The New York Academy of Medicine at 175

By Paul Theerman, Director

The 1830s and ’40s were years of ferment in the United States. Politically, a sea change began in 1828 with the election of Andrew Jackson to the presidency and a break with the political elites of the Eastern seaboard. Socially, the years were ones of great transformation, as new immigrants promised to alter the country’s makeup. The decades saw huge technological innovations as well, with the spread of railroads making new regional and national connections, and the newly invented telegraph shrinking information gaps. Science took on a new cultural value across the western world, manifested in the United States with the founding of the Smithsonian Institution in 1846 as a scientific research institute, followed two years later by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The Constitution and By-Laws of the
New York Academy of Medicine,
adopted January 6, 1847

The founding of the New York Academy of Medicine was part of this ferment. A group of prominent physicians in the city met informally on December 12, 1846, to see if there were interest in creating a new organization dedicated to promoting “orthodox” medicine. On January 6, 1847, the group met again to adopt a Constitution and By-Laws, to which 132 physicians affixed their signatures. At the group’s next meeting, a week later, the donation of Martyn Paine’s Medical and physiological commentaries (1840) began the Academy Library. That venture was one of the avowed purposes of the Academy: It was organized to separate “regular” from “irregular” medical practitioners such as homeopaths and other unorthodox physicians, and to provide for intellectual growth and sociability.

The new “Rare Book and History Room” in the 1930s

The Academy stood apart from the different medical societies that had arisen in New York City. Briefly, the New York County Medical Society and other county and state societies chiefly, though not exclusively, were concerned with credentialing and the business of medicine. These concerns were not absent from the Academy, or from others like the Philadelphia College of Physicians (1787), and the Richmond Academy of Medicine (1820). But the academies were more about mutual regard, professional development, and, in the tradition of the grand academies of Europe and our own National Academy of Sciences (1863), advising government on technical matters. This NYAM did throughout its history: helping to establish the city’s Metropolitan Board of Health in 1866, assisting in the creation of a chief medical examiner’s office in 1915, advising on city sanitation in the 1920s and ’30s and on maternal mortality in 1933, and providing expert opinion about marijuana as a “gateway drug” in 1944.

A teacher is observed demonstrating proper toothbrushing techniques to a group of kindergarten children

By the end of the 20th century, the Academy had moved beyond advising government to jump-starting its own programs for healthy aging, schoolchildren’s health, and healthy cities overall, and promoting urban health studies around HIV/AIDS and 9/11. By the early 21st century, working toward health equity became the goal, with a multitude of paths forward. Most recently the Academy has added its efforts to combatting the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mary Ann Payne, MD, NYAM’s First Woman President, 1987-1988

Throughout 2022 the Academy is celebrating its 175th anniversary. Today we launch a new online timeline of Academy milestones, exploring these and other high points of our history. A new series of programs, “Then and Now,” will look at signature areas of Academy work in current and historical context. We are planning a Celebration of the Library open house for the fall. Throughout the year we will be mounting blog posts on highlights and figures in Academy and Library history. We invite you to read, visit, and participate . . . so stay tuned here and on the website for more to come.

The Long Haul of Disability Advocacy

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager

The United Nations has observed December 3 as International Day of Persons with Disabilities since 1992. The 30th annual observance of this day comes at a time when disability has gained renewed salience in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. A subset of the approximately 50 million Americans infected with COVID-19 experience what some call “long COVID,” which the United States Department of Health and Human Services defines as having the following symptoms, among others: 

  • Tiredness or fatigue 
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing 
  • Headache 
  • Difficulty thinking or concentrating (sometimes known as “brain fog”) 
  • Chest pain 

In guidance issued in the summer of 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Civil Rights defined long COVID as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504), and the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Section 1557). Though firm numbers have yet to be produced, medical specialists believe that between 750,000 and 1.3 million Americans languish under the debilitating effects of long COVID such that they are unable to return to the workforce full-time. This phenomenon has prompted disability activists like Fiona Lowenstein, Hannah Davis, and Imani Barbarin to describe the COVID-19 pandemic as “one of the largest mass disabling events in modern history.”  

The emergence of long COVID as a significant and potentially long-enduring affliction for millions around the world has further fueled questions about comprehensive tracking of long COVID cases;, the capacity of hospitals, disability benefits administrations, and workplaces to meet the needs of long COVID patients; and how to successfully move into a post-pandemic phase. Long COVID has also spurred on the efforts of disability activists to bring attention to the obstacles long COVID patients will face going forward as they seek to participate in the workforce, receive accommodations in educational institutions, and secure proper care within medical systems that sometimes write off the symptoms of long COVID sufferers as “psychological.” 

COVID-19 and its potential to create a generation of people with disabilities carries echoes of the long-term impact of the polio epidemic. Like its COVID counterpart, post-polio syndrome (PPS) was not well understood and drew little interest from the medical and scientific communities for much of the late 19th and 20th centuries. After the rollout of the polio vaccine in the 1950s, polio largely disappeared from the industrialized world with the neurological effects of PPS not appearing in many polio survivors until the 1970s and 1980s. Best estimates of the number of polio survivors with PPS were thought to fall between 81,000 and 184,000 in 2006. Although the polio epidemics that raged throughout the 20th century led to summer camps for children with polio such as Camp Sea Haven on Plum Island in Massachusetts and rehabilitation centers, similar support and advocacy had not materialized for PPS patients whose symptoms were met with skepticism within the medical community.

