About nyamhistory

The Center for the History of Medicine and Public Health, which includes the Library, promotes the scholarly and public understanding of the history of medicine and public health and the history of the book. Established in 2012, the Center aims to build bridges among an interdisciplinary community of scholars, educators, clinicians, curatorial and conservation professionals, and the general public. The Center’s Library is one of the largest medical collections in the United States open to the general public, to whom it has been available since 1878.

Highlighting NYAM Women in Medical History: Daisy Maude Orleman Robinson, MS, MD

by Hannah Johnston, Library Volunteer

Academy Fellows lead by serving, now during the COVID-19 crisis as in the past. This the third entry in our series on early women NYAM Fellows and their contributions to society; for earlier posts, see Sara Josephine Baker, and Martha Wollstein. Please also see our biographical sketch of Mary Putnam Jacobi, the first female Fellow of the New York Academy of Medicine.

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A portrait of Daisy Orleman in her youth (date unknown). Photograph courtesy Paul Austin Orleman.

Widely lauded as the first female dermatologist in the United States and one of the first women to become a NYAM Fellow, Daisy Maude Orleman Robinson (1868–1942) had an illustrious career in patient care, public health, and health scholarship that spanned decades. Among her long list of achievements is being the first woman to publish scholarly work in the field of dermatology.[1] The work, an 1899 case report entitled “The Ill Effects of the Roentgen Rays as Demonstrated in a Case Herewith Reported,” was one of the first scholarly works to examine the harmful effects of X-rays, which at that time were being widely used as treatments for a variety of ailments.[2] The work is important in its own right, but is particularly interesting because the patient whose experience formed the case study was none other than Orleman herself.[3]

Orleman began her medical education at age 19 at the National Medical College of Columbian University in Washington, D.C. She was the only woman in her medical school class.[4] After her graduation in 1890, she spent several years continuing her education, eventually earning a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, as well as engaging in coursework on a wide range of specialties. In 1896 she obtained a medical license in the state of New York, and she was elected a NYAM Fellow in May 1897.[5]

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Orleman in her room at Peekskill Military Academy, where she was the resident physician from 1899 to 1903. Photograph courtesy Paul Austin Orleman.

That same year, Orleman suffered a fracture in her femur. Between January and May of 1898, she received three X-ray treatments intended to heal the fracture. She noted the first two as being “unsuccessful” but having no ill effects, and reported a “slight tingling sensation” upon her final treatment on May 14, 1898, with a similar lack of success.[6] Twenty-one days later, she noticed a small patch of inflamed and itchy skin where she had received the treatments. With each passing day, the inflamed area increased in size and became more and more uncomfortable. Eventually, the inflamed area became an ulcer, and over the course of several months continued to worsen. Only after ten months did the “severe injury” finally heal with the help of several doctors, various ointments, tinctures, and washes to heal the wound, and, eventually, a skin graft on the affected area.[7] She determined that, aside from the relief of pain (for which she occasionally used opium and morphine), “[maintaining] the limb in a perfect state of rest” was essential to her recovery.[8] She admitted to forgoing her doctors’ advice to rest early on in her treatment, noting that “[had she] given this precedence in the beginning … [she] might have had a more speedy recovery.”[9] Irritated by her ordeal, Orleman kept meticulous records of her symptoms and treatments, as well as the advice and theories of her medical providers. She published her case study—of herself—in 1899. In it, she lamented the lack of knowledge among physicians of the harmful effects of X-ray treatments and shared her experience in the hopes of both improving medical response to future cases and preventing them from developing in the first place.[10]

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Orleman’s paper in The Medical Record provides an overview of her injury and treatment.

Orleman’s painful experience with what would come to be known as radiation dermatitis likely sparked her interest in dermatology. In addition to pioneering female dermatological scholarship and providing us with an excellent example of a physician’s understanding of her own experience with injury and illness, “The Ill Effects of the Roentgen Rays” was, in fact, Orleman’s first scholarly publication.[11]

Orleman continued to innovate in the field of dermatology throughout the rest of her career. From 1908 until 1910, she worked with Hideyo Noguchi on developing more accurate diagnostic tests for syphilis. Her publication on what came to be known as the “Noguchi reaction test” earned her the Gold Palms from the French Academy of Science in 1910. During World War I, she joined the French Army’s medical corps and was decorated for her work there, becoming the first woman and the first American to receive a Gold Medal of Epidemics and Contagious Diseases from the French minister of war.[12] After the war, she turned her attention to public health and sex education, becoming an officer in the United States Public Health Service and focusing her work on the eradication of sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis. She was also invested in educating women’s groups, becoming one of the founding members of the Medical Women’s International Association in 1919.[13]

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Orleman wearing the Gold Medal of Epidemics and Contagious Diseases, awarded to her by the French minister of war at the end of World War I. Photograph courtesy Paul Austin Orleman.

Daisy Maude Orleman Robinson had a long, wide-ranging, and influential career, but her interest in using her own experience as a patient to inform her medical writing and practice makes her particularly extraordinary. With “The Ill Effects of the Roentgen Rays,” she used a fractured femur to cement her place in the history of her field.

__________
[1] David M. Pariser, “Daisy Maude Orleman Robinson: The first American woman dermatologist,” Clinics in Dermatology 33 (2015), 404.
[2] Daisy Maude Orleman, “The Ill Effects of the Roentgen Rays as Demonstrated in a Case Herewith Reported,” The Medical Record (1899), 8–10.
[3] Pariser, 399–400. As she did this work prior to her 1904 marriage to Andrew Rose Robinson, we refer to her as “Orleman.”
[4] Ibid., 397, 404.
[5] Ibid., 399; Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine 18/6 (June 1942), 430.
[6] Orleman, 8.
[7] Ibid., 10.
[8] Ibid., 10.
[9] Ibid., 8, 10.
[10] Ibid., 8.
[11] Pariser, 399.
[12] Ibid., 402.
[13] Ibid., 403.

Quarantine in Nineteenth-Century New York

By Lorna Ebner, Guest Contributor, Stony Brook University

As COVID-19 races through New York, we asked Lorna Ebner to tell us about previous attempts to mitigate disease in the city. Ms. Ebner is a PhD student in history at Stony Brook University, currently researching the 1858 destruction of the Staten Island Marine Hospital by residents upset at the presence of the quarantine hospital in their community.

As COVID-19 numbers continue to climb, the sounds of New York City are uncharacteristically muted. Many living in the city are understandably disquieted by the absence of the familiar soundtrack of city life, but this is far from the first time Broadway and Times Square have been silenced by an epidemic. Over the course of the nineteenth century, New York City officials have struggled to understand and alleviate the spread of disease. By the end of the century, one practice, when properly executed alongside sanitation measures, was proven to successfully stem the tide and save lives: Quarantine has conclusively mitigated the spread of disease for hundreds of years.

