When Mexican Physicians Take to the Streets and to Villages

Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Gabriela Soto Laveaga, Professor of the History of Science at Harvard University. Her book Jungle Laboratories: Mexican Peasants, National Projects and the Making of the Pill (Duke University Press, 2009) won the 2010 Robert K. Merton Best Book prize in Science, Knowledge, and Technology Studies from the American Sociological Association. On Thursday, November 17th at 6pm, Soto Laveaga will give The Iago Galdston Lecture: “When Mexican Physicians Take to the Streets and to Villages.” There is no charge, but please register in advance here.

In late November of 1964 more than two hundred residents and interns from one of Mexico City’s leading public hospitals threatened to strike because they were denied a Christmas bonus. Their unexpected response revealed the financially precarious situation of junior doctors and the worrisome state of many of the nation’s public hospitals. The subsequent walk-out launched ten months of unprecedented actions in hospitals, clinics, and, surprisingly, Mexico City streets.

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Physician demonstration demanding “a solution to the medical problem in the country.”

As the movement gained momentum, physicians’ demands for living wages and better working conditions shifted to incorporate a call for social justice for peasants and blue-collar workers. The shift away from hospital-based labor demands alarmed an increasingly repressive regime that set out to discredit physicians through media manipulation, intimidation, and incarceration. By March 1965 many young physicians, once heralded as the future of the nation, were portrayed in the government-controlled media as traitors of the state.

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Coded message requesting state governors send information about tension in hospitals. Source: National Archives, Mexico City.

Declassified material offers an extraordinary opportunity to learn —via decoded messages, transcribed wire-tapped conversations, and memos to the president— how the government sought to deal with unruly doctors. It is especially interesting to learn how the government used media – television and newspapers – to distort claims and dismiss doctors’ demands as the actions of a “greedy” profession. Especially revealing is, for example, how secret service agents infiltrated hospitals to gain first-hand knowledge of a movement that quickly became national in scope.

Throughout the multiple walk-outs, hospital emergency rooms remained opened but newspapers created a sense of growing dread among the population. In news stories doctors were often labeled “lazy,” “traitorous,” “murderous,” and, most often, as elites disconnected from the rest of society.

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Secret Service picture of physicians protesting in May 1965. Source: National Archives, Mexico City.

Days before the 1965 State of the Union address, President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz sent military personnel to oust doctors from key hospitals. In his address the president spent more than thirty minutes speaking about the irresponsible “homicidal actions” of striking physicians. In the aftermath of the movement, more than five hundred physicians lost their license to practice medicine (most were able to practice again in the next presidential administration) and for the following fifty years, until summer 2015, there were no national, doctor-led movements in Mexico.

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Doctors taking over downtown streets in silent protest, May 1965. Source: Página 24.

Of note is that after the social movement was unceremoniously truncated a handful of striking doctors joined an urban guerrilla Movimiento Revolucionario del Pueblo (People’s Revolutionary Movement) intent on destroying the government through violence. These doctors were, in turn, captured and together with other members of the guerrilla spent nearly a decade in Lecumberri prison for acts of treason.

The “medical” movement, as it came to be known, was really about two (often at odds) issues: the role of physicians in a rapidly changing society and the country’s need to provide proper healthcare to all working Mexicans, a right established in the 1917 Constitution. In fact young doctors’ reactions may be rooted not in 1960s urban discontent but, curiously, in experiences of city doctors in rural Mexico.

nurses

Nurses forming a  human barrier to protect striking physicians, 1965.

Starting in 1936, all Mexican medical students were required to spend time in remote, poor, and/or indigenous areas provided much-needed primary care. This mandatory social service was later written into the Mexican Constitution. For many city physicians their social service time was a transformative experience. For example, treating patients in extreme poverty while living with them as neighbors and facing similar hardships (such as lack of electricity or running water) sensitized many physicians to the complexity of providing care in Mexico. In addition, these doctors experienced, often for the first time, the deep socio-economic divisions in the country. It was young doctors most moved by their social service year who, oral histories reveal, were more likely to join a social movement.