PPS eventually did come to receive some legitimacy and attention from scientists and medical professionals culminating in the 1994 gathering of the leading polio researchers in the world organized by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the New York Academy of Sciences. However, recognition of the condition‘s importance may have come too late to generate an increase in new lines of research. As disability historians like Lennard J. Davis of the University of Illinois at Chicago point out, grassroots advocacy must often be joined with intensive lobbying and political will before disabled populations see the changes they need.  

For those suffering with long COVID, their advocacy early on in the COVID-19 pandemic offers signs of hope for action within medical circles to produce research and resources for post-COVID recovery and treatment. Advocacy groups like LongCOVIDSOS document their symptoms online and organize meetings with officials from the World Health Organization (WHO) in a sign that the world’s leading public health bodies are paying attention to the impact of long COVID across the globe. And in February 2021, NIH announced Congress’s allocation of $1.15 billion for a long COVID research initiative.  The impact of chronic illness and disability on potentially millions of people worldwide will be an important area of focus for the medical community, governments, and activists well beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. 
 

Botany and Agriculture in the Natural History of New York

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

Among the many books about natural history in the Library’s collections are 22 volumes of the Natural History of New York. In a blog post from 2017, NYAM archivist Rebecca Pou took a close look at one volume from the set, the Birds of New York. In her blog post you can read about the history and scope of this ambitious project to document the natural and geological history of the state of New York, the first published volumes of which appeared in 1842; learn more about the production of Part I, the volumes devoted to zoology; and see some of the hand-colored lithographs of birds, made from drawings by artist J. W. Hill. This current post takes a deeper look at the two botanical volumes and the two volumes from Part V, Agriculture, that document the many fruits grown in the state.

After all but one of the zoology series had appeared, Part II of the survey was published in 1843: two volumes about the flora of the state of New York, with 161 plates. John Torrey (1796–1873) authored these two books. Torrey first developed an interest in botany as a teenager, when his father became the fiscal agent for Newgate Prison in Greenwich Village. Torrey befriended the incarcerated Amos Eaton (1776–1842), who later became a notable natural historian and educator but was then serving time in the prison for illegal land speculation. It was Eaton who introduced him to the study of botany. By 1815, Torrey was pursuing a medical degree at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, from which he graduated in 1818. He briefly practiced medicine before shifting his interests to natural history, teaching chemistry, minerology, and botany at several institutions, including the College of Physicians and Surgeons, the College of New Jersey (now Princeton), and Columbia. He became a founding member of the Lyceum of Natural History in 1817, before he had even graduated from medical school, and devoted much of his leisure time to botanical study.

John Torrey (1796–1873),
from the NYAM collections

By the time he began work compiling the Flora of the State of New-York in the 1830s, Torrey had published several other botanical volumes, collaborating with many of the noted botanists of his day. In the preface to the first volume, Torrey celebrates the botanical diversity of the state, claiming that “our Flora embraces nearly as many species as the whole of New-England.” He divided the state into four regions: the Atlantic; the Hudson Valley; the Western Region; and the Northern Region. About 1,450 species of flowering plants are represented in the two volumes, along with about 250 woody plants, and more than 150 non-native plants introduced mainly from Europe. Torrey admits that there are many others that he had no time to describe, including ferns and fungi. About 150 of the plants described in the Flora were used for medicinal purposes (preface, p. vii).

Torrey acknowledges the generosity of many botanist friends who contributed specimens and descriptions from around the state. And he notes that the publication was slowed because it took over two and a half years to find satisfactory illustrators. His original plan also called for many more illustrations than it was ultimately realistic to include. The primary creators of the drawings were two female artists, Agnes Mitchell and Elizabeth Pooley, with some additional drawings by Frederick J. Swinton. Torrey originally hoped the illustrations could be reproduced using engraving, but as happened with the zoology volumes in Part I, the expense proved to be too great (preface, p. ix), and lithography was used instead. George Endicott, the lithographer for the zoology volumes, worked on these two volumes as well. While Endicott’s name appears on every plate, no artists’ names do. All the plates are beautifully hand-colored, but the colorist is similarly uncredited.

American Globe Flower
Giant St. John’s Wort

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Black Snakeroot
Green flowered Milkweed

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Part V of the Natural History of New York, published between 1846 and 1854, describes the geology of the state, including its soil, rocks, and waters. Food crops like vegetables and grains or cereals appear in this part’s second volume, which analyzes the soil around the state, and volumes III and IV of this series, from 1851, are completely devoted to fruit production, with the descriptive text in volume III and a companion atlas of 95 hand-colored illustrations forming volume IV. The final volume of the series is a survey of insects, mainly those that cause the most damage to crops.

Ebenezer Emmons (1799–1863) took on the task of assembling these volumes. From childhood Emmons had been fascinated by geology, minerology, and natural history. He went to Williams College, where, like Torrey, he was influenced by Amos Eaton, who by then was on the faculty. He continued his education at the Rensselaer School, where he earned a graduate degree in geology in 1826. He also pursued a medical degree from the Berkshire Medical College in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. He taught chemistry, geology, and mineralogy at several colleges, including Williams, and maintained an active medical practice on the side.

Ebenezer Emmons (1799–1863), frontispiece image from Appleton’s Popular Science Monthly 48:21 (January 1896)

Emmons was hired to work on the natural history survey because of his geological knowledge, but he was responsible for the practical texts about cultivation as well, and he acknowledged the rapid pace of change in agricultural science. He worried that his attempts to create a better system of classification for fruit had already been surpassed by those with more expertise, and that the illustrations did not represent the fruit as well as he had hoped. Some are engravings, while others are lithographs, and Emmons made all the original drawings himself.