Throughout the long nineteenth century, New York City faced disease epidemics that felled thousands. Yellow fever (1795, 1798, 1804, and 1856) and cholera (1832, 1849, 1854, 1862) caused alarm through their high mortality rates. However, the number of deaths recorded is likely a vast underestimation as disease reporting was not kept up and counting was often skewed. From the early to mid-nineteenth century, limited medical knowledge combined with a lack of a standing public health authority limited the city’s reactions to contagious disease. Yellow fever, spread through mosquitoes, hit New York City in 1795, 1798, and 1804. In an effort to curtail the rising number of cases, a Health Committee made up of physicians was assembled and given authority by the City Council. Its first act sanctioned quarantine for all ships that carried any form of illness and those arriving from affected areas, particularly Philadelphia. In 1795, the quarantine was violated by a merchant vessel that denied incidences of sickness on board. This violation and blatant disregard for the dangers posed by yellow fever led to an outbreak in the city. Over 750 New Yorkers died, nearly 2 percent of the city’s population.[1] In 1805, New York City’s first Board of Health was appointed by the mayor and City Council. It was generally an apathetic government body with little power that met only at irregular intervals over the next six decades until called upon by a crisis.

The nineteenth century saw more devastating outbreaks as cholera swept through the city in 1832, 1849, and 1854. Cholera’s victims suffered from acute dehydration which caused patients to turn blue.

Cholera faces

Horatio Bartley. Illustrations of Cholera Asphyxia; In Its Different Stages. Selected from Cases Treated at the Cholera Hospital, Rivington Street. New York: Printed by S. H. Jackson, New-York, 1832.

The visceral sights relentlessly reminded New Yorkers of the disease’s dangerous presence. In 1832, a cholera pandemic approached New York City after leaving a destructive trail through Asia and Europe. After cases were reported in Quebec in late June, Mayor Walter Browne enacted a blanket quarantine on all incoming vessels. The Board of Health was called out of hibernation to enforce quarantine and enact efforts to clean up impoverished neighborhoods, such as the Five Points District. The board also commissioned special quarantine hospitals. These were either converted warehouses, taverns, and schools, or were hastily constructed on empty lots, as hospitals at the time did not accept patients with infectious diseases. New Yorkers of means fled the city in hopes that the country air and distance would deter cholera’s onslaught. Between June and September of 1832, 3,515 deaths were attributed to cholera, while 70,000 New York citizens fled for the country, spreading the disease unknowingly across the United States.[2] Cholera descended upon New York City again in 1849. The Board of Health quarantined all incoming vessels and made it illegal to keep hogs within city limits as part of its ongoing sanitation efforts. In this outbreak, the Board of Health reported 5,017 deaths over the course of the summer.[3] Preparedness and stringent sanitary measures during the 1854 epidemic led to a lower mortality rate, and the number of deaths attributed to cholera dropped by almost half, to 2,509.[4]

During the mid-nineteenth century, cholera was not the only disease for which public health officials demanded immediate quarantine for all contaminated incoming vessels. As yellow fever approached New York in 1856, the head physician of the Marine Hospital, which served as a quarantine hospital for both people and products, mapped the incoming quarantined vessels. Elisha Harris’s map indicates where in the harbor the quarantined ships anchored as well as areas along the coast that he believed were susceptible to contaminated paraphernalia.

New York Harbor

Map of quarantined vessels in New York City. Elisha Harris. The Annual Report of the Physician-in-Chief of the Marine Hospital at Quarantine: Presented to the Legislature February 4, 1857. Albany: Charles Van Benthuysen, 1857.

While public health officials and many in the medical field espoused the belief that yellow fever was indeed contagious and in need of strict quarantine, some expressed other concerns. “The restrictions laid upon commerce, with a view to prevent the introduction of yellow fever, are grounded upon the supposition of its contagious and infectious character; whereas, it is a disease of local origin, and incapable of propagation from person to person, or by emanations from the human body.”[5] Though restrictions on commerce continued, despite people’s belief that trading should continue, yellow fever ran rampant through Staten Island and the shores of Long Island. Fort Hamilton and Tompkinsville suffered dozens of cases. Because health was not prioritized by all and quarantine regulations were not strictly adhered to, New York again suffered loss of life.

The cholera epidemic of 1866 saw the advent of the Metropolitan Board of Health, which proactively enforced strict quarantine and sanitary measures prior to the outbreak. Unlike with the previous epidemics, the newly established board set out strict sanitary measures that applied to all businesses and tenement owners. While many New Yorkers vocalized their dissatisfaction with what they thought of as harsh and unnecessary measures, the numbers speak for themselves. Despite an exponentially growing population, the third cholera epidemic claimed the lives of 1,137 New Yorkers as compared to over 5,000 in 1849, and over 3,000 in 1832. As historian of medicine Charles E. Rosenberg wrote, “Physicians had tried to cure cholera; 1866 had shown them their duty was to prevent it.”[6]

The city’s measures proved effective in the late nineteenth century. A worldwide cholera pandemic began in 1881. For over a decade, cholera spread throughout Europe and Asia. After a century of battling the disease, most cities instituted precautions to mitigate loss of life. By the time cholera approached New York City in fall of 1892 in the form of a contagious vessel from Hamburg, Germany, city officials and public health authorities had already prepared strict quarantine procedures. As a result, the expected onslaught never arrived. It is estimated that 32 deaths occurred because of cholera in the fall of 1892, and that the majority of these occurred on quarantined vessels that arrived from contagious cities.[7] The century of experience definitively illustrated that preparation and preemptive quarantine proved effective in slowing or even stopping the spread of contagious disease.

New York’s resilience through nineteenth-century epidemics demonstrates the effectiveness of public health measures such as enforced quarantine and increased sanitation. Though the population of New York City continued to grow throughout the nineteenth century, the number of deaths from epidemic disease fell. The Board of Health, once a listless and irregular fixture, grew into a metropolitan medical authority whose public health measures alleviated the spread of contagion. A version of quarantine has always been employed during times of crisis. Public health in the twentieth century expanded the practice to include individual and self-quarantine. In late 2019, news broke of a novel, deadly, and extremely contagious virus Despite the developing information concerning COVID-19’s spread, the federal government did not have a consistent response to the possibility of a worldwide outbreak. And, unlike previous contagious threats, such as cholera in 1880 and smallpox in 1947, the city did not quarantine immediately and did not implement sanitary measures until after the coronavirus—unbeknownst to authorities—had already spread through the population. New York City’s history conclusively shows that basic public health measures, properly enacted, serve as New York’s most powerful weapon against epidemics. The consequences of ignoring and downplaying serious medical threats result in needless loss of life, a story shown over and over again in the nineteenth century, up to the great influenza pandemic of 1918, and now replayed in our current day.