Currently Mexico’s public healthcare system is going through dramatic shifts, and the 1965 movement is a reminder of the powerful and evolving role that physicians have played in transforming care in the country.

#PageFrights & Pumpkin Carving

skeletoncat

Our library cat is very skittish and only sighted in the weeks leading up to Halloween.

Halloween is just days away and we’re sad to see the end of #PageFrights, a social media celebration of Halloween, library & archives-style. All month long, libraries and other cultural institutions have been showing their scary side on social media, using the hashtag #PageFrights.

With shelves of anatomical atlases, books on bones, and natural histories filled with peculiar creatures, our collection has plenty of strange, frightful content to share, and this month has been spectacularly spooky fun.  The campaign was spearheaded by the Biodiversity Heritage Library, Medical Historical Library at Yale University, Smithsonian Libraries, and us, and many other fantastic institutions are participating!  Be sure to check out the hashtag if you haven’t yet.

In addition to exploring all the #PageFrights action on social media, you can take part by carving pumpkins. Now, we are strongly opposed to the presence of pumpkin pulp around books (a truly terrifying thought to librarians), but #PageFrights participating institutions have created a number of collections-inspired pumpkin carving patterns! These designs are available here. We created two patterns using sources in our natural history collection: Gesner’s Historia Animalium Liber IIII, 1558, and Aldrovandi’s Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640. If you use them, be sure to post your creation to social media with the hashtag #PageFrights!

gesner_historiaanimalium_v4_1558_870_octopus_watermark  pagefrightspumpkinpattern_octopus1

Octopus from Gesner, Historia Animalium Liber IIII, 1558. Click to enlarge.

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Dragon from Aldrovandi, Serpentum, et draconum historiae libri duo, 1640. Click to enlarge.

For even more Halloween content from our collections, click the links below:

Happy Halloween!

bhlpumpkinslitandregularCarved #PageFrights pumpkins, courtesy of the Biodiversity Heritage Library

A Visit to the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room

Dr. Patrick Brunner, the author of today’s guest post, is Instructor in Clinical Investigation at The Rockefeller University.

On July 26 2016, a group of young physician-scientists from The Rockefeller University visited the Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room at the New York Academy of Medicine. As part of the Clinical Scholars curriculum, led by Dr. Barry Coller and Dr. Sarah Schlesinger, these researchers regularly meet for educational tutorials, and the excursion to the Rare Book Room has clearly been one of the highlights of this past semester.

Arlene Shaner, the curator of this exceptional collection, presented seminal works to the group, and her deep insight and passion for the history of medicine made the excursion a unique experience. Ms. Shaner started the tour with the presentation of one of the most outstanding works of Western medicine – Andreas Vesalius’ opus magnum “De humani corporis fabrica libri septem” (On the fabric of the human body in seven books) from 1543. Ms. Shaner comprehensively and clearly outlined the historical context in which this book had been published, and fascinated her audience with a display of the book’s iconic woodprints. This artwork, which everyone in the room had seen in numerous reproductions, now laid open in its original form – showing the famous muscle man posing in front of an Italian landscape, and the skeleton, leaning on a spade, gazing towards the sky.

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Skeleton from the 1543 Fabrica. Click to enlarge.

A letter, sent from Oxford, dated July 7th, 1909, had been incorporated into the book as an inscription. From this letter one can learn that Sir William Osler himself donated the book to the New York Academy of Medicine. Ms. Shaner clearly knows each and every inch of this version of Vesalius work, one of three copies that the New York Academy of Medicine holds.

osler_detail_watermark Inscription by Sir William Osler found in our 1543 Fabrica. Click to enlarge.

Vesalius’ Fabrica has undoubtedly been one of the most influential books on human anatomy, overthrowing the observations and influences of the Greek physician Galen, which had been uncontested by Western medical science for more than 1300 years. And it was not until 1628 that another seminal work, which had also been put on display for the evening, William Harvey’s treatise “Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus” (On the motion of the heart and blood in animals), established that blood circulates in a closed system, and that the heart acts as a pump – a manuscript considered by many scholars to be the single most important publication in the history of physiology.