The Maiden’s Blush, in an engraved image
Several varieties of apples, including Bastard Seek No Further, Lafayette Red, and Prince’s Russet, reproduced by lithography

When comparing the engraved images with the lithographs, one can readily see why the authors of the natural history volumes wanted all the reproductions to be engravings, as they convey a richness of detail and subtlety that lithography just cannot match, although the lithographs are beautiful as well.

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An engraved image of the Beurre D’Amalise pear
Lithographed images of the Frederic de Wurtemburg and Easter Beurre pear varieties

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The zoological, botanical, and agricultural volumes from the Natural History of New York are the featured in a Library virtual visit. There you can see many more images, learn more about the New York State natural history survey, and discover how the NYAM Library came to own its copies of these marvelous volumes.

Updating the Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection

By Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

In May 2021, the Library rolled out an update to the Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection, one of the digital collections on our Digital Collections & Exhibits website. The upcoming Open House New York Weekend, October 16–17, seems like an apt time to share the updated collection with readers, as the digitized postcards provide a wonderful visual history of New York City hospitals and their architecture.

The Collection

Since 2015 Dr. Robert Matz has been graciously donating postcards of hospitals from his personal collection to the Library; he’s given about 3,000 postcards to date. The bulk of the collection shows hospitals in New York City, with smaller sub-collections of hospitals across the state and country. The collection provides a rich visual history of hospital buildings across decades, both exterior views as well as glimpses of patient wards and chapels, doctors and nurses, and even a children’s schoolroom. The collection also provides a look at postcard printing trends. Many of these buildings no longer exist, but seeing these postcards gives us invaluable visual information about them. In addition, the personal messages on the postcards provide readers with fascinating slices of everyday life.

2019 Pilot Project

In 2019 we began a pilot digitization project, scanning 119 postcards of New York City hospitals and uploading them to our website, arranged by borough. A blog post on February 21, 2020, by Robin Naughton, former head of digital, explained the pilot project and digitization process and launched the online collection. We were excited to give the public online access to these fascinating materials.

Time for an Update

In mid-2020, the Library team decided that a full update of the postcard project was needed to create more accurate metadata (data about data). We had taken the original information for the digitized postcards from an Excel spreadsheet created by volunteers; however, the postcard metadata needed standardization of terms and vocabulary and a consistent overall structure. Therefore, we undertook a general review and update.

Metadata Creation

As the cataloger, I created a set of metadata standards that aligned with best practices in the field. Each postcard would have the Library of Congress subject headings Hospitals and Hospital buildings as well as a standardized location heading, for example, Hospitals — New York (State) — Kings County. In a new spreadsheet I added standardized subject headings depending on what was visible in the postcard or read in the message. If there were trees in the postcard, I added Trees. All these subject headings are searchable so that a viewer can click on the word Trees in one postcard’s subject headings and generate a list of all postcards with Trees as a subject heading or even as a word in the description.

I rewrote the description of each postcard, transcribed the postcard messages, deleted unhelpful keywords, checked the dates of each postcard’s manufacture, checked the official hospital names, and checked the names of the printers and publishers. I was assisted by our summer intern, college student Liani Astacio, who transcribed postcard messages and addresses and checked hospital names, locations, and Library of Congress subjects. She also rewrote some of the postcard descriptions.

Research Sources

Metropostcard.com was an invaluable site for dating the postcards by their design features. The introduction of the divided-back postcard in the U.S. in 1907 was a major event in postcard history, and this fact alone helped me assign a date range to many of the postcards. For further help in dating, I looked up stamp prices using the USPS website and a Wikipedia page about postage rates. The home pages of many hospitals were also helpful in giving me a building chronology, as were various New York City architecture blogs.

Technical Process

Updating each postcard individually would have been time-consuming so we created an automated process to batch update the postcards’ metadata. Andrea Byrne, the Library’s former digital technical specialist, saved the Excel metadata spreadsheet as a CSV file and then created individual MODS (Metadata Object Description Schema) XML files (3 for each postcard) that could be uploaded into Islandora, our digital asset management system. Her tools were the XML editing program Oxygen, and a script that she worked out with our Islandora vendor, discoverygarden inc. After the new MODS files replaced the existing MODS files online, I read each field of each postcard against the data in the Excel spreadsheet to check for accuracy, and Andrea made any necessary corrections. The update was complete!

The Updated Collection

The updated Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection went live in early May. We’re proud of our work, feeling that we’ve captured the unique elements of these images of hospital buildings and city street life. The engaging, information-rich postcards on our digital website are just a small part of the collection. Our hope is to digitize and create metadata for all the postcards in the Matz collection. Then viewers will be able to see thousands more postcards and delve further into hospital and postcard history.

Highlights from the Collection

A view of Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center in the Bronx highlights its entrance gate and driveway, with a group of people in the main doorway.

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St. Catherine’s Hospital, Brooklyn (1901–1908)

The ivy-covered walls of St. Catherine’s Hospital in Brooklyn are a dramatic backdrop to this glimpse of Brooklyn street life.

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General Memorial Hospital, Manhattan (1907–1909)

This Gothic Revival building at 106th Street and Central Park West housed New York City’s first cancer hospital and went through a number of iterations before falling into disrepair in the 1970s. The building was converted to luxury condominiums in the early 2000s.

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River Crest Sanitarium, Queens (1901–1907)

This postcard for River Crest Sanitarium functions as an advertisement of available services, assuring its patients of a “home-like” atmosphere on its campus on Astoria.

