in 1961, shepherding the association through the process of creating a central administrative office. She delivered the inaugural Janet Doe Lecture at the MLA annual meeting in 1967, and in 1968 was the recipient of its Marcia C. Noyes award. An advocate for collaboration among libraries, she was instrumental in the creation of the Medical Library Center of New York, which began providing services in 1961 at NYAM itself until its own headquarters opened in 1964. With others, she then worked on a model to expand the reach of the MLC into the broader New York metropolitan area and the state.

Annan’s interests in the history of medicine, the history of NYAM itself, and the development of the library profession led to a wide range of publications on many topics. She wrote short biographical articles about early Academy Fellows, including Alexander Stevens and Valentine Mott, and wrote extensively about the importance of collecting the history of medicine, and about the changing roles of medical and rare book librarians. A special tribute issue of The Academy Bookman published in 1971 provides a long (but not complete) list. A founder of the Medical Archivists of New York, after her retirement Annan spent years sorting and organizing the Academy’s own archives, and the meticulous finding aids she created are invaluable to anyone searching for information about NYAM’s history up through the early 1980s.

Joseph Tamerin began his Bookman tribute piece to Annan and her work with archives with an illustration of her with one of her acknowledged Academy heroes, Samuel Smith Purple.

To honor her years of devoted service, in 1974 NYAM awarded the Academy Plaque to its two great woman librarians, Gertrude Annan and Janet Doe. It was a well-deserved honor for them both. Annan died on December 2, 1993.

Gertrude Annan and Janet Doe (n.d.), gift of Donna Brennan.

References

Annan, Gertrude L. (Gertrude Louise), Vicki Glasgow, Myrl Ebert, and Estelle Brodman. Medical Library Association Oral History Committee Interview with Gertrude Louise Annan. Chicago, IL: Medical Library Association, 1978.

Annan, Gertrude L., Jacqueline W. Felter, Erich Meyerhoff, and Lee Ash. “Regional Plans for Medical Library Service New York State and the New York Metropolitan Area.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 52, no. 3 (1964): 503.

Keys, Thomas E. “Past presidents I have known.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 63, no. 1 (1975): 49.

Lambert Jr, S. W. “Presentation of the Academy Plaque to Miss Gertrude L. Annan.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 50, no. 10 (1974): 1059.

Meyerhoff, E. “Gertrude Louise Annan, 1904–1993.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 82, no. 4 (1994): 458.

Morgenstern, S., P. Cranefield, P. Wade, J. W. Felter, M. H. Saffron, J. A. Tamerin, C. C. Morchand, and A. S. Lyons. “Tributes to Gertrude L. Annan.” The Academy Bookman 24, no. 2 (1971): 2–20.


Notes

[1] Gertrude L. (Gertrude Louise) Annan, et al. Medical Library Association Oral History Committee Interview with Gertrude Louise Annan. Medical Library Association, 1978, p. 2.

[2] Ibid.

Views and Voices of Older New Yorkers

By Mario Rubano, MPH, Center for Healthy Aging, NYAM

Today’s guest blogger is Mario Rubano, Policy Associate at NYAM’s Center for Healthy Aging. Mr. Rubano plays a central role in the Academy’s next Then & Now event, “The Opportunities and Challenges of Healthy Aging in New York City.” He conducted the interviews documenting the experiences of older New Yorkers and will moderate the discussion of those experiences with historians Kavita Sivaramakrishnan, PhD, and David G. Troyansky, PhD. The event takes place online on Tuesday, November 15, 5:00 to 6:00 pm; you can register here.

The NYAM Library’s “Then & Now” series has explored a wide variety of medical and public health issues, bringing experts and researchers into dialogue with the broader NYAM community. As the Academy’s 175th anniversary celebrations wind down, we’re delighted to feature a different set of experts—older New Yorkers.