[1] John Duffy, History of Public Health in New York City, 1625–1866: Volume 1 (Russell Sage Foundation, 1968), 104.

[2] J. S. Chambers, The Conquest of Cholera: America’s Greatest Scourge (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1938), 63.

[3] Charles E. Rosenberg, The Cholera Years: The United States in 1832, 1849, and 1866 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009), 114.

[4] Duffy, 588.

[5] “Yellow Fever and Quarantine—Letter from a Non-Contagionist,” New York Daily Times, September 9, 1856.

[6] Rosenberg, 212.

[7] Paul S. B. Jackson, “Fearing Future Epidemics: The Cholera Crisis of 1892,” Cultural Geographies, 2012, 43–65, 52.

Highlighting NYAM Women in Medical History: Martha Wollstein, MD

By Andrea Byrne, Digital Technical Specialist, Academy Library

Coming to terms with the COVID-19 pandemic needs the work of many skilled and dedicated physicians, researchers, and health professionals. With this essay, the Library adds to its series celebrating the sustained efforts for the public good of the Academy’s women Fellows, from the first, Mary Putnam Jacobi, to the present. 

A pioneer in pathology, New York Academy of Medicine Fellow Martha Wollstein (1868–1939) was the first North American specialist of pediatric perinatal pathology and developmental pathology.1 As one of the earliest women clinician-scientists, she published over 65 papers while acting as a pathologist at Manhattan’s Babies Hospital and a researcher at The Rockefeller Institute.

Martha Wollstein was born November 21, 1868, in New York City to Louis and Minna Cohn Wollstein, German-Jewish immigrants. She graduated from Woman’s Medical College of the New York Infirmary in 1889, where she studied with the first woman NYAM fellow, Mary Putnam Jacobi. Jacobi encouraged her research, and they published Wollstein’s first (and Jacobi’s last) paper together, on the myosarcoma of the uterus in 1902.2 Wollstein had become a NYAM Fellow the previous year, and she also held a teaching appointment at Woman’s College in the 1890s.
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Portrait of Martha Wollstein. American Pediatric Society. Semi-centennial volume of the American pediatric society, 1888–1938. Menasha, Wis: Priv. print; 1938.

After graduation, Wollstein went on to be the first resident physician of Babies Hospital in 1890, where she worked until her retirement in 1935.3 Her focus was on infant diseases, including diarrhea, typhoid fever, malaria, and tuberculosis. In 1896, she opened the Heter Pathology Laboratory at Babies. The laboratory became integral to the work of the hospital.4 Babies Hospital’s affiliation with Columbia University connected Wollstein to pediatric and pathology departments at the College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she was an assistant professor of pathology and childhood diseases until her retirement.5

Wollstein was one of five women to be appointed as a researcher at The Rockefeller Institute in 1907. She worked with Simon Flexner, the noted pathologist and researcher, and made important discoveries that led to the treatment of meningitis and other serious illnesses. However, Wollstein never received a formal appointment and dropped her affiliation in 1921.6

The papers Wollstein published throughout her career embodied the pediatric pathology literature of North America.7 Her bibliography comprises over 65 papers, spanning research on descriptive and experimental pathology. Her research interests included bacteriology, diseases of the blood, and mumps, where her development of an experimental animal model became well known. While at Babies she wrote three extensive papers on tuberculosis. Using autopsy data and looking at the distribution of affected organs, she was able to demonstrate a decrease of the disease over time.8

In recognition of her authoritative work and groundbreaking research, Wollstein was nominated as the head of the pediatric section of NYAM in 1928. Two years later, she was the first woman to be elected to membership in the American Pediatric Society. After her death on September 30th, 1939, an obituary remarked that at the time of her retirement, Wollstein “had more extensive experience in the morphology of disease in infants than any other American living.”9

_______

1 James R. Wright Jr., Jeanne Abrams. Martha Wollstein of Babies Hospital in New York City (1868–1939)—The First North American Pediatric Pathologist. Pediatric and Developmental Pathology. 2017; 21 (5): 437–443.
2 Joy Dorothy Harvey, Marilyn Bailey Ogilvie. “Wollstein, Martha (1868–1939).” The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science. Taylor and Francis; 2000. 1393.
3 R.M. Martha Wollstein, M.D. The American Journal of Diseases of Children. 1939; 58 (60): 1301.
4 Wright and Abrams, Martha Wollstein.
5 R.M. Martha Wollstein, M.D.
6 Jeanne Abrams, James R. Wright Jr. (2018). Martha Wollstein: A pioneer American female clinician-scientist. Journal of Medical Biography. 2018.
7 Wright and Abrams, Martha Wollstein.
8 Ibid.
9 R.M. Martha Wollstein, M.D.

Digitization Pilot: The Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection 

By Robin Naughton, Senior Digital Program Manager

The front of a postcard of Roosevelt Hospital.

The front of a postcard of Roosevelt Hospital. NYAM Collection.

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The back of the postcard, with a message from a patient of the hospital. NYAM Collection.

We are excited to launch a new digital collection, The Robert Matz Hospital Postcard Collection.

Dr. Robert Matz donated about 2,000 hospital postcards to The New York Academy of Medicine Library in several installments between 2015 and 2019. Dating from the late 19th century to the mid-20th century, the postcards were organized into three sub-collections: New York City (NYC), New York State (sans NYC), and United States (sans New York).  To create metadata for the postcards, the Library started a project where volunteers researched and captured data about each postcard. New York City was the first sub-collection completed by the volunteers. It was the perfect sub-collection to use for an internal digitization pilot project.

A digitization pilot project is a great opportunity to showcase part of a much larger collection and to test innovative ideas.  For the pilot, 118 postcards were selected from the NYC sub-collection of 962 hospital postcards. Hospital postcards were selected representing all five boroughs (BronxBrooklynManhattanQueens, and Staten Island) to highlight the variety of hospitals, building architecture, and cultural value of the postcards.  The number of postcards selected for each borough is approximately 10 to 12 percent of the total number of postcards for that borough.  For example, Manhattan has the largest number of postcards of the five boroughs and the largest number of postcards in the pilot. The pilot offers an opportunity for users, researchers, potential funders, and the public to explore what has already been digitized, and to learn more about the collection.

