Views and Voices of Older New Yorkers

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

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

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

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

The 8 Domains of Livability

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

Our Interviewees!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then & Now: The Past and Future of Medical Libraries

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Academy Library at 17 West 43rd Street

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


References

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

‘Sick and In Prison’: Airborne Disease and Prison Reform in the career of John Howard (1726–1790) 

By Dr. Paul E. Sampson, Assistant Professor of History, The University of Scranton 

2020 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow in the History of Medicine and Public Health 

Over the course of the past year, I have had the privilege of spending four weeks researching in the spectacular rare book collection of the Library of the New York Academy of Medicine. My book project is entitled “Ventilating the Empire: Environmental Machines in Britain, 1700–1850” and comprises a scientific and social history of ventilation in Britain and the British empire during the long eighteenth century, roughly 1688 to 1815. By examining the design and deployment of ventilating machines in slave and naval ships, prisons and public buildings, I ask how devices designed to protect human beings from environmental hazards became a means of dividing British society along class and racial lines.  

Text Box

The primary subject of my research has been the life and career of prison reformer John Howard (1726–1790). I examine Howard’s career through the context of his work on “Jail Fever” (AKA typhus) which contemporary physicians and medical experts understood as an airborne disease. I argue that a key feature of Howard’s celebrity was his perceived invulnerability to airborne diseases. In addition, his influence helped to shift the discourse of prison reform away from overall institutional sanitation and towards methods intended to control the hygiene and morality of individual prisoners. 

For those unfamiliar, John Howard was a noble-born, intensely religious man who was appointed sheriff of Bedfordshire in 1773. One of his duties was to inspect local prisons. Unlike many of his genteel contemporaries, he took this job seriously. He was appalled by the conditions of the prisons in Bedfordshire, and to spur reform and gather ideas for improvement, he made a series of lengthy tours to visit as many prisons as he could throughout the British Isles and continental Europe. His first published book, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales (1777), detailed his visits to dozens of county jails and bridewells (workhouses), including careful notes of the fees charged to prisoners, their daily workload, the prison diet, and the overall sanitation.  

One of the primary goals of Howard’s travels was to find the best means of preventing the spread of disease. By the 1750s, prisons were increasingly perceived as public health hazards. The filthy and diseased condition of prisoners in London’s Newgate prison became a public scandal after the Lord Mayor and 56 others died of jail fever in the weeks following an audience with prisoners. Following the contemporary etiology of fever, the outbreak was attributed to the “putrid effluvia” exhaled in the breath of sick prisoners that had imparted a “poisonous quality” to the air in the courtroom.1 By 1774, Howard had achieved celebrity status by helping to author the “Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol.” This act stated that jail fever was caused by the “want of cleanliness and fresh air” and mandated that all interior walls and ceilings be scraped and white-washed annually and “constantly supplied with fresh air, by means of hand ventilators or otherwise.”2  

However, in the wake of this achievement, Howard’s attitudes about preventing fever had begun to shift. During his tours of European prisons, he was puzzled that he rarely encountered “jail distempers” there. To explain the disparity between these and disease-ridden English institutions, Howard developed a theory of jail fever based entirely on his own “experience.” He argued that prisoners could only be infected if privation, filth, and personal intemperance weakened them enough for the contagion to take hold. Young and healthy convicts who were used to “vigorous exercise” quickly became infected due to the “sudden change of diet and lodging” that “so affects the spirits of new convicts, that the general causes of putrid fevers exert an immediate effect on them.” As a counter-example, Howard pointed to himself. During his first tours, he wrote, he had attempted to avoid breathing in contagion by “smelling to vinegar… and changing my apparel…constantly and carefully.” A few years later, however, he wrote that he “entirely omitted” such precautions. In his opinion, the real protection against infection were his habits of “temperance and cleanliness” as well as the power of “divine providence.”3 

Image 2: Howard was keenly impressed by the prison regime in Bern, Switzerland. Howard wrote that the city was “one of the cleanest I have seen” and included illustrations of the employment of male and female prisoners as street cleaners. Note the iron collars with hooks affixed to the prisoners’ necks to deter escape attempts.  
“Employment of Criminals” and “Employment of female Criminals,” in John Howard. The State of the Prisons in England and Wales. 2nd. Ed. (Warrington: T. Cadell, 1780) 109–10. Images courtesy of the New York Academy of Medicine Library. 
 