NYAM has been at the forefront of NYC older adult health and policy since 2006, when it first joined the Global Age-friendly Cities project, an international effort spearheaded by the World Health Organization (WHO). The following year saw the development of Age-friendly NYC, an award-winning partnership that reimagined how the City could meet the needs of its older residents. This shift was rooted in the 8 Domains of Livability, a collection of interconnected categories that captured the most vital aspects of healthy living for older adults in urban centers. Today, the Center for Healthy Aging (CHA) embodies this legacy in its ongoing mission to improve the health and well-being of current and future aging populations.

The 8 Domains of Livability

At present, New York City is home to roughly 1.2 million individuals aged 65+, and we were lucky enough to settle down with five of the busiest of them for personal interviews via Zoom. The participants, drawn from a network of grassroots age-friendly community groups, shared their insights, memories, experiences, and opinions (with classic New York panache) in a discussion structured around the 8 Domains of Livability. Each of the participants has maintained an active relationship with local community-based organizations, community boards, volunteer groups, or, in one case, as a part-time Reservist working with NYAM. What was immediately clear across each of the interviews was the devotion that each participant has to this city. Whether born-and-bred or a transplant, these New Yorkers were as energized by the city as one could possibly be, and it’s this vigor that brought their reflections to life.

Our Interviewees!

If a single takeaway were to be drawn from these five interviews, it would be that “progress” is a constant process rather than a state-of-being or condition that is achieved. The domain of transportation illustrates this idea. The participants all remarked on the tremendous improvements in comfort and capacity that the public transportation system has undergone over their lifetimes. The advent of air conditioning to ease the misery of a summertime, rush-hour commute, the growing fleet of accessible kneeling buses that simplify the boarding process for individuals with mobility challenges, and the creation of station transfers were all viewed as highlights over the years. Yet, we also heard about significant lapses in the management of bus lines that blatantly ignore the needs of older New Yorkers and, in many instances, place undue burdens on communities of color.

Healthcare access also changed in remarkable ways, both positive and negative, over the course of their lifetimes. House calls from family doctors who knew and treated entire communities gave way to newer models of care that, while noted for their efficiency and quality, were seen as impersonal and disconnected. We heard sobering stories of healthcare in the years before desegregation and the ongoing effects of Robert Moses’ infrastructure projects, like the Cross Bronx Expressway. These stories demonstrate the necessity of continued civic and community engagement, even after broad, landmark victories. Legislative progress—such as that initiated by the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990—must be continuously refined to ensure that the promises of better lives remain intact in an increasingly complex world.

This project has been a thrilling process in itself, and we look forward to sharing these New Yorkers’ stories, and hearing the commentary by our guest historians, Drs. Kavita Sivaramakrishnan and David Troyansky, at the upcoming November 15th Then & Now event.

William Helfand’s Pharmaceutical Trade Cards and the Changing Character of Drug Advertising

By Joseph Bishop, Princeton University, and the Librarys 2022 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow

Mr. Bishop completed his Fellowship residency in summer 2022 and will present his research by Zoom on November 8 at 4:00 (EST). To attend his talk, “Pharmaceutical Visions: How US Drug Companies and Ad Agencies Revamped Their Credibility by Marketing with Scientific Imagery,” register through the Academy’s Events page.

This spring I spent weeks immersed in the vast historical materials available at the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) Library. I had the honor of receiving the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship to pursue a project that I believe would have interested Bill Helfand: an examination of the changes in medical advertising at the turn of the twentieth century. During his life, Helfand amassed an extensive collection of fascinating drug and medical memorabilia and visual art. Much of his collection and work illuminates the dynamic between drugmakers and the public during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Significant portions of Helfand’s collection are available at NYAM, and I took advantage of the richly colored and wide-ranging collection of patent medicine trade cards. NYAM also has mountains of pharmaceutical, medical, and allied trade journals and magazines brimming with pharmaceutical advertisements.

