History Night Presentations Announced

The New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on History of Medicine will hold the “Fourth Annual History of Medicine Night – Part One: Spotlight on New York” on February 6 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm at NYAM, 1216 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 103rd Street. Register to attend here. A second evening of presentations is being planned for spring.

RBR deskThe night will feature the following presentations, as described by the speakers:

“Psychiatric Criminology in the Eugenic Era: The New York Police Psychopathic Laboratory, 1915-1929”
Sara Bergstresser, M.P.H., Ph.D., Columbia University, Bioethics

“First, I explore the historical background of North American and European psychiatry, criminology, and eugenics in the nineteenth century, including threads of early convergence. Next, I examine the development of eugenic psychiatry and its intersections with eugenic criminology, with a particular emphasis on New York State in the early twentieth century. I then present a case study from that time period, which is based primarily on materials from the archives of the New York Police Psychopathic Laboratory. I go on to argue that in this case the workings of psychiatric criminology were more eclectic and uncertain than they may otherwise appear based on broad descriptions of the eugenic era.”

“Not for Self but Others: The Presbyterian Hospital Goes to War”
Pascal J. de Caprariis, M.D., Lutheran Medical Center

“On March 11, 1940 the U.S. Surgeon General reached out to Presbyterian Hospital’s medical board president to develop a military hospital to support US troops in an eventual war. Structured to receive patients from combat areas and follow American troops throughout war, it was to provide complex medical and surgical care over the course of three years and two months abroad.”

“The Cancer Education Campaigns in Progressive Era New York City: The Role of Women”
Elaine Schattner, M.A., M.D., F.A.C.P., Weill Cornell Medical College

“At the start of the 20th century, myths about cancer’s causes and treatments were widespread. Fear of the disease—and of inept surgeons—was rampant. Many afflicted fell prey to hoaxers selling bogus salves, patent medicines and painless “cures.” In April 1913, a prominent New York City surgeon and gynecologist, Dr. Clement Cleveland, invited a group of well-to-do ladies, bankers and physicians to his home. They heard from statisticians and public health specialists, and considered what might be done to reduce cancer’s mounting toll. The group met formally again in June 1913 at the Harvard Club in New York City. They formed the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC), which three decades later became the American Cancer Society.”

“A Diagnosis of Philanthropy: Carnegie and Rockefeller and the Medical Profession”
Catherine (Katia) Sokoloff, Sarah Lawrence College

“Through exploring the evolving interests of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller during the Progressive Era, this paper unearths how these philanthropists and their advisers facilitated and funded the writing of the infamous Flexner Report in 1910. The report, also called Bulletin Number Four, exposed the inadequacies of medical schools and catalyzed dramatic education reforms.”

“Organizing Orthopaedic Societies in New York City in the 1880s: The New York Orthopaedic Society, the New York Academy of Medicine Section of Orthopaedic Surgery and the American Orthopaedic Association”
Jonathan B. Ticker, M.D., College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University

“After the seventh general meeting of the New York Orthopaedic Society (NYOS) on January 4, 1886, steps were taken to merge NYOS into a section of the New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM). Thus, on January 29, 1886, NYOS adjourned and the NYAM Section of Orthopaedic Surgery began. On January 29th, 1887, the chairman of the Section and 15 others “[met] and [discussed] the organization of a national orthopaedic society.” This led to the founding of the American Orthopaedic Association (AOA).”

Huber the Tuber, Corky the Killer, and The Mind

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

Harry A. Wilmer (1916-2005) was a well-known psychiatrist, writer, Jungian analyst, and founder of the Institute for the Humanities at Salado (you can learn more about his achievements at the Salado Institute website). Among his publications—most written or edited with professional psychiatrists in mind—are three health information books for children: The Lives and Loves of Huber the Tuber, Corky the Killer: A Story of Syphilis, and The Mind: First Steps.

In Huber the Tuber, Wilmer gives life to the tiny tubercle bacillus, Huber, and his friends as they embark on the invasion of Lungland. A 1943 book review by Sally Lucas Jean describes the book as “A riotously gay tale of a tuberculosis bacillus and his friends. The entire gang is so personalized as to become real creatures battling against Monosights.”1 The Monosights are the good guys in the story, trying to subdue the tubercle from invading their land (in biology, monocytes are white blood cells that react to infections).