By the time the second edition of State of the Prisons came out in 1780, Howard had visited hundreds of disease-ridden institutions and avoided contracting a serious infection. While friends privately cautioned him against such continual risk-taking, Howard’s superhuman invulnerability to disease had become a key feature of his celebrity.4 Celebratory poems about Howard became, in the estimation of two literary scholars, “nearly ubiquitous in the 1780s and 1790s” as poets from Erasmus Darwin to William Cowper celebrated his arduous travels and selfless virtue.5 William Hayley’s 1780 Ode, Inscribed to John Howard attributed Howard’s “matchless fame” to his “valor’s adventr’ous step” through “malignant cells” where “fierce contagion, with affright, repels.”6

Image 3: George Romney’s study for a never-completed painting of John Howard visiting a prison or lazaretto. Howard is the figure standing defiantly on the far left.  
George Romney, John Howard Visiting a Lazaretto (1790–95). Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA. 
 

This vision of Howard as a heroic and invincible figure appeared in numerous prints and lithographs and was captured evocatively in an unfinished work by famed painter George Romney, who depicted a defiant Howard striding confidently into scenes of melodramatic suffering and disease.7  

Despite his reputation, Howard wasn’t able to evade contagion forever. While travelling through southern Ukraine in the winter of 1790, Howard contracted a serious fever and died two weeks later.8 Notwithstanding his untimely death, Howard’s emphasis on invigorating labor, self-regulation, and instilling personal hygiene in convicts exerted an enormous influence. By the heyday of the modern penitentiary in the mid-nineteenth century, Howard was lauded as the founder of “prison science.”9 While jails designed during Howard’s life reflected the eighteenth-century emphasis on eliminating effluvia via ventilation, their nineteenth-century successors focused instead on insuring that each inmate was placed in solitary confinement and given a strict regimen of work and moral instruction.10  

In my larger project, I argue that this is partially due to a shifting locus of responsibility for preventing airborne disease. The attention of reformers shifted from the condition of the institution to the character of the individual, who became responsible for his or her own cleanliness and ventilation. To briefly illustrate this point, I will conclude with a quotation written several years after Howard’s death by naval health reformer Gilbert Blane: 

Those only whose duty leads them to consider the subject, are aware how much the welfare of the human species depends on ventilation and cleanliness; and no one could render a greater service to his fellow creatures, than to impress on their minds the necessity of cultivating them as moral and religious duties.11 


1. See, for example: John Pringle, Observations on the Nature and Cure of Hospital and Jayl-Fevers (London: A. Millar, 1750); “Account of the Fatal Assize,” CLA/035/02/049, Gaol Committee, 1750–1755, Notes on Ventilating Newgate, London Metropolitan Archives.

2. Act for Preserving the Health of Prisoners in Gaol and Preventing the Gaol Distemper, 1774, 14 Geo. III, c. 59.

3. John Howard, The State of the Prisons in England and Wales 2nd. Ed. (Warrington: T. Cadell 1780) 430–31.

4. Thomas Taylor, Memoirs of John Howard (London: John Hatchard, 1836) 386–87.

5. Gabriel Cervantes and Dahlia Porter, “Extreme Empiricism: John Howard, Poetry, and the Thermometrics of Reform,” The Eighteenth Century, 57:1 (Spring 2016): 97.

6. William Hayley, “Ode, Inscribed to John Howard” (Boston: J. White et. al. 1795 [1780]).

7. George Romney, John Howard Visiting a Prison or a Lazaretto, 1790–95, courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA.

8. John Aikin, A View of the Life, Travels, and Philanthropic Labours of the Late John Howard (Boston: J. White et. al., 1794) 120–25.

9. William Hepworth Dixon, John Howard and the Prison World of Europe, 2nd ed. (London: Jackson and Walford, 1850) 1.

10. Robin Evans, The Fabrication of Virtue: English Prison Architecture 1750–1840 (London: Cambridge UP, 1982) 104–114; Michael Ignatieff, A Just Measure of Pain (London: Penguin, 1978) 3–14.