At the turn of the twentieth century, the American public saw the rise in large corporate pharmaceutical companies, national and corporate advertising, and federal drug regulation. An important question is what prompted the transformations in medical visual culture that helped to portray drug companies as scientific and research-oriented. To answer that question, I compare late-nineteenth-century patent medicine trade cards with medical ads in LadiesHome Journal in the 1920s. This comparison reveals a transition from entertainment and fantasy to a preoccupation with scientific progress and medical authority. My research at NYAM has led me to conclude that drug companies and ad agencies emphasized scientific and medical imagery to revamp their medical credibility and professional image amid national drug regulation and the public’s anger with the industry’s past association with patent medicine.

American patent medicine companies faced scrutiny for producing nostrums with cryptic contents and questionable efficacy during the first decade of the twentieth century. They depended on local advertisement imagery that reflected the nineteenth-century public’s anxieties and aspirations. Popularizations of science were created for various reasons—from entertainment to informing citizens—but they all served to increase scientific and medical awareness within the American public. Philadelphia-based ad agency N. W. Ayer’s accounts show that patent medicine was their most lucrative commodity category, carrying 26 percent of their total revenue in 1878, and their second-most lucrative commodity in 1900, carrying 15 percent. By 1879 in the US, more than 400 religious weeklies each needed a steady flow of advertising revenue to stay in business. Newspapers generated patent medicine business, and medical advertisements sustained newspapers. Nostrum manufacturers developed new marketing techniques, created novel distribution systems, pioneered brand-name products, became an economic link between urban and rural centers, and expanded markets.

Americans living through the last two decades of the nineteenth century saw an explosion of advertising trade cards. Retailers gave away these pocket-sized cards, often stuffed in product packaging as a bonus and easily collectible by customers. Patent medicine companies used these cards extensively, as they proved to be a very successful sales medium. Many people collected cards into albums and created scrapbooks, which children sometimes received as birthday or Christmas gifts.

Image 1:“Ayer’s Ague Cure Is Warranted to Cure All Malarial Disorders”
Dr. J. C. Ayer & Co. (Lowell, MA)
Produced ca. 1875–1895
From the William H. Helfand Collection of
Pharmaceutical Trade Cards at The New York Academy of Medicine
Chromolithograph, 6.1 x 11.6 cm

Trade cards such as Ayer’s Ague Cure (Image 1) evoke an aura of connection with nature and adaptation to the surrounding environment. The image in the bottom right corner depicts an alligator and a couple of frogs discussing Ayer’s Cure as if they used it to protect themselves from malaria. The ad implies that Ayer’s product helps one adapt to one’s environment just as well as the alligators and frogs adapt to theirs.

Image 2: “Cas-car-ria Is Worth Its Weight in Gold”
Product: Cas-car-ria
Produced ca. 1875–1895
From the William H. Helfand Collection of
Pharmaceutical Trade Cards at The New York Academy of Medicine
Chromolithograph, 5.8 x 7.8 cm

On the other hand, Cas-car-ria’s trade card (Image 2) depicts a young girl holding a switch and a dog together, fending off miniature demons labeled with ailments. Cas-car-ria’s ad evokes notions of animal protection and self-protection, implying that when patients take Cas-car-ria, they harness the animal within, unleashing the strength required to fight off external demons.

The explosion of ads promoting proprietary medicines and their incessant hyperbole and mistruths eventually provoked strong public reactions that demanded transparency and regulation. There were always calls to rein in the quackery, but the inundation of promotion drove the regulation of patent medicine to become a public priority.

Image 3: “What is in your medicine cabinet?”
Ladies’ Home Journal, February 1924, p. 144
Manufacturer: E. R. Squibb and Sons
From Ohio State University

Examining Ladies’ Home Journal during the 1920s illustrates these changes in advertising.  At this point, advertisements offered a different portrayal of scientific medicine and appealed to a more docile public regarding medical professionals. A Squibb pharmaceutical ad depicts a well-organized medicine cabinet (Image 3). The caption asks, “What is in your medicine cabinet? Are they products your physician would approve?” This approval seeking from medical authority plays into the new values of placing faith in the trained judgment of scientific and medical authority. 