The visitors from The Rockefeller University were greatly impressed by the richness of this library – especially as they learned that all the books are available for review through the library’s archives, be it the “Anatomia hepatis” (The anatomy of the liver) by Francis Glisson, or the first atlas of skin diseases by the dermatological founding father Ferdinand von Hebra.

Arlene Shaner also presented Bernhard Siegfried Albinus’ “Tabulae sceleti et musculorum corporis humani” (Tables of the skeleton and muscles of the human body), first published in Leiden in 1747, which not only depicts anatomical studies in a monumental fashion, but presents the models within elaborate and artful surroundings – overall, an impressive testimonial of its time.

The climax of the visit was the display of a very special gift donated to the New York Academy by Sir Alexander Fleming – a capsule containing a colony of Penicillium, taken from the original culture that produced one of the world’s first antibiotics for medical use. And it has only been about 70 years since this medication became available!

fleminggrayobverse_watermarkCapsule containing a colony of Penicillium, donated by Sir Alexander Fleming. Click to enlarge.

Seeing all these treasures that irreversibly changed the world, and learning about the stories behind them in the context of both medical and art history, was a unique, and almost sensual, learning experience for the visitors, and Ms. Shaner’s never-ending expertise helped everyone in the room to deeply dive into history.

Aldous Huxley once said: “The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different.”  Understanding the challenges that these authors face during their life times, which may not have been quite so different from the ones that we face today, while, at the same time witnessing the dramatic changes that have been instigated by their works, was a true inspiration. The afternoon passed quickly, and everyone agreed that they wanted to come back and further explore this treasury in the middle of New York City.

Discover Grey Literature: Hidden Health and Science Resources

By Danielle Aloia, Special Projects Librarian

This fall, the Academy will host the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature to reveal one of the most valuable hidden resources for students, health professionals, and researchers. This post was originally posted on The New York Academy of Medicine‘s blog, Urban Health Matters.

Where can anyone get access to more than 20,000 expert health and science resources for free? The Grey Literature Report—GreyLit for short. A treasured resource among librarians since 1999, the GreyLit Report also offers students, health sciences researchers and professionals a one-stop-shop for incredibly difficult to find information. Once a quarterly publication, the GreyLit Report became so popular by 2006 that the Academy doubled the number of issues published each year.

greylitscreenshotWhy Grey?

The very title of the report is a clue to why it’s such a valuable tool. The carefully curated resources it provides often exist in a “grey” area between widely distributed peer-reviewed journals and the proprietary research that does not make it into the public sphere.

Grey literature is notoriously hard to find, often buried on the websites of any number of organizations or in the stacks of medical and science libraries. By publishing a categorized, bi-monthly compendium of the top resources in the field, the GreyLit Report does the detective work for thousands of overwhelmed students, scientists and academics that often leads them to the critical information they need to complete their work.

One popular document included in the report, for example, was A closer look at the implementation of taxation on sugar-sweetened beverages: a civil society perspective, published by the government of Barbados. Normally, this study would not land on the desks of American researchers, even those studying nutrition policy. It was nearly impossible to find on Google, prior to its mention in the August 2016 GreyLit newsletter, yet it offers a valuable analysis of the policy implications of attempting to regulate the consumption of unhealthy foods.

I discovered GreyLit long before I came to the Academy to become the editor of the report. In my previous life at AARP, as editor of the AgeLine Database, the premier literature database on aging research, the GreyLit Report became one of my most valuable sources of publications on aging.

I could just glance at the report and find new resources. It also became a way for AARP’s research to be disseminated to a broader audience, as it sometimes included research from other divisions.