Huber the Tuber invades Lungland. Click to Enlarge.

Huber the Tuber invades Lungland. Click to Enlarge.

In Corky the Killer, “an articulate microbe of the Treponema pallidum tribe describes what goes on from the start of a syphilitic infection and what may happen if proper treatment is not given.”2 Corky and friends invade the body using the Whirling Dervish Dance of the Spirochetes (a type of bacteria) to spiral through the skin and invade the blood.

The Whirling Dervish Dance of the Spirochetes. Click to Enlarge.

The Whirling Dervish Dance of the Spirochetes. Click to Enlarge.

These two books are great examples of how public health concerns can be brought to public attention in new and dramatic ways in order to curb the spread of disease. Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine devotes a chapter to them, describing them as having “a bit of magic in them: the health message is subordinated to the sheer joy of visual storytelling.”3 This joyful storytelling can be seen in a YouTube video of a young girl reading Huber the Tuber.

"The Author's Imaginative Model of the Inside World of the Mind." Click to enlarge.

“The Author’s Imaginative Model of the Inside World of the Mind.” Click to enlarge.

In The Mind, Wilmer describes perception, emotion, action, and all the functions of the mind in between through the example of a fire engine. When you see a fire engine you perceive a red moving object. Then you classify that image as a warning signal. Anxiety begins to rise and you prepare for fight or flight. Your conscious mind and your conscience work together with your unconscious mind to determine your thought process. Because you have experience with what a fire engine means you know there may be a fire happening somewhere and you determine how it may affect you. A 1965 book review says “All in all, a charming book with unusual ideas.”4

These books remain excellent examples of how an author can present seemingly dense scientific information through illustrations and comic relief.

1. Jean, Sally Lucas. 1943. Book Review. Am J Public Health Nations Health 33(4): 445–446.

2. Doppler, William. 1946. Book Review. Am J Public Health Nations Health 36(9): 1068–1069.

3. Sappol, Michael. 2012. Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine. New York: Blast Books.

4. Book Review. 1965. The American Biology Teacher. 27(2): 565.

Smoking and Health, 50 Years Later

By Johanna Goldberg, Information Services Librarian

On Saturday, January 11, 1964, fifty years ago this past Saturday, the U.S. Surgeon General released a report that took the country by storm: Smoking and Health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service.

While surgeons general had made statements regarding cigarette dangers as early as the 1920s,1 this report marked the beginning of the Office of the Surgeon General’s practice of releasing “authoritative scientific statements,”2 which continues to this day. It also marked the first time a surgeon general report received enormous media attention.1

"Percentage of persons who have never smoked by sex and age, United States, 1955." A chart from Smoking and Health. Click to enlarge.

“Percentage of persons who have never smoked by sex and age, United States, 1955.” A chart from Smoking and Health. Click to enlarge.

To produce Smoking and Health, Surgeon General Dr. Luther L. Terry assembled a committee of 10 doctors from a variety of disciplines, none of whom who had previously spoken publicly about tobacco use, to review more than 7,000 publications, including articles, reports, statements from tobacco companies, and conference proceedings. The committee did not carry out original research, instead performing a thorough review of the literature, completed in just over two years.3

"Trends in Age-Adjusted Mortality Rates for Cancer by Sex." A chart from Smoking and Health. Click to enlarge

“Trends in Age-Adjusted Mortality Rates for Cancer by Sex.” A chart from Smoking and Health. Click to enlarge

The 387-page report made some dire conclusions:

  • Smokers are 70% more likely than non-smokers to die of coronary artery disease; 500% more likely than non-smokers to die of emphysema and chronic bronchitis; and 1,000% more likely to die of lung cancer.
  • Male cigarette smokers have a “9- 10-fold risk of developing lung cancer.” That risk rises to 20-fold for heavy smokers.
  • Cigarette smokers have a 70% higher mortality rate than non-smokers.3