Borough # of Postcards in Pilot
Bronx 15
Brooklyn 26
Manhattan 55
Queens 10
Staten Island 12
Total 118

The process of digitizing the postcards provides an opportunity to test new and innovative ways of imaging the collection. For this collection, the opportunity to capture four postcards at once was an innovative approach to digitizing the collection.

The postcard setup in the digitization lab.

The postcard setup in the digitization lab.

The software used for internal digitization was Capture One, which offered many opportunities to enhance the imaging workflow. One such opportunity was to divide the capture area into quadrants so that one shot could capture four objects and ultimately create four images. Rather than taking eight shots for four postcards (front & back), the process reduced the work to only two shots for all four postcards. To do this, variants (duplicates of the raw images) were created in Capture One and the settings applied to each shot.  This method improved the efficiency of digitizing the Matz postcards and provided a significant enhancement to the Digital Lab’s workflow for small, flat objects.

Image capture of four objects (front).

Image capture of four objects (front).

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Image capture of four objects (back).

The Robert Matz Hospital Postcards Collection pilot project provides a glimpse into what is possible and available if the entire collection were digitized. Digitizing 2,000 postcards and creating metadata so that users can explore the collection in multiple ways will take time and resources, but the Library is excited about the opportunity.

Take some time to explore the collection and learn more about each of the hospitals represented in the pilot.  If you’d like to explore additional postcards, reach out to the Library.

Explore the Matz Collection here.

The Public Health Origins of Census Data Collection

By Paul Theerman, Director

Every 10 years, the Federal census counts the country’s population. The count is mandated in the Constitution in order to distribute political power, as the census leads to deciding how many representatives a state will send to the House as well as to redrawing their district boundaries. Government resources flow according to population. And public health research uses census data, providing tools to better understand the conditions of people and their health.

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Percentage of the Nation in New York City and Six Other Areal Groupings of Continental United States, 1790–1930, in Population of the City of New York 1890–1930 (New York: Cities Census Committee, Inc., 1932), 10. NYAM Collection.

Using census data for social purposes relies on a particular way of measuring things, though. To be useful, some “granularity” is needed: it’s not just at the state or county level that we need statistics, it’s rather at the block and neighborhood level. And there needs to be some sense of “commensurability”: a measure of a neighborhood in one part of a city, say, needs to be readily comparable to the measure in another part. And stability of the measuring unit is important; the geographical unit needs to stay the same over the years. For populations that are ever-changing, in place and age and origin, this is no mean feat. The fact that it works in the American context at all is largely due to one man, Walter Laidlaw, a statistician of the early 20th century who revolutionized the way that the Census Bureau carried out the New York census, a change that eventually was implemented for the whole country.

Walter Laidlaw (1861–1936), was a Canadian Presbyterian minister. As a child, he was adopted by his uncle, Robert Laidlaw, founder of a prominent lumber company in Esquesing Township, southwest of Toronto. After graduating from the University of Toronto in 1881, Princeton Theological Seminary in 1884, and going on for further study at the University of Berlin and again at Princeton Seminary, he was called to be pastor of the Jermain Memorial Church in Watervliet (now West Troy), New York, a post he held from 1886 to 1892.[1]

After a year as president of the new University of Fairhaven (which later became Western Washington University, Bellingham) from 1892 to 1893, he settled in New York City, at St. Nicholas Collegiate Reformed Church, part of the Dutch Reformed tradition, from 1894–1895. But a new opportunity called: in 1895, he was appointed the first executive director of the newly formed New York Federation of Churches and Christian Workers. He held this position for almost 30 years, until 1922. Along the way, Laidlaw earned a Ph.D. from New York University in 1896; the field has not been determined, but statistics was his passion.

From his position as executive director of the Federation of Churches, and as editor of its journal, Federation, Laidlaw sought to put the work of religion on a secure scientific basis. Who were the people of New York? What social and economic needs did these people have? Where were the (Protestant, at least) houses of worship and settlement houses? Data were needed, and the census seemed a good place to start.

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New York and Neighborhood. In In New York City 1920 Census Committee, Statistical Sources for Demographic Studies of Greater New York, 1920 (New York: New York City 1920 Census Committee, Inc., 1922), xliv. NYAM Collection.

At this time, there were two: the Federal census, conducted in the years ending in “0,” the New York State census in the years ending in “5,” and they didn’t work the same way. As he details in a classic 1906 article in Federation, the counting principles differed between the Federal and state censuses, from one year’s census to the next, and even for different parts of the city within the same census. The Federal census of 1900 rolled up its data differently: for Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, city council wards were used, and for Manhattan and the Bronx, New York State Assembly districts. And then the 1905 state census used New York State Assembly districts in all five boroughs. In Laidlaw’s words: “The ward is a fixed boundary, immobile as the orthography of a dead language,” he said; drawing out the metaphor, he continued, “the Assembly district is a changing boundary, a phonetic spelling arrangement which responds to the alien accents in the makeup of the city.” To get good data, the Federation found itself retabulating first the 1900 Federal census for 2 boroughs, and then, for the 1905 state census, for all 5 boroughs. At this point, Laidlaw called for a new system: “The scientific sociological study of Greater New York requires a ‘dead language’ boundary for tabulations. . . . Federation respectfully suggests a scheme which does away both with ward and Assembly district outlines, and which can be permanent.” [2]

The system he proposed was securely within the American tradition. It was, in fact, to use the system that was enshrined in law in the Land Ordinance of 1785: the “section” system set up to survey and sell the undeveloped lands west of the Appalachians. (An arial view of a Midwestern county, in Indiana, say,  would reveal the regularity of the system!) Laidlaw’s first unit of analysis was the quarter-section: a quarter of a square mile, or 160 acres.

The whole city could be mapped into 1,308 quarter section plots, . . . The “quarter sections” could not, to be sure, be invariably 160 acres. Blocks should not be broken. But well defined area of about 160 acres could easily be devised. . . . [The] designation . . . could become uniform in the Federal Census tabulations, perpetually, and in the work of every department of the city, not excepting even the tax office.[3]

The idea caught on. The U.S. Census Bureau adopted it the same year in preparation for the 1910 Federal census, but took the area down to 40-acre plots and called the basic units “census tracts.” By 1914, the city’s Department of Health had adopted census tracts as “‘sanitary areas’ to be followed in constructing new administrative districts in tuberculosis clinic work, baby health station districts, etc.” The sanitary areas were grouped together to form “Health Area Units.” [4]

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Sanitary districts of Manhattan. In New York City 1920 Census Committee, Statistical Sources for Demographic Studies of Greater New York, 1920 (New York: New York City 1920 Census Committee, Inc., 1922), 12A. NYAM Collection.