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Smith’s Infirmary Hospital, Staten Island (1890–1917)

Smith’s Infirmary Hospital was Staten Island’s first private non-profit hospital. The castle-like building was demolished in 2012, after years of neglect. Interestingly, the postcard is addressed to Miss Christine Geisel of Springfield, Massachusetts, the paternal aunt of famed children’s book author Dr. Seuss.

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Sometimes a hospital doesn’t need to be a building! Here is the Floating Hospital, likely in the East River, with passengers aboard. The Floating Hospital wasn’t a true hospital, but rather a recreational service for children and their families; it provided onboard medical exams for children and child-care instruction for their mothers as they enjoyed summer boat outings. The organization later opened a hospital building, the Seaside Hospital on Staten Island.

Health and Heresy

By Paul Theerman, Director

Because medicine deals with the human body, emotions can run high. When the issue is contraception, emotions run even higher. As part of Banned Books Week, consider two early U.S. works on birth control that shaped a congressional career, led to imprisonment at hard labor, and resulted in a conviction for blasphemy.

The first author is Robert Dale Owen (1801–1877). Son of Robert Owen, the British textile manufacturer and socialist reformer, Owen emigrated to the United States in 1825 to the utopian community that his father had founded that year in New Harmony, Indiana. There, with feminist and socialist Frances Wright (1795–1852), he published the newspaper New-Harmony Gazette, an outlet that expressed their then-radical views on women’s rights, slavery, public education, marriage, and birth control. After he and Wright relocated to New York City, they published Owen’s Moral Physiology; or, a Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question (1830), one of the first books on birth control in the United States. The book was a response to the ideas of English economist Thomas Malthus (1766–1834), who posited that, otherwise unchecked, population would always outpace food supply; Owen also saw birth control within a broader political and social context of personal freedom and equality of the sexes.

Title page of the Library’s copy of Robert Dale Owen’s Moral Physiology; or, a Brief and Plain Treatise on the Population Question, 5th edition, 1831, published through Owen’s partnership with Frances Wright.
“Alas, that it should ever have been born!” frontispiece to Owen’s Moral Physiology, showing a mother leaving a child at a foundling hospital. The engraving is by American artist and engraver Asher B. Durand, based on a work by French artist, Pierre-Roch Vigneron.
Title page from the Library’s copy of Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy; or, the Private Companion of Adult People, 4th edition, 1839. (The title varied slightly from edition to edition.)

While in New York, Owen became acquainted with Charles Knowlton (1800–1850), a western Massachusetts physician. A materialist and freethinker, Knowlton published Fruits of Philosophy; or, the Private Companion of Young Married People in 1832. Designed as an aid to the couples he attended, the book was originally published anonymously and printed in a small format so it could be readily concealed. Fruits of Philosophy was the first U.S. birth control book written by a physician and went into detail on methods and practicality.

Birth control was a contentious issue for many reasons. Besides the works’ frankness about subjects not openly discussed, contraception was opposed on moral and religious grounds. One reason was the traditional idea that sex within marriage should have procreation as its purpose. Beyond this, birth control was thought to lead to greater immorality, promoting sex outside of marriage and even prostitution, as the natural obstacle against freer sexual activity—that is, pregnancy—had been removed.

Owen’s and Knowlton’s books had consequences. Owen returned to Indiana in 1833 and became an Indiana state legislator in 1835. Twice, though, he ran for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and lost, partly on the reputation of Moral Physiology. He eventually prevailed on the strength of a Democratic electoral wave and served in the House from 1843 to 1847, helping to establish the Smithsonian Institution. His plans to remain in the House failed, though, due in part to his views on birth control, and he was defeated for re-election in 1846.

For Knowlton the consequences were far more severe. After he published Fruits of Philosophy, he was prosecuted and fined for obscenity. His booklet was then taken up by a former Unitarian minister, Abner Kneeland (1774–1844), who printed a second edition in Boston in 1832. The resulting publicity led to Knowlton’s again being convicted for obscenity and this time imprisoned for three months at hard labor. The controversy played into Kneeland’s trial for blasphemy, still a crime in Massachusetts. He was convicted in 1838 and served 60 days in jail, the last person to be imprisoned on that charge in the country. Upon his release, Kneeland moved to Iowa and set up “Salubria” (Health), a community of like-minded freethinkers.

Restricting access to contraceptive knowledge was American practice up to the mid-20th century, under the guise of anti-obscenity laws. The 1873 Federal statute known as the Comstock Law, made it illegal to use the U.S. Postal Service to distribute such information, while a 1909 act extended this ban to interstate common carriers such as railroads. Many states also had their own laws. Congress made one of the most severe laws for the District of Columbia, over which it had direct control: giving birth-control literature to another Washingtonian could result in 5 years’ imprisonment at hard labor and a $2,000 fine. Not until 1972 were all these laws overturned.

Celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month: Dr. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, FAAN

By Logan Heiman, Digital Collections Manager

September 15 marks the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which celebrates the cultures, traditions, heritage, and achievements of those in the United States who trace their roots to Spain and the Spanish-speaking countries of Latin America. At the New York Academy of Medicine, we are celebrating the accomplishments and contributions of Hispanic Americans to medicine and public health in the United States. According to survey data compiled by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis in 2018, more than 10% of registered nurses in the United States identified as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish. Contrast this with Ildaura Murillo-Rohde’s remarks about the paucity of representation in Washington, DC, for Hispanic nurses early in her career: “I saw that I was the only Hispanic nurse who was going to Washington to work with the federal government, review research and education grants, etc. There was nobody else. I looked behind me and thought: ‘Where are my people?’”

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde, PhD, RN, FAAN (1920–2010). National Association of Hispanic Nurses.