Image 4: “Zonite: the World War Antiseptic”
Ladies’ Home Journal, March 1924, p. 192
Manufacturer: Zonite
From Ohio State University

Ads for Zonite (Image 4) ran images of scientists wearing lab coats and examining test tubes, drawing a scientific aura into its products. Zonite also associated its product with scientific discoveries, like the Carrel-Dakin fluid (i.e., diluted bleach), a critical antiseptic used in World War I.

Image 5: “Why the familiar cake of Yeast Foam is now eaten as well as used in bread”
Ladies’ Home Journal, May 1921, p. 49
Manufacturer: Northwestern Yeast Co. (Chicago, IL)
From the University of Michigan

The ad for “Yeast Foam” (Image 5) also appeals to scientific and medical authority, depicting a man wearing a medical coat and peering into a microscope. In the foreground are two circular illustrations of microscopic specimens—one containing germs and the other germ-free. The ad portrays a professional man immersed in scientific work, suggesting that the product has been carefully vetted through scientific scrutiny for quality assurance.

Similarly, the Fleischmann advertisement (Image 6) depicts two men in lab coats working at a table equipped with flasks, a beaker, a microscope, and other scientific instruments. The caption below the image states, “Messages of startling importance from the laboratory of the scientist.” Text within the ad notes how Fleischmann’s Yeast cures various diseases. In the case of skin diseases, the ad relies on a general sense of medical authority: “Many physicians and hospitals are prescribing Fleischmann’s Yeast for impurities of the skin. It has yielded remarkable results.”

Image 6: “Ten or fifteen years of life”
Ladies’ Home Journal, September 1921, p. 45
Manufacturer: The Fleischmann Company (New York, NY)
From the University of Michigan

The values of corporate ad agencies following the patent medicine era are not only a reaction to muckraking journalism and reform movements. The use of scientific medical imagery conveying authority and professional judgment was also largely about revamping the medical credibility of US drug companies and corporate ad agencies; they benefited handsomely during the patent medicine era but later needed to diminish their connections to these fraudulent products. Ad agencies traced the American public’s anxieties and aspirations as they shifted from loose whimsy about panaceas in the late nineteenth century to a reverence for qualified scientific and medical experts and institutions at the beginning of the twentieth century. By tracing this transition in medical imagery, we can glean how drug companies and ad agencies shaped products to elevate their professional clout.

Library Research Fellowships for 2023

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian, Library Fellowship Coordinator

The NYAM Library has just awarded its 2023 residential research fellowships. The Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health goes to Sean Purcell, Indiana University, for his project “Imaging Consumption: Seeing ‘The White Plague’ in American Medicine”; and the Paul Klemperer Fellowship in the History of Medicine to Anastasiia Zaplatina, Bielefeld University, for her project “The American Soviet Medical Society (1943–1947): Academic Exchanges between Allies and Their Cold War Legacy.” Congratulations to both recipients!

2023 Helfand Fellow Sean Purcell

Sean Purcell plans to dig deeply into the Library collections to find visual materials related to early twentieth-century tuberculosis research for an upcoming video art installation. He is especially interested in questions of how and why visual materials such as microscope slides, photographs, illustrations, and specimens were used in medical research, and who the subjects were.

2023 Klemperer Fellow Anastasiia Zaplatina

Anastasiia Zaplatina will be looking at archival and published materials related to the American-Soviet Medical Society, and at the Joseph Wortis Soviet Medicine and Psychiatry Papers as part of investigating the impact of this short period of collaboration between individuals in both countries, and specifically whether collaboration ultimately laid the groundwork for increased competition.