11. Gilbert Blane, “Letter to John Hippisley,” in Observations on the Diseases of Seamen (London: 1799): 614–15.

English-Language Manuscript Cookbooks

By Stephen Schmidt, Manuscript Cookbooks Survey

Over the course of a decade, culinary historian Stephen Schmidt has advised the NYAM Library on our extensive manuscript cookbook collection. This blog post is a version of the essay he wrote about our digital collection Remedies and Recipes: Manuscript Cookbooks. As part of Bibliography Week 2021, he is speaking on “Manuscript Cookbooks and Their Audience” on January 30.

Introduction to Manuscript Cookbooks

The modern Anglo-American tradition of manuscript cookbooks might be said to begin with the world’s first printed cookbook, De honesta voluptate et valetudine, or “On right pleasure and good health.” Written by the celebrated humanist writer Bartolomeo Sacchi, known as Platina, and first published around 1474, the book was translated into Italian, French, and German within a few decades of publication, and it remained widely read throughout Europe into the early eighteenth century. The book featured both a new cuisine and, just as importantly, a new attitude toward food and cooking. Platina presented an interest in food and its preparation as a kind of connoisseurship akin to the connoisseurship of painting, music, or literature. Europe came to call Platina’s attitude toward food and cooking “epicurean,” and those who espoused it “epicures.” At the dawn of the sixteenth century, these new individuals were emblematic of the Renaissance European world.

Platynae De honesta uoluptate: & ualitidine (Venice,  1498)

When Italian epicureanism was first unleashed in Europe, England was in the throes of its own cultural and intellectual Renaissance. Among the English elite classes, the quest for new knowledge found expression in the collecting and creating of recipes, known then and well into the nineteenth century by the now-archaic word “receipts.” Originally the word receipt meant a prescription for a medicine or remedy. During the Renaissance, as the knowledge-hungry English began to write and collect prescription-like formulas for all sorts of things, the term receipt broadened accordingly: directions for farming and building; formulas for chemistry and alchemy; recipes for practical household products like cleaning solutions and paints, and, amid the growing epicurean spirt of the time, food recipes. The sixteenth-century English made a distinction between receipts pertaining to the home and commonly undertaken by women, and receipts for things involving work outside the home, assumed to be the concern of men. Thus, most who collected food and drink recipes also collected receipts for medicines, remedies, cosmetics, and household necessities such as candles, cleaners, pesticides, fabric dyes, and ink. Today, these books of mixed home recipes are often referred to as “cookbooks” when a substantial portion of their recipes concern food and drink.

Cookbooks in History—Manuscript and Print

There is a persistent belief that in the early modern world recipes originated in the home and then were subsequently picked up in print cookbooks. In fact, this was true in England only during the Renaissance, that is, up to about 1625. Only about a dozen cookbooks were published in England, from the first, in 1500, to that date. This may have been due to a lack of demand, but it was also surely due to the thorny practical problem that, cookbooks being a new idea, a community of writers possessing the specialized skills needed to produce them had yet to develop. Printers solved this problem in the only way they could: by cobbling together their printed cookbooks from manuscript cookbooks compiled by ladies of the peerage and then slapping titles and, in some instances, putative authors on them, all of whom, of course, were men. In most instances, the women who actually wrote these cookbooks were unacknowledged—some of their manuscripts may well have been pilfered from their estates—although two Renaissance cookbook authors, John Partridge and Gervase Markham, did explicitly credit noble ladies as the true originators of their printed books. While manuscript cookbooks preceded print cookbooks during the English Renaissance, this situation was soon to change.

G.M. [Gervase Markham], The English House-Wife (1637), in A way to get wealth: containing sixe principall vocations or callings, in which every good husband or housewife may lawfully imploy themselves (London, 1638)

During the seventeenth century, the number of published cookbooks grew rapidly in England, as did the number of manuscript cookbooks, to judge from those now extant. As the use of printed cookbooks spread, most recipes in manuscript cookbooks cycled through print at some point. In fact, quite a few manuscript cookbooks compiled after the mid-seventeenth century contain recipes copied verbatim from print. As English cookbook publishing matured, female cookbook authors appeared, starting with the remarkable Hannah Woolley, active in the 1650s through the early 1670s. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, female cookbook authors, who generally branded themselves “experienced housekeepers” rather than professional cooks, dominated English and American cookbook publishing. The relationship between manuscript and print, however, remained the same: recipes cycled from print into manuscript and back into print again, until cooking fashions changed and the old recipes were replaced by new ones.