Now, 17 years after it was created, the Academy’s GreyLit Report is still the only publication of its type in the United States. This year, as members of GreyNet International, an organization dedicated to increasing public awareness of grey literature, the Academy will be hosting the 18th International Conference on Grey Literature on Nov 28th and 29th, 2016. This year’s topic is Leveraging Diversity because grey literature can play a pivotal role in the search for solutions to urban health challenges here in New York and around the world.

That’s also why we have named the week of Nov 28 as the 1st International Grey Literature Week. We will be holding workshops and events along with the conference in celebration of grey literature. If you are interested in finding the best, hidden resources in your field, join us this November and discover GreyLit!

Ambroise Paré on gunshot wounds (Item of the Month)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

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

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

Image 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Image 4

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

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

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

References

[1] The Federation News, August 1935.

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

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

Apply for our 2017 Research Fellowships

Does a one-month residence in The Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room, immersed in resources on the history of medicine and public health, sound like a dream come true?

Rare book room

The Drs. Barry and Bobbi Coller Rare Book Reading Room

The Academy Library offers two annual 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, to support the advancement of scholarly research in the history of medicine and public health. Fellowship recipients spend a month in residence conducting research using the library’s collections.

Applications for our fellowships are being accepted now through late August for fellowships that may be used at any time during 2017.

Preference in the application process is given to early career scholars, although the fellowships are open to anyone who wishes to apply, regardless of academic status, discipline, or citizenship. While both fellowships are for researchers engaged in history of medicine projects, the Helfand Fellowship emphasizes the role of visual materials in understanding that history.

Applications are due by the end of the day on Friday, August 26, 2016. Letters of recommendation are due by the end of the day on Monday, August 29, 2016. Applicants will be notified of whether or not they have received a fellowship by Monday, October 3, 2016.

Prospective applicants are encouraged to contact Arlene Shaner, Historical Collections Librarian, at 212-822-7313 or history@nyam.org with questions or for assistance identifying useful materials in the library collections.

Item of the Month: Boston City Hospital, Christmas 1912

By Rebecca Pou, Archivist

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Click to enlarge.

A slim volume from our collections provides a glimpse of the holiday festivities at a public American hospital more than 100 years ago. In Boston City Hospital, Christmas 1912 we find eight photographs documenting the hospital’s holiday adornments and celebrations. The stark black and white photos of vaulted ceilings and nearly empty rooms don’t paint the cheeriest picture of the holidays, but clearly the staff put a great deal of effort into the celebrations.

These are pictures of the spaces more than the people in them. We see patients in their beds and the kitchen staff waiting for their holiday meal, but the people seem almost incidental. Some of the shots focus on the feasts on the table and the Christmas tree, while others capture the entire ward with garlands hanging from the ceiling and wreaths on the walls. These images are striking in part because the hospital’s large, communal wards look so different from patient settings in hospitals today.

BostonCityHospitalWardO

In A History of the Boston City Hospital from its Foundation until 1904, we find out a bit more about Christmas at the hospital. “Christmas trees lighted by electric bulbs” and decorated with gifts for every patient spruced up the convalescent wards.1 If you look closely at the Christmas tree above, there appear to be several small dolls in its branches.

Boston City Hospital opened in 1864. From February 1, 1912, through January 31, 1913, the hospital treated almost 13,000 people with an average of 550 residents per day. About one third of the patients were natives of Massachusetts, but patients born in 61 other countries spent time in the hospital over the course of the year. The largest number of those came from Ireland, but the annual report lists patients born in Syria (25), Barbados (5), the Fiji Islands (1), and New Zealand (2), as well as many other locations.2 The hospital merged with the Boston University Medical Center in 1996, forming the Boston Medical Center.3

Click through the gallery below for the rest of the photos from Boston City Hospital, Christmas 1912.

References

1. A History of the Boston City Hospital from its Foundation until 1904. Boston: Municipal Printing Office, 1906.

2. Forty-ninth Annual Report of the Boston City Hospital, 1912-1913. Boston: City of Boston Printing Department, 1913.

3. History. Boston University, School of Medicine, Department of Medicine. Retrieved December 17, 2013. http://www.bumc.bu.edu/medicine/dom-introduction/history/

Rehousing the Diploma Collection

Today’s post was written by the 2013 Gladys Brooks Conservation Intern, Caroline Evans.