We invite all interested researchers regardless of academic affiliation to apply for one of the Library’s research fellowships. Our 2024 fellowship application process will open early in the summer of 2023, with an application deadline at the end of August and a decision in October, for a month’s residence at the Library during the following calendar year. Each fellowship provides $5,000 in support. At the conclusion of their time at the Library, each Fellow gives a presentation and writes a blog post on their work. For background on how these Fellowships arose, see The Faces Behind Our Fellowships; and for more information about the focuses of the awards, including a list of previous awardees and their projects, take a look at the Library Fellowships pages.

Then & Now: The Past and Future of Medical Libraries

By Paul Theerman, Arlene Shaner, Bert Hansen, and Melissa Grafe

On Tuesday, October 18, three esteemed librarians and historians will gather—virtually—to discuss the history and prospect of medical libraries. The event features the Library’s own Historical Collections Librarian, Arlene Shaner, speaking on the development of our collections; historian of medicine Dr. Bert Hansen, on how libraries helped shape the development of medicine through history; and Dr. Melissa Grafe, head of the Medical Historical Library at Yale School of Medicine, on the future of historical collections such as the Academy Library’s. If you are interested in attending, please register here. To learn about what these speakers will present, keep reading!

Étienne-Louis Boullée’s grand 1785 design for a French National Library.[1]

Arlene Shaner, “‘A Rich Storehouse’: The NYAM Library’s Extraordinary Collections”

Arlene Shaner, our first panelist, will talk about the evolution of the NYAM Library and its collections, starting with Isaac Wood’s gift of his set of Martyn Paine’s Commentaries to the brand-new organization on January 13, 1847. What he and the early Academy Fellows had in mind was a working collection of books and journals that they would create for their own use. Because the Academy had no home of its own, and very little money, the collections grew at a very modest pace for the first few decades.

The purchase of a building in 1875 provided space for the collections to grow. The generosity of Dr. Samuel Smith Purple, who donated over 2000 journal volumes of his own after the Academy moved into its West 31st Street brownstone (at left), coupled with the 1878 decision of the Fellows to open the Library to all who wished to use it, dramatically changed the Library’s trajectory.

The Academy Library at 17 West 43rd Street

It opened the door to what Librarian Janet Doe later referred to as “a snowball of gifts which has rolled down through the years, gathering momentum and throwing off new snowballs that roll into other libraries.”

Shaner will offer a brief overview of some of the major gifts that helped the library become one of the most important history of medicine collections in the country, if not the world, and also tell the much less well known story of how the Library contributed to the growth of many other collections. She will also look briefly at how changes in the way information is disseminated have transformed, and continue to transform, the NYAM Library.

The former Main Reading Room in the  Academy’s current building.
The Rare Book and History Room in the 1930s, now the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room.

Bert Hansen, “The Academy Library’s Contributions to American Medicine.”

Our second panelist, historian Bert Hansen, notes that his earliest memories picture libraries as storehouses of precious treasure, an image reinforced by an architecture that made them look like giant-sized strongboxes or jewelry boxes. Built of large stone blocks and fortified like a castle, libraries he fondly recalls include the main public libraries in Chicago, Newark, and New York City, plus Butler Library at Columbia and the Morgan Library from his college years (as seen below, with NYAM the sixth). The decorated, jewelry-box style often continues inside with marbled lobbies and wood-paneled reading rooms.

But for this presentation, Hansen has gone in a new direction, focusing his attention on the kinds of contribution that libraries like that of NYAM have made to education and the world of learning in serving people who would never enter the building to examine the treasured volumes. In the recent past, virtual use through digitization has become common and will surely expand in the future. But his look at the prior century and a half will highlight other, sometimes-forgotten modes of service as examples of NYAM’s—and other research libraries’—many contributions to American medicine.

Melissa Grafe, “Preservation, Access, and the Future”

Our final panelist, librarian and historian Melissa Grafe, glimpses into the future of medical libraries and the role of physical collections in an increasingly online world. Grafe looks at the ways that technology has become deeply integrated in both medicine and in the libraries that support the medical community. Grafe will connect these modern currents to the rich trove of materials that NYAM assembled over 175 years, and the larger history that has made NYAM’s library one of the major collections connecting medical history to the present.