The NYAM Collection

The eleven NYAM receipt books in Recipes and Remedies show the same organization patterns common to most manuscript books in the English-language tradition. For example, in most of the NYAM books, the culinary recipes are separated from the medical and household recipes in some fashion. In some of the NYAM books, recipes are clustered by subject matter, that is, a clutch of food recipes will be followed by a clutch of medical recipes, and so on. In other NYAM manuscript cookbooks, the culinary recipes are written from the front of the notebook while the medical and household recipes are written from the back of the notebook going toward the center. In one item in the NYAM collection, the medical and household recipes are also written upside down in relation to the culinary recipes, making the separation more explicit.

“a receipt for pound cake,” from Hoffman cook book : manuscript, circa 1835-1870

The Hoffman cook book in the NYAM collection is rare in that it unveils a style of cooking outside the mainstream norm. Written in halting English by a German immigrant to America, this highly interesting cookbook is composed primarily of German-inflected recipes like those we today associate with the so-called Pennsylvania Dutch. It also contains recipes for standard American dishes, such as roast turkey, pumpkin pie, and pound cake, but approached in idiosyncratic ways by a woman struggling to interpret a cuisine that was foreign to her. While the author of this cookbook was a cultural and linguistic outsider and her cooking outside the contemporaneous American mainstream, she was also a woman of privilege, a member of a prosperous German-American family that had owned paper mills in Maryland since the eighteenth century. For these reasons she was the sort of person, whether in Germany or America, who would be expected to use recipes and perhaps also to collect them.

Manuscript cookbook authors tended primarily to collect recipes for fruit preserves, fruit and flower wines, sweet dishes, cakes, and, after 1700, breads and cakes served at breakfast or with tea. About half of the manuscript cookbooks in the NYAM collection reflect the typical manuscript preference for sweets. Most of the culinary and drink recipes in Gemel book of recipes and A collection of choise receipts are geared to banqueting, an extravagant repast of sweets that was sometimes served after important meals and sometimes staged as a stand-alone party during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Recipe book, 1700s titles its culinary section “Wines, Sweetmeats, & Cookery”; recipes in the first two categories far outnumber those in the last. Receipt book, 1848–circa 1885, by an American woman named Jane Beck, can be aptly described as a cake cookbook. This inclination can be explained, in part, by the fact that many ladies personally participated in preserve-making, distilling, and baking, while relegating the preparation of the principal dishes of dinner entirely to their cooks. In addition, the success of sweet dishes and cakes hinges on precise recipes, while savory dishes can be successfully executed intuitively, without recipes, at least by good cooks, or so people seem to have believed. Finally, up through the nineteenth century, the biggest per capita consumers of sugar in the world were the British, with the Americans not far behind.

“For the Jaundies” and “Almond Butter,” from A collection of choise receipts : manuscript, circa 1680-1700

Conclusion

Manuscript cookbooks contain insights that historical printed cookbooks lack. Manuscript recipes are likely to have been cooked from, if not by the person who collected the recipe and wrote it down in her book, at least by the person from whom the recipe was collected. Thus manuscript cookbooks contain concrete details that historical printed cookbooks generally lack: the precise motion of the hand in stirring; the most suitable cuts of meat; the time that a cooking process takes; the signs that something is going wrong; the size and number of molds needed for individual cakes; the clues that a dish is done; and so on. Manuscript recipes not only illuminate the making of specific dishes but also basic kitchen conditions and broad practices in historical cooking.

A special feature of manuscript cookbooks is that they reflect the tastes of individual households. Thus, while most printed cookbooks published between 1675 and 1800 outline the same three basic recipes for lemon cream, contemporaneous manuscript cookbooks present dozens of different recipes for this favorite dessert, some tart and others sweet, some rich and others lean, suiting the varied tastes of the epicures of centuries past.