Ildaura Murillo-Rohde (1920–2010) was a Panamanian American nurse, academic, and health policy advocate who championed of the unique health care needs of Hispanic populations. Murillo-Rohde earned a nursing diploma from the Medical and Surgical Hospital School of Nursing in San Antonio, Texas, before obtaining an undergraduate degree in the teaching and supervision of psychiatric nursing from Teachers College, Columbia University, in 1953. Upon graduation, she joined Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital, working with patients diagnosed with “Puerto Rican syndrome,” the name for a condition first used to describe traumatized Puerto Rican soldiers in the Korean War. Wayne County General Hospital’s Psychiatric Division in Michigan then recruited her before she returned to New York to open Elmhurst General Hospital’s first psychiatric division in Queens. In 1971 she became the first Hispanic nurse to earn a PhD from New York University.

Throughout her career Murillo-Rohde maintained a strong commitment to growing the ranks of Hispanic nurses. Informed by her experience as a reviewer of federal research and education grants, she also sought to boost the number of policy experts advising lawmakers on the health care concerns of Hispanic communities. In the 1970s, Murillo-Rohde was an active member of the American Nurses Association (ANA), where she mounted a two-year-long effort to include the Ad Hoc Committee of the Spanish-Speaking/Spanish Surname Nurses’ Caucus in the ANA’s administrative structure. In 1975, with a group of about 15 nurses, Murillo-Rohde formed the National Association of Hispanic Nurses (NAHN) after the ANA rejected attempts to formally recognize the caucus.

Murillo-Rohde in the 1970s. Barbara Bates Center for the Study of the History of Nursing, MC 172.

Since its inception, NAHN has worked broadly to improve health care delivery and outcomes for the Hispanic community in the United States. Today, the organization sponsors an award for distinction in nursing scholarship, research, and practice, as well as a scholarship for Hispanic students enrolled in nursing programs that lead to licensure.

NAHN also publishes Hispanic Health Care International, featuring research and scholarship on issues of import to US and international Hispanic populations. Judith Aponte, a 2012 NYAM Fellow and Associate Professor of Nursing at Hunter College, is a former editor-in-chief of HHCI.

Beyond her role as founder and first president of NAHN, Murillo-Rohde was an expert on psychotherapy, marriage, and family therapy, and served in several roles in academic administration, including Dean of the College of Nursing at SUNY Downstate Medical Center. Murillo-Rohde’s influence was felt internationally as well through her appointment as WHO’s psychiatric consultant to the Guatemalan government, establishing a pilot program to train personnel in psychiatric care. She further served as Permanent UN Representative to UNICEF for the International Federation of Business and Professional Women. Murillo-Rohde passed away in her native Panama in 2010 at the age of 89.

References

1. Aponte, Judith. School of Nursing at Hunter College, City University of New York, 2021. http://www.hunter.cuny.edu/nursing/faculty/judith-aponte

2. Brush, Barbara & Villarruel, Antonia (2014). “Heeding the Past, Leading the Future.” Hispanic Health Care International. 12. DOI: 10.1891/1540-4153.12.4.159.

3. Feldman Harriet, PhD, RN, FAAN, et al. Nursing Leadership: A Concise Encyclopedia. 2nd ed., Springer Publishing Company, 2011, p. 393.

4. Ildaura Murillo-Rohde Papers, Barbara Bates Center for The Study of The History of Nursing, School of Nursing, University of Pennsylvania.

5. Portillo, Carmen. “25 and Counting.” Minority Nurse Magazine. 30 Mar. 2013. https://minoritynurse.com/25-and-counting/

6. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, National Center for Health Workforce Analysis. 2019. Brief Summary Results from the 2018 National Sample Survey of Registered Nurses, Rockville, Maryland. https://data.hrsa.gov/DataDownload/NSSRN/GeneralPUF18/nssrn-summary-report.pdf

The Faces Behind Our Fellowships

By Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian

The Library has two residential research fellowships, the Paul Klemperer Fellowship in the History of Medicine and the Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellowship in the History of Medicine and Public Health. While there is plenty of information on our website about how to apply for our fellowships, there is no information there about the people for whom they are named, and it seems appropriate to share a little bit about them.

Paul Klemperer (1887–1964) spent much of his career at Mount Sinai Hospital, where he held the position of pathologist from 1927 until his retirement in 1955. Born outside of Vienna, Klemperer first enrolled at the University of Vienna, intending to become a lawyer. At the suggestion of his father, he took a class on psychoanalysis taught by family friend Sigmund Freud and began to study medicine instead. After receiving his medical degree in 1912, he spent two years studying pathological anatomy, and then served as a physician during World War I. In 1921, he emigrated to the United States, spending a year in Chicago before moving to New York, teaching briefly at the New York Post-Graduate Medical School before joining the staff at Mount Sinai. He also taught pathology at the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University for many years, and after retirement continued to teach the Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

Paul Klemperer, M.D. (1887–1964). NYAM Library Collections.

His students and colleagues were devoted to him. In 1962, the Academy presented him with the Academy Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Biomedical Science. In his remarks George Baehr, his colleague at Mount Sinai, noted that Klemperer’s skill as a pathologist combined with his skill as a teacher made him a much-loved figure in all the institutions to which he had a connection. Neuropathologist Stanley Aronson, in a 1989 reminiscence in the Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, recalled him as “one who was shy yet effective, retiring yet generous, undemonstrative yet passionate, learned yet learning, always learning. For he was truly our teacher.”[1]

After he retired, Klemperer devoted significant time to the study of the history of medicine. He wrote the preface and introduction to the Academy’s publication of a translation of Giambattista Morgagni’s noted book on pathology, The Seats and causes of diseases investigated by anatomy, as well as translating five letters of Morgagni. He also wrote the introductions to several other volumes in the Academy’s history of medicine series. To honor his memory and his devotion to the history of medicine, some years after his death an anonymous group of donors endowed the fellowship that bears his name, first awarded in 1996.