The diploma collection at The New York Academy of Medicine contains over eight hundred certificates, diplomas, seals and proclamations granted by universities, professional societies and institutions across a wide geographical span. The items in the collection range from the mid-eighteenth century up to the late twentieth century. The diplomas were the subjects of a major collections care project carried out in the Gladys Brooks Book and Paper Conservation Lab by Caroline Evans (summer intern), with the assistance of Emily Moyer (Collections Care Assistant) and Allie Rosenthal (volunteer).

Piles of diplomas to be sorted, cleaned, and housed.

Piles of diplomas to be sorted, cleaned, and housed.

While most of the earlier diplomas are printed or written on parchment and display elaborate calligraphy, many of the later items in the collection are printed on paper. The diplomas can provide a glimpse into the changing methods of printing during this period, as well as into the preservation needs of flat paper—in some cases, for instance, some of the ink in the signatures had begun to flake, and seals on parchment were cracked. In addition to dry cleaning the diplomas and making the appropriate efforts to stabilize each of these items, we constructed folders and housing for each diploma or seal before sorting them by size, date, and granting institution.

Over the course of this undertaking, some gems emerged—documents significant to the history of the Academy and to the history of medicine. Among these are certificates nominating and appointing military ranks to fellows of the Academy and other doctors serving in wartime. In addition to signatures from the “Secretary of War”, many of these documents boast signatures from various Presidents of the United States. Indeed, while sorting through the collection, we encountered wartime documents—appointments or commendations thanking military doctors for their service—with signatures from Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnson, Herbert Hoover, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, and Warren G. Harding, to name a few.

Certificate signed by Woodrow Wilson.

Certificate signed by Woodrow Wilson.

Certificate signed by Andrew Johnson.

Certificate signed by Andrew Johnson.

Certificate signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Certificate signed by Abraham Lincoln.

Occasionally found tacked onto the back of certificates and acknowledgments of service were documents indicating the intersection of military service and medical research—for example, a letter from Walter Reed Hospital to a soldier encouraging him to participate in a study on the effect of injections of yellow fever. There are also a significant number of female medical professionals whose successes and contributions to the field of medicine and women’s health are commemorated in the collection. Some of these awards and diplomas are dated as early as the nineteenth century.

Photographs of Howard and Edith Lilienthal attached to a certificate

Photographs of Howard and Edith Lilienthal attached to a passport.

The diploma collection contains items printed in French, Portuguese, Hungarian, Latin, Hebrew and Arabic that display a variety of design styles.  One particularly beautiful certificate from 1945 was granted by the Société Impériale de Médecine de Constantinople, written in Arabic on thin paper with gold leaf.

Certificate in Arabic with gold ornament

Certificate in Arabic with gold ornament

Key to the City of San Juan Batista, granted to Isidor Rubin.

Key to the City of San Juan Batista, granted to Isidor Rubin.

Some more recent certificates are printed in color, with hand-colored borders and modern, stylized type. The diplomas on paper were a special challenge to clean and house, as many of the papers had become brittle or were adhered to acidic backings. This allowed the aspiring conservators interning and volunteering in the lab ample practice with paper repair. Diplomas printed on vellum provided their own challenges, however, as humidity fluctuations over time caused some of the works to curl and stretch, obscuring and fading labels and printed text.

Repairing paper certificates in the conservation lab.

Repairing paper certificates in the conservation lab.

These challenges, in addition to the diverse languages present in the collection, necessitated some additional investigation for the creation of new labels for each item. In the end, though, the lab was able to create a location guide with the identifying information for each sorted, cleaned, and re-housed object, so that the diploma collection will be accessible well into the future.

A certificate and seal, re-housed.

A certificate and seal, re-housed.