Living through COVID-19: What can we learn from typhoid epidemics of the past?

by guest contributor Jacob Steere-Williams, PhD, Associate Professor of History, College of Charleston.

Join us for Steere-Williams’ talk on typhoid on September 23. 

For decades, thinking about and learning from past pandemics has largely been an academic exercise, one for historians and archivists who specialize in public health. Now, in the midst of a generation-defining pandemic, COVID-19, there has been an explosion of public interest in epidemics and epidemiology. Before 2020, few Americans outside of infectious disease specialists routinely spoke the words “contact tracing” and “case fatality,” or knew the difference between isolation and quarantine.

The recent surge in popular understandings of epidemics has centered on some familiar examples, such as the 1918–1919 influenza pandemic, the mistakenly called “Spanish Flu.”[1] As this was the most significant pandemic of the 20th century, the comparisons make sense, and the public health struggle between individual rights and community health is as apt now as it was then. Other historians, seeing the rise of xenophobia as a cultural response to COVID-19 in the West, have perceptively turned our attention to 19th-century pandemics of cholera and bubonic plague. Then, as now, a uniquely durable, yet startlingly western approach to framing pandemics has been to blame Asian people and Asian cultural practices.[2] 

At a time when the cultural mileage of past pandemics is perhaps at its height in modern history, we might fruitfully turn to the history of a relatively unexplored disease, typhoid fever, to think about our current moment.

Typhoid fever is a food- and water-borne infectious disease, the most virulent of the Salmonella family. The disease continues to wreak havoc on the Global South, killing about 200,000 people each year. In the western world typhoid was at its height in the 19th century, when it was a ubiquitous and insidious reality in North America and Western Europe. In Britain, for example, typhoid annually struck up to 150,000 people, taking the lives of 20,000 each year.

Thomas Godart, “Head and Neck of a Patient Suffering from Typhoid Fever.” Courtesy of the Wellcome Library.

Typhoid’s patterns of distribution were erratic; it might spare a community for months or even years, then erupt as a local outbreak. Epidemiologists today discuss COVID-19 as a cluster disease, exploding in localized events not unlike the way that typhoid did in the past.

Interestingly, typhoid outbreaks continued after the introduction of early sanitary improvements such as toilets, pumped water, and sanitation systems. In the second half of the 19th century no infectious disease was as central to the rise of public health than typhoid. Typhoid was a model disease because the burgeoning group of public health scientists, the first to call themselves epidemiologists, saw that stopping typhoid’s different pathways—through food, water, and healthy human carriers—could transform the nation through preventive public health.[3]

“Avoid the Grip of the Typhoid Hand,” in G.S. Franklin, “Sanitary Care of Privies” (1899), from “Health and Sanitation: Disease and the Working Poor,” https://www.wm.edu/sites/wmcar/research/danvilledig/millworker-life/health-sanitation/index.php.

The story of typhoid in the 19th century is one deeply tied to the emergence of modern epidemiology, which George Buchanan, Chief Medical Officer of Britain’s central public health office, called “the minute observations of particular outbreaks.”[4] Epidemiological practice does not operate in a vacuum, then or now with COVID-19; it is inherently a political exercise. Everyday people, business owners, and politicians have to be convinced about the science of disease communication, requiring complex rhetorical strategies that tell us a great deal about the inherent struggles of public health.

“Transmission of Typhoid Fever,” in George Whipple, Typhoid Fever; Its Causation, Transmission, and Prevention (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1908).

__________

Notes

[1] See, for example, a recent blog post in Nursing Clio: Jessica Brabble, Ariel Ludwig, and Thomas Ewing, “‘All the World’s a Harem’: Perceptions of Masked Women During the 1918–19 Flu Pandemic,” Nursing Clio. https://nursingclio.org/2020/09/08/all-the-worlds-a-harem-perceptions-of-masked-women-during-the-1918-1919-flu-pandemic/.

[2] Catherine E. Shoichet, “What historians hear when Trump calls coronavirus ‘Chinese’ and ‘foreign,’” CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/12/us/disease-outbreaks-xenophobia-history/index.html.

[3] Graham Mooney, “How to Talk About Freedom During a Pandemic,” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/05/freedom-pandemic-19th-century/611800/.