References

[1]Nancy Spiegel, the University of Chicago Library’s bibliographer for art and cinema, writes:

In the late 18th century, a new vision of the library arose within the context of expanding literacy, and the increased publication of books and journals for the general reading public. Enlightenment architect Étienne-Louis Boullée (1728–1799) envisioned a grand design in his proposal for a French National Library in 1785. In Boullée’s presentation, the state would take responsibility for the collection, ordering, and dissemination of all available information to its citizens.

The design for the main reading room featured a vast, barrel-vaulted ceiling and a modern shelving arrangement: stacked galleries of books over flat wall-cases. These seemingly endless bookcases were open and easily browsable, in dramatic contrast to the earlier medieval system of chaining that bound both books, and readers, to a specific location. Visitors are free to wander about and converse in small groups, but there is no provision of study desks or chairs for extensive research in this idealized environment.

Nancy Spiegel, “The Enlightenment and grand library design,” The University of Chicago Library News, April 26, 2011: https://www.lib.uchicago.edu/about/news/the-enlightenment-and-grand-library-design/, accessed October 7, 2022. The image is from Étienne-Louis Boullée, Mémoire sur les moyens de procurer à la bibliothèque du Roi les avantages que ce monument exige, 1785.

Library Luminaries: Frank Place

This post is the third in a four-part series showcasing notable figures in the history of the Academy Library, as we celebrate our 175th anniversary. The first post focused on Dr. Samuel Smith Purple, and the second post featured Dr. Archibald Malloch.

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

After Frank Place (1880–1959) passed away in September 1959, The Academy Bookman, a publication of the Library’s Friends of the Rare Book Room, published an unsigned tribute to him and his 40 years of devoted service to the Academy Library. “Frank Place to many Fellows of the Academy was the Academy Library,” it notes. “Some have said that they often stopped in the Library first to see Frank Place, and then to use the resources of the Library.” Even now, more than 75 years after he retired, we regularly use some of the guides that Place originated to answer questions about the collections.

Place grew up in Cortland, New York, and made his way to New York City to earn a degree at the Pratt Institute Library School, from which he graduated in 1902. Three years later he joined the Library staff at the invitation of Librarian John Brownne, taking on the afternoon and evening shifts (the Library stayed open until 10:30 pm at that time), when all of the readers were Fellows or Members. Place was a keen observer and an enthusiastic amateur photographer, and we have him to thank for much of what we know about how the Library looked and functioned while the Academy was still in its building on West 43rd Street and during the first two decades after we moved into our present building in 1926.

Frank Place at his desk in the West 43rd Street building in 1926, several months before the Academy moved to its current home.
At right, Frank Place consulting with a reader in the reference lobby of the current building some years later.

When Place took up his position, the Library contained about 35,000 volumes, thousands of pamphlets, domestic and foreign periodicals, and a steadily increasing number of Paris medical theses. A collection of what he called “old authors” or “classics,” or what we now refer to as rare books, was shelved in the C. (or Classics) case, and a small group of incunabula were housed in a specially purchased metal exhibition case. The Library’s subject card catalog was very new, having been started in 1901, and until 1917, when he received a typewriter, Place hand wrote the main entry cards for the author/title part of the card catalog himself.

Two of the most used guides to the Library’s collection are the Portrait Catalog of the New York Academy of Medicine Library and the Illustration Catalog. At a talk delivered to an audience of medical librarians, Place explains the portrait catalog’s origins:

“Away back in 1908 I discovered a small batch of portraits of former members of the Academy, steel engravings that nobody seemed to know anything about. It occurred to me that a file of portraits with an index of them in our catalogue was indicated. Why not add to the index such portraits as we came across in books and periodicals, was the next thought?”