William H. Helfand (1926–2018), a Philadelphia native, pursued a career as a pharmaceutical executive for Merck. His work dovetailed with his collecting interests in prints, posters, and such pharmaceutical ephemera as trade cards and almanacs, and he wrote extensively on their social history.[2] He and his wife, Audrey, endowed positions and fellowships at several institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Library Company of Philadelphia, and the Grolier Club. In 1998, the couple endowed the NYAM Library fellowship that bears their name, with the first fellowship awarded in the 1999–2000 academic year.

William H. Helfand (1926–2018). Image from the New York Times, October 5, 2018.

From the beginning, the Helfand fellowship supported research on the ways that visual materials enhance the study of the history of medicine, public health, and the medical humanities. Our own Library collections are far richer in these areas because Bill supplemented his endowment with gifts of materials from his own collections, Chief among these is the William H. Helfand Collection of Pharmaceutical Trade Cards, which is digitized and available here. In addition to trade cards, Bill gave the Library almanacs, broadsides, caricatures, prints, sheet music, and other medical ephemera. Our Helfand collection is one of many; others can be found at the Huntington Library, Yale University, Duke University, and the Library Company of Philadelphia.

If you are a scholar working on a history of medicine project, please consider our fellowships. Applications are being accepted until September 17, 2021, for a month’s residence at the Library. Successful applicants will be notified by October 22, and the next two fellows may work any time during the 2022 calendar year.

Lists of all the projects that have been supported through these endowments can be found on the fellowship pages for the Klemperer Fellowship and the Helfand Fellowship; application procedures are found there as well.

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[1] Baehr, George. “Citation and Presentation of the Academy Medal to Paul Klemperer, MD.” Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 38, no. 4 (1962): 240; Aronson, S. M. “The legacy of Paul Klemperer.” The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, New York 56, no. 5 (1989): 347–350.

[2]William Helfand, a Collector Intrigued by Quackery, Dies at 92,The New York Times, October 5, 2018.

Cataloging Roundup: New Library Acquisitions in the History of Medicine

by Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger

Founded in 1847 and fast approaching its 175th anniversary in 2022, the Academy Library is a vital part of NYAM. Even during the COVID-19 pandemic we are actively building our collection. As a historical library, we acquire books on a variety of topics in the history of medicine. I wanted to share a few of the titles we added in 2020, so that readers could see the breadth and depth of subjects in our collection. Cataloging these books let me see the fascinating connections among them and the insightful, probing work that is being done today in the history of medicine.

In an occurrence of timely scholarship, a few of our newly acquired titles relate to pandemics:

Epidemics and the Modern World by Mitchell L. Hammond (University of Toronto Press, 2020): This textbook uses primary sources, illustrations, and chapters on key epidemics (bubonic plague, yellow fever, smallpox, HIV/AIDS, etc.) to show how diseases have shaped the modern world.

Florence Under Siege: Surviving Plague in an Early Modern City by John Henderson (Yale University Press, 2019): Henderson’s treatment of the plague in Florence in 1630-31 provides a nuanced, detailed look at this year in the city’s history, with emphasis on the strategies that the government used to manage the crisis.

The Pandemic Century: One Hundred Years of Panic, Hysteria, and Hubris by Mark Honigsbaum (W. W. Norton, 2019): Honigsbaum looks at the 1918 influenza epidemic, AIDS, SARS, Legionnaires’ disease, Ebola, and Zika. About the spread of infectious diseases, he presciently observes that “Greater global interconnectivity driven by international travel and commerce is undoubtedly a key factor.” 

Epidemics and Society: From the Black Death to the Present by Frank M. Snowden (Yale University Press, 2019): Snowden discusses AIDS and influenza, as well as malaria, tuberculosis, smallpox, and yellow fever. Of particular interest now is his final chapter, titled “Dress Rehearsals for the Twenty-First Century: SARS and Ebola.”

The Filth Disease: Typhoid Fever and the Practices of Epidemiology in Victorian England by Jacob Steere-Williams (University of Rochester Press, 2020): Steere-Williams situates typhoid fever in English cultural context and theorizes that this disease and its treatment gave epidemiologists “a new kind of professional identity.”

Our material on the intersection of race, health, and medicine grew with the addition of these titles:

Medicalizing Blackness: Making Racial Difference in the Atlantic World, 1780-1840 by Rana A. Hogarth (University of North Carolina Press, 2017): Hogarth explores “physicians’ objectification of black people’s bodies in slave societies” in this work that covers 18th– and 19th-century Atlantic history.

Doctoring Freedom: The Politics of African American Medical Care in Slavery and Emancipation by Gretchen Long (University of North Carolina Press, 2012): An exploration of African American medical culture in the years preceding and following the Civil War. Long asserts that “African American patients and practitioners found themselves in a new medical landscape—one newly shaped both by scientific discovery and by a government that was in the process of recognizing and defining their citizenship.”

Examining Tuskegee: The Infamous Syphilis Study and Its Legacy by Susan M. Reverby (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): In this notable, meticulously researched book, Reverby analyzes the notorious 40-year Tuskegee Syphilis Study and its legacy of mistrust. She also examines the place “Tuskegee” has in our culture as “the word for racism, experimentation, and government deceit.”