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Sanitary districts of Manhattan. Sanitary districts of Manhattan. In New York City 1920 Census Committee, Statistical Sources for Demographic Studies of Greater New York, 1920 (New York: New York City 1920 Census Committee, Inc., 1922), 12B. NYAM Collection.

Although eight cities ostensibly made use of census tracts in 1910 data gathering, New York remained the only one to analyze and publish the data to that granularity. The technique spread to 10 more cities for the 1930 census, and 42 more in 1940. The entire county was covered by census tracts by the year 2000. More importantly, the social service purposes that Laidlaw brought to his recommendations for the census came to fruition in governmental circles. Census tract data became a standard unit for analysis in public health, both for government and for academia.

As for Walter Laidlaw, he was deeply involved in every census from 1910 to 1930, often as a leader in the city census committees and as editor of the published compiled results. On May 20, returning from lunch at the Mayor’s Committee on City Planning, he died. His funeral, at Riverside Church, presided over by Harry Emerson Fosdick, attracted the notables of the City.[5]

References

[1] “Laidlaw, Walter.” Who’s Who in New York (City and State): A Biographical Dictionary of Contemporaries. 6th biennial ed. Ed. William H. Mohr (New York: Who’s Who in New York City and State, Inc., 1914), 434–435. https://archive.org/details/whoswhoinnewyor1914hame/page/n79/mode/2up]

[2] Laidlaw, Walter. “Federation Districts and a Suggestion for a Convenient and Scientific City Map System.” Federation 4(4) 1906: 2–6.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Godias J. Drolet and William H. Guilfoy, “Organization of Local Health Area Statistics in New York City,” American Journal of Public Health 20(4), April 1930: 380–386.

[5] New York Times, May 23, 1936; p. 15.

Highlighting NYAM Women in Medical History: Sara Josephine Baker, MD, DrPh

By Hannah Johnston, Library Volunteer

This the first entry in our series on female New York Academy of Medicine (NYAM) Fellows and their contributions to society. Please also see our biographical sketch of Mary Putnam Jacobi, the first female Fellow.

A pioneer in public health and champion of preventative medicine, New York Academy of Medicine Fellow Dr. Sara Josephine Baker (1873–1945) had a significant impact on the landscape of maternal and infant health outcomes in the early twentieth century in New York City. Throughout her long career as a physician and health inspector, Baker introduced and supported numerous measures to reduce maternal, infant, and child mortality and morbidity, particularly in immigrant and low-income communities within the city. Her work saved countless lives and had substantial influence within the larger structure of medicine and public health in New York and beyond.[1] Baker and her career were exceptional in many ways, but in particular, she engendered greater public trust in the medical profession by encouraging greater reliance on doctors while still allowing for and expecting continued trust in other sources of knowledge.

Portrait as director of the Bureau of Child Hygiene

Portrait of Sara Josephine Baker. In S. Josephine Baker, Fighting for life (1939). NYAM Collection.

Baker, who was often referred to affectionately as “Dr. Jo,” earned her medical degree from the Women’s Medical College at the New York Infirmary, which was founded by early female physicians Elizabeth and Emily Blackwell.[2] Following her graduation, she began practicing in New York while serving as a medical inspector for the New York Life Insurance Company and as a part-time medical examiner for the city. In 1907, she was appointed Assistant Commissioner of Health, and by the following year was named the first director of the Bureau of Child Hygiene.[3]

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The doctors and nurses of the Bureau of Child Hygiene in 1909. In S. Josephine Baker, Fighting for life (1939). NYAM Collection.

Among Baker’s chief concerns as director were those regarding the high infant mortality and morbidity rates in the city, especially in communities with low rates of access to sanitary medical care. In her 1939 autobiography Fighting for Life, she noted the high rates of infant blindness, illness, and deaths in the city, and attributed them to overreliance on the unqualified advice of neighbors and friends as well as a lack of sanitation of spaces and materials.[4] In 1913 she wrote a pamphlet for new mothers, in coordination with the New York Milk Committee, titled “Talks with Mothers,” instructing them on how to best prevent these and other issues, as well as urging them to consult with medical professionals whenever possible.[5] Additionally, Baker lamented high rates of infant, child, and maternal mortality in New York. Many of her public health and preventative care efforts were directed toward lowering these mortality rates, particularly by improving access to pasteurized milk and sanitary medical care. Sanitation was not Baker’s sole focus, however; she marveled at how babies living in tenements seemed to be doing better than foundlings living in sanitary hospitals, and concluded that “personal care from a maternally minded mother” was as important for a baby’s survival as sanitation.[6] She then implemented a program where “tenement mothers” fostered foundlings from the hospital, which led to a drastic drop in the mortality rate among these babies — from 50% to 33% generally, and from 100% to 50% among “hopeless cases.”[7]

A firm believer in social medicine, Baker formed her opinions and efforts regarding public health around the needs and circumstances of the communities she served. Her commitments to serving immigrant and low-income communities can be clearly seen in her considerations of the practice of midwifery in the city and of the needs of working mothers. Despite feeling that midwives in the U.S. were largely “very clumsy [practitioners] indeed who had got into the profession as [amateurs] and stayed in to make a living,” Baker recognized that many women, especially those who had grown up in countries where midwives were more widely respected and utilized, were uncomfortable with the “American” practice of (male) physician-attended birth.[8] Positing that without midwives women might put themselves at further risk by seeking the help of unqualified neighbors and friends before seeking a doctor (if they could even afford to), Baker became focused on implementing a system to regulate the practice of midwifery in the city to ensure higher standards of care. This stance put her at odds with many of her peers, and in Fighting for Life, she described a “hot discussion” with her colleagues at the New York Academy of Medicine over the matter.[9] In order to ensure the well-being of infants whose mothers were in the workforce, a common occurrence particularly in low-income households at the time, Baker developed the Little Mothers League to educate older children on the proper care of infants. Since older daughters were often tasked with caring for their siblings while their parents worked, Baker believed it was important to ensure that everyone caring for babies was prepared to do so. The education girls received from the Little Mothers League, Baker reasoned, also had the positive side effect of larger-scale understanding of the proper care of children, as the “Little Mothers” shared their new expertise with their parents, friends, and communities.[10]

Sara Josephine Baker’s long, wide-ranging, and impressive career saw significant improvements in the well-being of mothers and children in New York City and beyond. Aside from her efforts to improve the care of infants, she championed preventative healthcare for toddlers and school-aged children and mothers, and was instrumental—twice—in catching the first known asymptomatic carrier of typhoid, “Typhoid Mary” Mallon.[11] By the time she retired in New Jersey with her partner Ida Wylie and their friend Louise Pearce in the mid-1930s, New York City had the lowest urban infant mortality rate in the United States.[12] Sara Josephine Baker’s social and preventative approach to medicine engendered greater and more widespread public trust in medical professionals while respecting the need for other sources of knowledge and care, and made New York City a healthier place.