By the time he made his remarks, Place estimated that the portrait catalog had grown to include over 8,000 printed or framed images and about 100,000 entries for images in published works, documenting at least 50,000 individuals, and it continued to grow for decades after his retirement. The success of the portrait catalog inspired Place to start the illustration catalog as well, and in the 1960s both the portrait catalog and the illustration appeared as published volumes, purchased by libraries around the country.

In that same talk, Place encouraged librarians to document their own institutions by taking pictures of spaces and staff and labeling them with names and dates. A box of his photographs, taken between 1925 and 1941, does just that.

The box contains snapshots of the West 43rd Street building, as well as of our current building and some of the staff. The photographs document the construction of the 1932 addition that added the rare book room and other spaces, as well as the construction of the Museum of the City of New York and the transformation of the conservatories in Central Park to the more familiar Conservatory Gardens just across the street.

Back in 2015, the Library staff used those early photographs as inspiration and recreated some of them, matching the locations of the new images as closely as possible to their earlier counterparts.

It is worth mentioning two of Place’s other notable achievements, one directly related to the Library and the other a bit less so. Place took great pleasure in collecting and trading bookplates with individuals and other libraries. He organized his bookplates alphabetically in three small two-ring binders, mounting each individual bookplate on recycled pamphlet covers. All three volumes can still be found on the shelves in the rare book room. A few years ago, our conservators, worried about the damage caused by acidic paper backing and the unstable structures, remounted all the bookplates and modernized the original binders. The results of their efforts can be seen here. He also spent many hours outdoors, and co-authored the New York Walk Book with Raymond H. Torrey and the physician and illustrator Robert Latou Dickinson, who spent years collaborating with the sculptor Abram Belskie in a Library office. When Place retired in 1945, his Library colleagues presented him with this charming caricature done by Belskie, showing the man in his element, leafing through one of his volumes of bookplates, with a bookworm peering over his shoulder.


Gallery

The greenhouses in Central Park across the street from NYAM in 1927.
The newly constructed Museum of the City of New York in the summer of 1931, with the Academy to the right.
The Conservatory Gardens taking shape in the spring of 1937, after the greenhouses were removed.

References

“Frank Place 1880—1959.” Academy Bookman 12:2 (1959), pp. 3–4.

Place, Frank. “Records off the Record.” Bulletin of the Medical Library Association 32.2 (1944): 214–16.

Place, Frank. “Reminiscences of the Library.” Academy Bookman 12:2 (1959), pp. 4–6.

A Network of Eugenic Maternalism: Finding the New York Babies’ Welfare Association at the New York Academy of Medicine Library

By Jamie Marsella, Department of the History of Science, Harvard University, and the Library’s 2022 Paul Klemperer Fellow

Ms. Marsella completed her Fellowship residency in summer 2022 and will present her research by Zoom on September 7 at 4:00 pm (EDT). To attend her talk, “‘Where Once There Was Only Friction’: Religion, Eugenic Maternalism, and the Babies’ Welfare Association, 1908–1920,” register through the Academy’s Events page.

I’ll start this blog post with a confession: before sitting down in the NYAM Rare Book Room, I was worried there might not be enough materials to keep me busy for a full month. How profoundly wrong I was!

I arrived at NYAM to conduct research for my dissertation—an exploration of the New York Babies’ Welfare Association (1912–1920). The BWA was an organization that aimed to standardize maternal and pediatric public health programs while remaining a loose federation of public health and child welfare organizations, including private philanthropic and religious groups.

The Babies’ Welfare Association was created by the New York City Bureau of Child Hygiene in 1912. Neither organization has a stand-alone archival collection, nor do most of the 120+ individual organizations within the BWA. Before arriving, I could not have known that the NYAM Library would hold more relevant materials than I could ever have imagined.