On Sunday, January 12, newspaper front pages and other media sources  around the country featured the report.4 The New York Times alone published 10 articles mentioning the report that day,5 with one on reporters and government employees (including the surgeon general’s assistant for information) smoking in front of the nine no-smoking signs outside the news conference auditorium.6

The report had an immediate impact. In New York, the cigarette tax revenue was 5% lower in January 1964 than the previous year, and 18% lower in February. Cigarette consumption dropped 3.5% nationwide; while it rose in coming years, it never again reached its 1963 peak. One week after the report’s debut, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released plans to require health warnings in cigarette advertisements and packaging. In place of the FTC’s plans, Congress passed the Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act of 1965, followed by additional labeling laws.7

"Mortality from Cancer (All Sites), U.S. Death Registration Area of 1900, 1900-1960," a chart from Smoking and Health.

“Mortality from Cancer (All Sites), U.S. Death Registration Area of 1900, 1900-1960,” a chart from Smoking and Health.

How far have we come? In 2011 (the most recent year available from the CDC),  about 19% of adults in America smoked, compared to the approximately 40.3% in 1964.8,9 Looking for information on how to quit smoking and reduce this percentage further? Visit smokefree.gov.


1.The Reports of the Surgeon General: Brief history. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/NN/p-nid/58.

2. The Reports of the Surgeon General: Changing conceptions of public health. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/Narrative/NN/p-nid/59.

3. United States Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. (1964). Smoking and health: Report of the Advisory Committee to the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Public Health Service. Accessible in full online at http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/NN/B/B/M/Q/.

4. Housman, M. (2001). Smoking and health: The 1964 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report as a turning point in the anti-smoking movement. Health Policy Review, 2(1). Retrieved from http://www.hcs.harvard.edu/~epihc/currentissue/spring2001/housman.html.

5. NYTimes.com search. (n.d.). Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://query.nytimes.com/search/sitesearch/#/surgeon+general/from19640112to19640112/.

6. Hunter, M. (1964, January 12). Smoking banned at news parley. But some reporters puff sheepishly in corridors. New York Times. Retrieved from http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/zbg90c00/pdf.

7. Sullum, J. (1998). For your own good: The anti-smoking crusade and the tyranny of public health. New York: Free Press.

8. CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health. (2013, June 5). Smoking and tobacco use fact sheet: Adult cigarette smoking in the United States. Retrieved January 7, 2014, from http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/.

9. United States Public Health Service Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health Office on Smoking and Health, & United States Public Health Service Office of the Surgeon General. (1979). Smoking and health: A report of the Surgeon General. Appendix: Cigarette smoking in the United States, 1950-1978 (pages A-1 through A-29) (Official reports). Retrieved from http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/ps/retrieve/ResourceMetadata/NNBCPH.

New Year’s Luck—and How to Keep Safe, 1950s Style

Bert Hansen, professor of history at Baruch College and author of Picturing Medical Progress from Pasteur to Polio: A History of Mass Media Images and Popular Attitudes in America, wrote today’s guest post. Dr. Hansen will give a Friends of the Rare Book Room talk, “Louis Pasteur: Exploring His Life in Art,on January 14. Join the Friends and register for the talk by clicking here.

At the start of every New Year, people’s attention turns to health and safety (a popular New Year’s resolution is to lose weight). And as we again confront the passage of time, thinking about what’s permanent and what is not, ephemera come to mind. Printed materials of temporary use, when they have luckily been saved and not casually discarded, are especially important for historians as sources to understand ordinary people’s life in the past.

In that spirit, it is a pleasure to share with blog followers a sampling of Lucky Safety Cards from the 1950s, recently donated to NYAM’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

Card 45, featuring Popeye.

Card 45, featuring Popeye. Click to enlarge.

Distributed free in newspapers around 1953, these 2-by-4-inch cards featured characters from popular comic strips and offered ways to be smart and prevent accidents.1 Although children appear in the frame with such cartoon characters at Popeye, Dagwood Bumstead, and the Katzenjammer Kids, it seems likely the messages were aimed at adults as well since people of all ages read newspaper comic strips assiduously.