References

[1] Manon Parry, “Sara Josephine Baker (1873-1945),” American Journal of Public Health 96 No. 4 (2006), pp. 620–621.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Sara Josephine Baker, Fighting for Life (New York, NY: The Macmillan Company, 1939), 116–119, New York Academy of Medicine Library, New York, NY, Special Collections, Call No. WZ 100 B168 1939, Film 8865 no. 5.

[5] Sara Josephine Baker, “Talks with Mothers” (New York, NY: The New York Milk Committee, for the Babies’ Welfare Association of New York City, 1913), New York Academy of Medicine Library, New York, NY, Pamphlet Collection, Box 97, Call No. 115239.

[6] Baker, Fighting for Life 119–121.

[7] Ibid. 120.

[8] Ibid. 112.

[9] Ibid. 114.

[10] Ibid. 132–137.

[11] Parry.

[12] Ibid.

Sir William Osler: A Bibliophilic Benefactor

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Photograph of William Osler. Osler, W., & Pollard, A. W. (1923). Incunabula medica: A study of the earliest printed medical books 1467–1480. Oxford: Bibliographical Society. NYAM Collection. 

December 29, 2019, marks the centenary of the death of Sir William Osler (1849–1919), arguably the most important and most loved physician of his era. Osler received his medical degree from MGill University in 1872, and joined the medical faculty there in 1874. A decade later he moved to Philadelphia to chair the department of Clinical Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, and in 1889 he was one of the founders of the Johns Hopkins Hospital, serving as its first Physician-in-Chief and as the first professor of medicine at the newly opened medical school. In 1905, he left the United States to become the Regis Professor of Medicine at Oxford, a position he held for the rest of his life. An accomplished teacher of clinical medicine, Osler established the medical residency program at Hopkins and made sure that students had ample opportunity to interact with patients at the bedside. His textbook, The Principles and Practice of Medicine, first published in 1892, appeared in multiple editions and was the standard textbook of internal medicine for decades. (National Library of Medicine, 2013).

Osler was also an extraordinary collector and lover of books, and in addition to amassing the collection that became the Osler Library of the History of Medicine at McGill University, he bestowed gifts on both his friends and on institutions. The Library of The New York Academy of Medicine has him to thank for two of its most treasured items.

Late in February of 1906, Osler sent a postcard to Walter Belknap James (1858–1927), along with a copy of William Harvey’s 1628 De motu cordis, the text in which Harvey describes the circulatory system and the motion of the heart and the blood. Harvey’s work, probably the most important text in the history of physiology, was notoriously difficult to find. In the Bibliotheca Osleriana, Osler recounts his hunt for a copy of the book:

Feb. 17, 1906; I had been looking for a copy for nearly ten years.  Pickering and Chatto sent one to-day, which they had bought for £30 at the sale of Dr. Pettigrew’s library. Though a poor copy, measuring only 7 3/8 x 5 3/8 inches, I took it.  Feb. 19, two days later, they sent me another (this one) from the library of Milne Edwards… I took it too, and passed on the other to Dr. Walter James who gave it to the Library of the Academy of Medicine, New York. (Osler, Francis, Hill, & Malloch, 1929, p. 4)

As can be seen in the image of the postcard below, Osler marketed this copy to James rather differently:

Dear James, That is a nice de Moto Cordis is it not? I had it & another copy here last week to look over and take my pick. There has not been another copy offered in England since 1895 when an imperfect copy was sold at Sotheby's for 10 guineas. Then these two turned up. My copy is from Milne Edwards library in Paris. It is an excessively rare book. Rosenthal tells me he has not had a copy offered in Germany for years. Yours sincerely, Wm Osler

Postcard to Walter Belknap James from William Osler, February 1906. NYAM Collection.

Good copy or not, the gift of the Harvey definitely enhanced the Library’s holdings, and was joined later in the 20th century by a second copy of the 1628 edition when Robert Levy gave his library of books by and about William Harvey to the Academy Library.

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Title page. Harvey, W. (1628). Exercitatio anatomica de motu cordis et sanguinis in animalibus Guilielmi Harvei. Francofurti: Sumptibus G. Fitzeri. NYAM Collection.

In 1909, Osler again made a gift to the Academy’s collections. On June 16th, Osler sent Laura Smith, who worked in the library, a note relaying the following information: “Will you please tell your Superior, Mr. B [John Browne, the Academy’s librarian] that I hope to send him the Vesalius first edition this week.”

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Letter from William Osler to Laura Smith, June 16th, 1909. NYAM Collection.

Osler had recently given a second copy of the 1543 edition of De humani corporis fabrica, Andreas Vesalius’ groundbreaking work on anatomy, to McGill, and decided that their other copy should make its way to the Academy, even going so far to say in his letter to Miss Smith that while Miss Charlton (of McGill) was “crying hard about it,” Osler was “obdurate and she was not good enough to be allowed 2 copies of so great a work” (personal communication, June 16th, 1909).

In the Bibliotheca Osleriana, Osler writes that he had in his possession at one time or another six copies of the Fabrica, also giving them as gifts to the Boston Medical Library Association; the Medical and Chirurgical Faculty, Baltimore; the Medical Department at the University of Missouri; and to his friend Llewelys Barker, who was professor of anatomy at the University of Chicago, as a wedding present. (Osler, Francis, Hill, & Malloch, 1929).

The Library’s copy still displays the inscription Osler wrote on the free endpaper of this copy when he gave it to McGill in 1903, “The original edition of the greatest medical work ever printed, the one from which modern medicine dates its beginning. W. O.”

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Osler’s inscription on endpaper in De humani corporis fabrica (1543). NYAM Collection.

Our copy also retains the bookplates that track its movement from McGill to New York:

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Bookplates in the 1543 edition of De humani corporis fabrica. NYAM Collection.

The Academy soon acquired two other copies of the 1543 Vesalius, one from the Edward Clark Streeter Collection and the other from Dr. Samuel Lambert, as well as two copies of the 1555 second edition. In fact, editions of Vesalius and related works soon became a major research strength of the collection, continue to be heavily used by readers, and are frequently shared with visiting groups and classes.

As 2019 draws to a close, the Library is grateful to its many friends and donors, who, following the spirit of Sir William Osler, continue to enrich our collections today. One hundred years later, the memory of Osler’s generosity reminds us that these books still matter.  Generations of earlier readers held the Osler copies of the Harvey and Vesalius in their hands over the course of hundreds of years before they finally landed on our shelves. It is a privilege to be able to continue to share them.