The BWA was abundantly represented within the NYAM collections. This makes sense since, for the first two decades of the twentieth century, the BWA was a well-known, highly publicized organization in New York City. The Chief of the Bureau and President of the BWA, Dr. Sara Josephine Baker (1873–1945),[1] was a household name not only in New York, but throughout the country, with movie reels produced by Fox Studios, a monthly Good Housekeeping column, multiple books on child health and parenting, a regular radio broadcast, and constant coverage in the local and national press.

An informative organizational chart created by the BWA from Report of the Babies’ Welfare Association, 1912–1915.

Unlike negative eugenic programs (i.e., sterilization, anti-miscegenation laws) that came to dominate later in the century, early twentieth-century reformers understood eugenic reform as a combination of heredity and environmental conditions. In this framework, improved sanitation, nutrition, and hygiene could improve individuals and enable them to pass on these improvements to their future offspring. The BWA emphasized these changes in the environment, promoting them as eugenic maternalism. In other words, the BWA understood mothers as the family’s first line of defense against disease and, therefore, an essential part in preventing “racial degeneration.” The BWA, therefore, targeted immigrant neighborhoods with the explicit desire to “improve” white-ethnic communities and prevent future supposedly dysgenic generations.

I came to NYAM hoping to better understand why Catholic and Jewish organizations might be interested in participating in this eugenic standardization project and how their participation may have shaped how the BWA understood and operationalized eugenics. I also hoped to clarify the role that Black reformers and patients played within the BWA. Based on what I had gleaned from digitized sources, the BWA’s work with Black philanthropic groups was inconsistent, and their relationships were unclear.

Sisters of Charity and their young charges at the New York Foundling Asylum.
Image Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society.

The materials I’ve reviewed at NYAM paint a complicated and nuanced picture. Some religious organizations, like the New York Foundling Asylum and other benevolent institutions run by women religious, understood their own religious missions as Catholics in a way that blended nicely with the assimilationist goals of eugenic maternalism.

Young girls from the Hebrew Orphan Asylum practicing patriotism at a camp excursion.
Hebrew Orphan Asylum. Report of the Ninety Ninth Annual Meeting and the Ceremonies Commemorating the Centennial Anniversary of the founding of the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, 1822–1922. 1922; New York Academy of Medicine Library.

Similarly, Jewish organizations like the United Hebrew Charities or the Brooklyn Federation of Jewish Charities understood their work as both a religious mission and an assimilating force. Such groups were eager to associate their religious and cultural practices with Americanism, especially in the face of rising antisemitism.

Most BWA members held a capacious view of their work beyond childcare, health and hygiene, or charitable aid. As I continued to work through the Library’s documents, it became clear that members of the BWA were pursuing something far broader than public health or bodily hygiene. These programs were about “right living”—teaching women and children how to conduct themselves in public and private, how to understand one’s role as a (future) citizen, or how to raise and nurture the future citizens in their care.

The graduating class of nurses trained at the Lincoln Hospital, 1905.
Lincoln Hospital and Home. Sixty-Fifth Annual Report, 1904–1905. 1905;
New York Academy of Medicine Library.

Within these different organizational records, there were also small glimpses of public health work specifically targeting the Black community. While the connections between the BWA and Black New Yorkers remained muddled, my time at NYAM has helped me understand this reflects the nature of the work, which was sporadic at best and exploitative at worst. The Lincoln Hospital and Home (a BWA member) is one exception to this general rule. The hospital trained Black nurses, many of whom then worked in the hospital treating both Black and white patients or worked with the Henry Street Settlement House (another member) in their Visiting Nursing Service.

Ultimately, my time at NYAM was invaluable. The materials there allowed me to better understand how the members of the BWA negotiated amongst themselves to create a standardized eugenic program that could encompass different ethnicities and religions.  


References

[1] For more information on S. Josephine Baker, see “Highlighting NYAM Women in Medical History: Sara Josephine Baker, MD, DrPh” on the NYAM blog “Books, Health, and History.”