Infectious Fear: Politics, Disease, and the Health Effects of Segregation, Samuel Kelton Roberts Jr. (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): Roberts looks at how the “demands and politics of tuberculosis” were managed in the early to mid-20th century, using Baltimore as a case study, while also addressing the issue of racialized medicine in a larger context of race and public health.

The Mismeasure of Minds: Debating Race and Intelligence between Brown and The Bell Curve by Michael E. Staub (University of North Carolina Press, 2018): Staub reexamines well-known psychological studies of race, IQ, and intelligence conducted between 1954 and 1994 with an eye to making clear the persistence of “the racialization of mental testing.”

A Terrible Thing to Waste: Environmental Racism and Its Assault on the American Mind by Harriet A. Washington. (Little, Brown Spark, 2019): NYAM Fellow Harriet Washington looks at lead, chemical pollution, and microbes in her probing of the Black-white IQ gap. She forcefully disputes the idea that this gap is hereditary, pointing instead to the connection between harmful environmental factors and the disproportionate exposure of minority communities to toxic living and working environments.

Another related cluster of books focuses on fertility, pregnancy, motherhood, and maternity:

Maternal Bodies: Redefining Motherhood in Early America by Nora Doyle (University of North Carolina Press, 2018): Doyle’s “redefining” involves centering women’s bodies and experiences in this focused look at women, maternity, childbirth, and motherhood in the United States between 1750 and 1850.

The Myth of the Perfect Pregnancy: A History of Miscarriage in America by Lara Freidenfelds (Oxford University Press, 2020): Miscarriages are common during pregnancy but attitudes and expectations around pregnancy and miscarriage have changed from 18th-century America to today, with changing emotional repercussions for women experiencing an early pregnancy loss.

Revolutionary Conceptions: Women, Fertility & Family Limitations in America, 1760-1820 by Susan E. Klepp (University of North Carolina Press, 2009): A scholarly look at fertility and family planning in early America.

Coming Home: How Midwives Changed Birth by Wendy Kline (Oxford University Press, 2019): Kline tracks changes in birth practices in mid-20th-century America, noting a growing trend toward midwife-assisted home births and away from hospital births attended by an obstetrician. She places this movement in a historical context by using the history of the Chicago Maternity Center and the midwives of The Farm in Tennessee.

I hope this roundup has inspired your interest in our ever-growing collections. For more titles, the Library’s catalog can be explored here. Though we are not able to accept readers because of the pandemic, we look forward to resuming our public hours and, perhaps, seeing you back in the Library in person when it is safe.

World Book Day 2021

By the NYAM Library Team

Since 1995, the United Nations has celebrated World Book Day on April 23. We hope you’ll agree that the NYAM Library is world-class! Library Team members have each selected a book from our vast collection that means something to them. Perhaps these books will mean something for you as well—so endorse our selections in the comments or use the occasion to name books that mean something to you.

Andrea Byrne, Digital Technical Specialist:

Manuale del dilettante del caffè; ossia l’arte de prender sempre del buon caffè (Venice, 1830), translated from French into Italian and written by “M.H.” attributed to Alexandre Martin, first encountered as part of our project with Adam Matthew Digital on food and drink. “It was such an adorable book. It is in a clamshell, and once you open up the clamshell, there is this other smaller compartment inside where the book is stored, and the book is smaller than my hand. Very cute!”

Miranda Schwartz, Cataloger:

Andreas Vesalius, De humani corporis fabrica … (Basel, 1543). “The publication of this book was a key moment in the study of anatomy, and its illustrations are one of a kind. It’s the starting point for so much scholarship and I think it’s emblematic of the richness of our collections.”

Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian:

Sylvia’s Family management : a book of thrift and cottage economy : a practical cyclopædia of useful knowledge, containing what it is important to know on the essentials of home economy … (London/New York, 188?)

“I’ve chosen this book, rather than one of our early books, because I think it speaks to the experiences many of us have been had during a long period of isolation, without the services we normally take for granted, and how that has prompted people to do things they would not have tried before (so many loaves of sourdough bread!). These kinds of household guides were very popular, and they offered DIY instructions for everything from home brewing to gardening to sewing your own clothing.”

Paul Theerman, Director:

Peter Clemens Kronfeld et al., The human eye in anatomical transparencies; explanatory text [by] Peter C. Kronfeld … anatomical transparencies [by] Gladys McHugh … historical appendix [by] Stephen L. Polyak (Rochester, NY, 1943). “Not only are the book’s transparencies stunning, the work points to the collaborative nature of modern medicine as well as the desire, or even the need, to keep current with ways of representing the human body.”

On World Book Day, we invite you to marvel at the richness of our Library’s holdings, and, above all, to pick up a book!

Uncovering Literature’s Hidden Medical Powers in the NYAM Library

by Angus Fletcher, PhD, 20032004 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow

Did you know that after William Shakespeare lost his son Hamnet, he forged a literary invention that can alleviate grief by acting on the emotional circuitry of our brain’s amygdala? Shakespeare tucked it into Hamlet, from where it made its way into modern literary classics such as Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking.

Did you know that there are two types of PTSD—and that literature contains therapies for both? The first was devised by Greek playwrights in fifth-century BCE to help military veterans recover from the psychological damage of battle; the second by the modern American cartoonist Alison Bechdel to help survivors of chronic domestic abuse.

And did you know that ancient fairy tales contain an antidote to the mental malady that modern psychiatrists refer to as catastrophizing? Or that the antidote was removed by the 18th-century French author Charles Perrault when he penned his version of Cinderella—which is why it doesn’t exist in the modern fairy tales of Disney’s magic kingdom?