 References

National Library of Medicine. (2013). William Osler: Biographical overview. Retrieved from https://profiles.nlm.nih.gov/spotlight/gf/feature/biographical-overview

Osler, W., Francis, W. W., Hill, R. H., & Malloch, A. (1929). Bibliotheca Osleriana: A catalogue of books illustrating the history of medicine and science. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press.

 

Holiday Recipes from Our Cookery Collection

By Carrie Levinson, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian

It’s that time of year, when big batches of sweet treats are put in the oven, entrées that can feed an army are lovingly prepared, and fun beverages are served all around. Perhaps you don’t know exactly what you’d like to serve at this year’s holiday dinner, or just want to mix things up a bit (with a little historical flair). With this in mind, The New York Academy of Medicine Library is offering a variety of recipes for your perusal from our adoptable Cookery Collection, holdings which span over 10,000 cookbooks, menus, and pamphlets and that include recipes from ancient Rome to mid-century America.

We start off with a festive drink, a “beautiful flavoured punch”, from one of the oldest American cookbooks. Robert Roberts’ The House Servant’s Directory: A Monitor for Private Families (originally published in 1827; our edition is from 1828) was the first commercially-produced book in the United States authored by an African-American (Langone, 2002). It includes an etiquette guide for servants as well as useful household receipts.

TO MAKE A BEAUTIFUL FLAVOURED PUNCH. Take one dessert-spoonful of acid salt of lemon, half a pound of good white sugar, two quarts of real boiling water, one pint of Jamaica rum, and a half pint of brandy, add some lemon peel or some essence of lemon, if agreeable, four drops of the essence is enough; then pour it from one pitcher to another twice or thrice to mix it well. This will be a most delicious and fine flavoured punch.

Recipe “to make a beautiful flavoured punch” from Robert Roberts’s House Servant’s Directory: A Monitor for Private Families (1828). NYAM Collection.

Moving onto some main course inspiration, these recipes for roast goose and apple stuffing come from the December 18th, 1933 issue of A & P weekly menus from the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company.  The menus, which span the years from 1933-1935, include meal ideas for four people as well as complementary recipes and advertisements; some weeks have a theme and some simply list different recipes the consumer might find appealing.

Menu for a Special Christmas dinner, along with recipes for Roast Goose and Apple Stuffing.

December 18, 1933 menu from Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company. A & P Menus: Prepared and Proven in the A & P Kitchen. 1933–1935. NYAM Collection.

Amelia Simmons’ American Cookery, or, the Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, & Vegetables (1804) is the first cookbook known to be written by an American, and was originally published in 1796. Simmons included the first recipes for items like johnnycakes and custard-style pumpkin pie and substituted American ingredients for British ones (Stavely and Fitzgerald, 2018). She also included a recipe for New Year’s Cake, seen here.

NEW YEAR'S CAKE Take 14 pound flour, to which add one pint milk, and one quart yeast, put these together over night, and let it lie in the sponge till morning, 5 pound sugar and 4 pound butter, dissolve these together, 6 eggs well beat, and carroway seed; put the whole together, and when light bake them in cakes, similar to breakfast biscuit, 20 minutes.

New Year’s Cake recipe from Amelia Simmons, American Cookery, or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry, & Vegetables (1804). NYAM Collection.

Need more ideas? Check out the full Holiday Recipes addition to our Adopt a Book Cookery Collection, and help support the care and preservation of these rare and unique materials!

References

Langone, J. (2002). Introduction to the Feeding America project. Retrieved from https://d.lib.msu.edu/content/introductory_essays/?book=43

Stavely, K., & Fitzgerald, K. (2018, January 12). What America’s first cookbook says about our country and its cuisine. Smithsonian Magazine. Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-americas-first-cookbook-says-about-our-country-its-cuisine-180967809/

John Locke’s Copy of The Secret Miracles of Nature and the NYAM Library

By Hannah Johnston, Library Volunteer

In a 1581 copy that The New York Academy of Medicine Library holds of Levinus Lemnius’s De Miraculis Occultis Naturae (or The Secret Miracles of Nature), one can find a tiny signature. Inscribed on the top right corner of the inside cover, in small but unmistakable handwriting is “John Locke.”[1] The famous philosopher and physician himself, who passed away sitting in his library in 1704, owned—and maybe read— this fascinating book of “secret miracles”; over three hundred years later, the book made its way to NYAM. Locke’s De Miraculis presents an exciting opportunity to examine how some of the Library’s most interesting possessions find their way here, but also gives us a way to learn what De Miraculis in particular can tell us about Locke.

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John Locke’s signature can be seen at the very top right corner of our 1581 De Miraculis. NYAM Collection.

John Locke collected many books. By the end of his life, his collection was large in size and diverse in its subjects, consisting of over three thousand books on hundreds of topics.[2] There is a relative wealth of scholarship on Locke’s library, but perhaps the most extensive work is The Library of John Locke by John Harrison and Peter Laslett.[3] This particular copy of De Miraculis is catalogued in the 1971 edition of their work.[4]

Locke’s De Miraculis was a first edition copy, published in Latin in 1581 in Antwerp.[5] It is one of 35 of Locke’s books published in that city, and one of over one thousand published in Latin. It is one of 101 books which Harrison and Laslett list as focusing on “bibliography”; topics range from medicine and magic to hygiene and geography.[6]

De Miraculis is an important book in its own right, but is also known as one of the works from which the incredibly popular seventeenth-century sex manual Aristotle’s Masterpiece pulled much of its content.[7] Aristotle’s Masterpiece co-opted sections of De Miraculis which dealt with the mechanisms of pregnancy, maternal imagination, and monstrous births, among other topics. The Masterpiece is not listed in the catalog of Locke’s books (though this does not necessarily mean he never owned a copy); as an English physician in possession of many books on medicine, midwifery, and anatomy, it is plausible to assume that he could have come across the Masterpiece, first published in 1684.[8] Regardless, Locke’s ownership—and likely readership—of the Masterpiece’s source material certainly adds layers to our understanding of the famous philosopher.

Though it would be nearly impossible to know the entirety of this book’s journey—who owned it, whether and how it was read—from Locke’s library to ours, we do know some of its more notable stops along the way. The signature on the inside front cover is common among books owned by Locke, who did not frequently make other annotations in books he owned.[9] It is likely that De Miraculis was a later acquisition of Locke’s, and could have been over one hundred years old when he acquired it.[10] Nothing is known of where or how Locke got the book. It is probably a part of the “Masham moiety” of Locke’s library, the section of the library that was left in the possession of the Masham family at the manor house at Otes, which housed Locke’s library for much of his life. The Masham moiety accounts for most of the works which exist outside of the Bodleian Library at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.[11]

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Edward Dowden’s inscription in the 1581 version of De Miraculis. NYAM Collection.