With vivid two-color printing and graphic styles characteristic of the time, these little collectibles vividly illustrate the history of a popular public health campaign in the decade after World War II. It may not be a coincidence that during the war, cartoon and comic strip figures had been used on health and safety posters and in military instruction and recruitment.2

Modern readers may be struck by the formality of language and styles of dress, quite different than the comics’ drawing styles and casual language used from the 1960s onward. And if the points appear less flashy than modern public service announcements, we would still do well to heed most of their concerns. Each card supplements the illustration with two short texts: a very brief general rule at the bottom (suitable for memorization, perhaps) and a more concrete explanation within the frame. The rules were often puns or contained a rhyme.

“Caution, care, and common sense / eliminate home accidents.”
“Use your ears, eyes, and knows.”
“The right-of-way isn’t worth dying for.”
“Don’t learn the traffic laws by accident.”
“A slip for a trip / may break a hip.”

Each card carried a safety slogan number from 1 to 48 identifying its message (and perhaps encouraging people to collect a complete set), along with a unique serial number. The serial numbers were part of a lottery offering cash prizes. Readers were advised to check for the winning numbers in the newspaper.

It is not clear how many newspapers distributed Lucky Safety Cards. All the examples in NYAM’s collection come from three newspapers: the Albany Times-Union, the Baltimore News-Post and American, and the New York Journal-American.

The Academy holds 31 of the 48 published cards. Missing numbers are 5, 12, 13, 16, 17, 19, 21, 24, 26, 28, 29, 31, 33, 34, 37, 39, and 40. If you have one of the missing cards and want to help fill the seventeen gaps in the set, donations will be warmly received and greatly appreciated.

Although in the truest sense of the word, these cards were ephemeral, historians and artists now—and long into the future—will have permanent access to them thanks to modern conservation and preservation practices in the Academy Library’s Rare Books and Special Collections.

April 2014 update:

Thanks to a “New Yorker who enjoys flea markets,” our set of Lucky Safety Cards is one card closer to completion. Here’s card No. 24 from the set.

Lucky Safety Card 24. Click to enlarge.

Lucky Safety Card 24. Click to enlarge.

April 2017 update:

Our collection now includes cards 13, 17, 29, and 39, thanks to Diane DeBlois and Robert Harris. Just 12 more cards to go!


1. For a handy orientation to the wide range of advice and information in comics formats, see Sol Davidson, “Educational Comics: A Family Tree,” in the open-access journal ImageTexT 4:2, Supplement (2008) at http://www.english.ufl.edu/imagetext/archives/v4_2/davidson/.

2. Michael Rhode, “She may look clean, but. . . .  Cartoons Played an Important Role in the Military’s Health-Education Efforts during World War II,” Hogan’s Alley, 8 (Fall 2000).

Two entries in Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine ed. by Michael Sappol, Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine / New York: Blast Books, 2012:  “Malaria Pinup Calendars (1945): Frank Mack, for the U.S. Army,” on pp. 172-173, by Sport Murphy, and “Commandments for Health (1945): Hugh Harman Productions, for the U.S. Navy,” on pp. 174-175, by Michael Rhode.

Many fascinating examples are listed in a ten-page finding aid for materials in the Otis Archives Collections, “Cartoons and Comics in the National Museum of Health and Medicine” by Michael Rhode, which may be accessed in PDF format at http://www.medicalmuseum.mil/index.cfm?p=collections.archives.collections.index.

History Night: Call for Papers

RBR desk

The New York Academy of Medicine’s Section on History of Medicine is pleased to announce its Annual History of Medicine night to be held on February 6, 2014 from 6:00 pm–7:30 pm. The event will take place at the Academy, located at 1216 Fifth Avenue at the corner of 103rd Street.

We are inviting all those interested in presenting to submit a narrative on a historical subject relating to medicine for consideration.

Note the following submission requirements:

  • Applications must include an abstract, with a  500-word maximum, and this form
  • Abstracts must be submitted no later than January 15, 2014

The time allotted for presentation is 12 minutes with an additional 3 minutes for questions/discussion. Papers selected for presentation will be determined by a panel of History of Medicine Section members.

Abstracts should be submitted electronically to Donna Fingerhut at dfingerhut@nyam.org.  Questions may be directed to Donna via email or phone (212-419-3645).