These remarkable—and even fantastical—claims are backed by empirical research that originated during two summer months that I spent at the New York Academy of Medicine Library back in 2003. I had just completed a PhD on Shakespeare at Yale, but my prior background was neuroscience: devoting four years to studying how brain cells communicated and publishing my findings in decidedly nonliterary venues such as The Journal of Biological Chemistry. And, in fact, my focus on the brain was the main reason I had ventured out of a science lab into a literature seminar. I had discovered that the world’s earliest known work of literary criticism, Aristotle’s Poetics, had hypothesized that literature possessed a psychological—in fact, medical—function: purging trauma via a mysterious mechanism termed catharsis.

Despite my curiosity about these matters, I never found anyone willing to fund my research into literature’s healing properties. Until, that is, I approached the New York Academy of Medicine, which granted me $5,000 to devote to exploring the question: Can literature actually do what Aristotle supposed? Can theater, poems, and novels nurture our mental health and well-being?

In the New York Academy of Medicine Library I began grappling with those questions by focusing on a specific case study: the rebellion launched by a group of early-20th-century novelists—Charlotte Perkins Gilman and Virginia Woolf among them—against the “rest cure,” a now discredited psychiatric treatment, chiefly prescribed to women, for “neurasthenia,” or what we might call heightened cognitive reactivity.

To help me understand what the rest cure was—and why Gilman and Woolf found it so repugnant—Arlene Shaner and the New York Academy of Medicine’s librarians took me on a tour of the pseudoscientific works of the rest cure’s inventor, Dr. Silas Weir Mitchell, including his eerily titled Fat and blood: an essay on the treatment of certain forms of neurasthenia and hysteria (New York: J. B. Lippincott Co, 1888). From there, I was guided through the Library’s collections to consult a first edition of William James’s Principles of Psychology (New York: Henry Holt, 1890), the textbook that inspired the novelists to replace the rest cure with an alternative literary treatment.

S. Weir Mitchell, Fat and Blood: An Essay on the Treatment of Certain Forms of Neurasthenia and Hysteria, 4th ed. (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott Company, 1885), title page.

That literary treatment worked by stimulating what James referred to in Principles of Psychology as a “stream of consciousness” whose fluid liquidity gentled the emotional “shocks” of heightened cognitive reactivity.

William James, The Principles of Psychology, 2 vols. (New York: H. Holt and Company, 1890), 1:239, from Chapter IX, “The Stream of Thought.”

Prior to Woolf, versions of that stream had been attempted by novelists such as Marcel Proust, Dorothy Richardson, and James Joyce. But while Proust and Richardson had written in a fluid first-person style, and Joyce had written in an atomistic third-person style, Woolf realized that James’s therapy could more effectively be translated into literature by combining Joyce’s third-person with Proust and Richardson’s fluidity. That combination allows our reading mind to flow above a troubled consciousness, observing its ripples without feeling their shock. Consider this passage from Woolf’s 1925 novel Mrs. Dalloway, where the novel’s innovative machinery encourages our thoughts to register the “something awful” while our emotions glide tranquilly past.

What a lark! What a plunge! For so it had always seemed to her, when, with a little squeak of the hinges, which she could hear now, she had burst open the French windows and plunged at Bourton into the open air. How fresh, how calm, stiller than this of course, the air was in the early morning; like the flap of a wave; the kiss of a wave; chill and sharp and yet (for a girl of eighteen as she then was) solemn, feeling as she did, standing there at the open window, that something awful was about to happen; looking at the flowers, at the trees with the smoke winding off them and the rooks rising, falling; standing and looking until Peter Walsh said, ‘Musing among the vegetables?’—was that it?—’I prefer men to cauliflowers’—was that it? He must have said it at breakfast one morning when she had gone out on to the terrace—Peter Walsh. He would be back from India one of these days, June or July, she forgot which, for his letters were awfully dull. . .

George Charles Beresford, “Virginia Woolf in 1902,” via Wikipedia.

The spirit I found in the NYAM Library was as important as the documents I perused there. A physical library in the halls of medicine can seem an old-fashioned thing nowadays, when JAMA pre-publishes its newest articles online and few physicians can spare the time to ensconce themselves in a reading carrel. But I benefited deeply from the reflective experience of having the Library’s physical books, manuscripts, and papers before me as my guide, providing a respite from modern life’s relentless speed and carrying me back to the dwelling places where medicine began: the mind’s curiosity and the heart’s care.

In the many years since, I have gone on to partner with doctors, psychologists, and neuroscientists on collaborative research. Most recently, I have engaged in a three-year longitudinal study with Ohio State’s College of Medicine on how reading novels and memoirs can reduce burnout in medical students. And I have authored dozens of book chapters for university press publishers such as Johns Hopkins, Oxford, and Princeton, and dozens of articles for such scholarly journals as Critical Inquiry, Narrative, and New Literary History on the medical and well-being benefits of literature.

None of this work would have happened without that summer, which became for me, as for the many thousands of seekers who have been given the chance to use the New York Academy of Medicine’s Library, a testament to the power of books. The power age-old but vital as ever. The power to teach, to uplift, and even to heal.

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Angus Fletcher is Professor of Story Science at Ohio State’s Project Narrative. A popular account of his research into literature’s medical and well-being effects, including the rest-cure alternative invented by Virginia Woolf, can be found in Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature (Simon and Schuster, 2021). This work has been praised by Martin Seligman as “enchanting,” by Dr. Rita Charon as “a tour-de-force,” and by Antonio Damasio as “the perfect counter to our season in hell.”