It is likely that the book remained at Otes at least until “[the] Masham line became extinct” in 1776. At some point during the end of the 18th century, it would have been moved to Holme Park by the Palmer family. It could have remained there until around 1890, when Locke scholar A. C. Fraser deemed the Locke collection at Holme Park “dispersed.”[12] Around the early 20th century, Locke’s De Miraculis was acquired by Irish poet Edward Dowden, who died in 1913 and left an inscription confirming Locke’s ownership of the book inside the front cover. It was acquisitioned by the NYAM Library in May 1929, and has remained here ever since.

Examining Locke’s ownership of this copy of De Miraculis can provide us with quite a bit of insight into how he may have viewed his world. This book can show us what kinds of books Locke felt were worth owning, what kind of information he had at his disposal, and how he may have interpreted that information. Perhaps more fascinating, however, is how Locke’s signature has allowed us to trace much more of this book’s journey than we might have been able to otherwise. As one of only “a score or two” of the books from the Masham moiety which are extant and whose locations are known, a tiny signature makes this copy of De Miraculis rather remarkable. [13]

Special thanks go to Dr. Hannah Marcus for recognizing John Locke’s signature, and to Dr. Felix Waldmann for his wealth of knowledge on the library and life of John Locke.

References

[1] Levinus Lemnius, De miraculis occultis naturae, libri IIII. Item De vita cum animi et corporis incolumitate recte instituenda, liber unus. Illi quidem jam postremùm emendati, & aliquot capitibus aucti: hic verò nunquam antehac editus…. (Antwerp, Belgium: Ex Officina Christophori Plantini, 1581), New York Academy of Medicine Library, New York, NY.

[2] John Harrison and Peter Laslett, The Library of John Locke (Oxford, UK: The Clarendon Press, 1971).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. 171.

[5] Lemnius.

[6] Harrison and Laslett 18–20.

[7] Mary Fissell, “Hairy Women and Naked Truths: Gender and the Politics of Knowledge in ‘Aristotle’s Masterpiece,’” The William and Mary Quarterly 60 No 1, “Sexuality in Early America,” Jan 2003, 43–74.

[8] Harrison and Laslett 11.

[9] Harrison and Laslett 39.

[10] Ibid. 35–36, 171. Harrison and Laslett speculate that alphabetical suffixes indicate later acquisitions in their examination of Locke’s pressmark system.

[11] Ibid. 57.

[12] Ibid. 55–61.

[13] Ibid. 61.

The Women’s Field Army: A Precursor to the American Cancer Society

By Carrie Levinson, Reference Services and Outreach Librarian

On November 7, The New York Academy of Medicine had its Annual Discourse, where Dr. Otis W. Brawley, Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, delivered a fascinating talk on cancer disparities and the status of anti-cancer efforts in the United States. Part of his message was that, while there are differences in diverse populations, increased awareness leads to better outcomes.

Educating the public about cancer, its symptoms, and its treatment was also of great concern to the members of the American Society for the Control of Cancer (ASCC), an organization founded in 1913 with ten doctors and five laypeople, when the disease was not widely talked about and had high mortality rates. The organization’s mission was to bring the looming specter of cancer out of the shadows and into the light, and to do that, they wrote numerous articles in both popular periodicals and academic journals, produced their own bulletin, Campaign Notes, and recruited doctors around the United States to educate patients (American Cancer Society [ACS], 2019).

While these efforts helped, they only involved about 15,000 people across the country by 1935 (ACS, 2019). In 1936, the new campaign was born to get volunteers to help spread vital information: the Women’s Field Army. The ASCC specifically recruited women “because the types of cancer that strike women hardest—cancer of the uterus and breast—may be cured in seventy per cent of the cases if taken in time” (New York City Cancer Committee [NYCCC], 1936).

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Some of the Women’s Field Army in Service, April 1942. American Society for the Control of Cancer (1942). Hospital service program of the Women’s Field Army: The American Society for the Control of Cancer, Inc. [Pamphlet]. New York, NY: Author.

Among other educational literature, the ASCC produced pamphlets promoting the Women’s Field Army. One item from 1936, used to recruit members, tells the story of a woman who started to suspect she might have cancer based on the New York City Cancer Committee’s materials, such as billboards, subway cards, and editorials in the newspaper (NYCCC, 1936). After learning more and eventually receiving the treatment she needs, she joins the Women’s Field Army so that she, too, can be a “crusader in the fight against cancer.” Other pages in the pamphlet emphasize the critical role that various women have played in helping others receive the care they need, from Maud Slye’s cancer research to Dr. Elizabeth Hurdon, founder of the Marie Curie Hospital in London (NYCCC, 1936).

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Short descriptions of Marie Curie’s and Maud Slye’s research. New York City Cancer Committee (1936). For all women: Presented by the Women’s Field Army of the American Society for the Control of Cancer [Pamphlet]. New York, NY: Author.

A wartime NYCCC pamphlet encourages different divisions of the Women’s Field Army to set up hospital service programs as a part of the War Service Program, and describes their challenges and triumphs. The preparation and use of surgical dressings and bandages, which the Women’s Field Army determined were greatly needed, are explained in detail, from production to transportation (American Society for the Control of Cancer, 1942).

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Map of the organization plan of the NYC Cancer Committee divisions of the Women’s Field Army. American Society for the Control of Cancer (1942). Hospital service program of the Women’s Field Army: The American Society for the Control of Cancer, Inc. [Pamphlet]. New York, NY: Author.  NYAM Collection.

Divisions and programs like Women’s Field Army greatly expanded cancer awareness; the organization is credited with increasing the number of individuals involved in cancer control from 15,000 to at least 150,000 in three years (ACS, 2019). Although the American Society for the Control of Cancer changed direction after World War II (you may know it better now as the American Cancer Society) and the Army no longer exists, it serves as an important reminder of how a group of determined volunteers can change the way we think of, and treat, cancer—or indeed any disease—today.

References

American Cancer Society (2019). Our history. Retrieved from https://www.cancer.org/about-us/who-we-are/our-history.html

American Society for the Control of Cancer (1942). Hospital service program of the Women’s Field Army: The American Society for the Control of Cancer, Inc. [Pamphlet]. New York, NY: Author.

New York City Cancer Committee (1936). For all women: Presented by the Women’s Field Army of the American Society for the Control of Cancer [Pamphlet]. New York, NY: Author.