[4] George Buchanan, “On the Dry Earth System of Dealing with Excrement,” Annual Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council for 1870. Parliamentary Papers. London: Eyre and Spottiswoode, 1871, 97.

Desegregating Harlem Hospital: A Centennial

This guest post is from Adam Biggs, faculty at the University of South Carolina Lancaster and panelist at the recent Academy Race & Health series event, “How Long Will We Wait? The Desegregation of American Hospitals.” Professor Biggs teaches courses in African American Studies and U.S. History, and his research explores the desegregation process at Harlem Hospital from 19191935.

“As I look back with charity at that period,” wrote Aubré Maynard in 1978, “I deplore the fact that I suffered more from the hostility and jealousy of some of my black colleagues than from the antipathy of whites, from whom I expected frank racial animosity.”[1] Lingering more than fifty years after he joined Harlem Hospital as one of its first black interns, Maynard’s feelings of resentment stemmed from acrimony that emerged during the desegregation process. After successfully overcoming white opposition, a heated debate broke out in Harlem over how best to utilize the facility in the interest of racial justice. But rather than a “magic bullet” for the problem of race, desegregation became a mirror of truth, exposing endemic obstacles to racial equality still deeply embedded within the medical profession and internalized within Harlem’s black medical community.

HarlemHospital_Ward_1929_watermark

Harlem Hospital ward, 1929. Image: Harlem Hospital records, 1887-1962, NYAM Collection.

Black civic activists had been advocating to desegregate New York’s municipal hospital system since the early 1910s.[2] But black practitioners would not gain entrance until the nation’s wartime effort placed a burden on medical staffing that could not be ignored. With a reluctant city administration, a small number of practitioners began acquiring low-level positions as early as 1917, and in August 1919, Louis T. Wright became the first black doctor to join the Harlem Hospital staff.[3] Continued advocacy over the next decade pushed the hospital to gradually incorporate black physicians and nurses into its ranks.

HarlemHospital_NurseClass_1929_watermark

Nurses of the class of 1929, Harlem Hospital, New York City. Image: Harlem Hospital records, 1887-1962, NYAM Collection.

This process, however, was not without challenges. For many of the established white staff, the presence of African Americans proved untenable. Shortly after their appointments, the hospital saw a mass exodus of white practitioners who transferred or resigned in protest. Many of those remaining displayed their discontent by acting with belligerence or passive aggression toward the new black hires.[4] Tensions reached a peak in 1927 when a hospital riot was barely averted after a junior white intern, dining in the cafeteria, threw water in the face of Aubré Maynard, a senior resident at the time.[5] Well publicized incidents such as this one amplified the hospital’s toxic racial climate and undermined the public’s trust.

In 1929, Mayor James Walker responded by reorganizing the municipal hospital administration. His reforms led to the dismissal of twenty-three white and two black physicians along with the appointment of twelve new black doctors and the promotion of Louis Wright to the Harlem Hospital board. Within a year, African Americans came to represent approximately forty percent of physicians on staff, making Harlem Hospital the first municipal institution of its kind to embrace the ideal of integration.[6]

Louis-T-Wright-colleagues-Harlem-Hospital-NY

Louis T. Wright and colleagues at patient bedside, Harlem Hospital, New York, N.Y. From left to right: Dr. Lyndon M. Hill, Dr. Louis T. Wright, Dr. Myra Logan, Dr. Aaron Prigot, unidentified African American woman patient, and unidentified hospital employee. Image: Joe Covello (for Black Star), CC-BY SA 3.0

But, while meaningful, the celebration was short-lived. Conflicts soon emerged over who should receive the coveted appointments and whether to transform the hospital into a cutting-edge integrated research facility or an institution dedicated to the training of black personnel.[7] Harlem’s local black medical association, the North Harlem Medical Society, split in two between those supporting and those opposing the hospital administration.[8] Bitter rivalries formed between graduates of black medical programs and those from predominantly white medical schools.[9] Not isolated to Harlem, the conflict also attracted the attention of the national black press, the National Medical Association, and the NAACP. Prominent churches, political leaders, and labor organizations throughout the city got involved as well. Louis Wright became a focal point of contention. A representative of the hospital administration and graduate of Harvard Medical School, opponents labeled him an “Uncle Tom” while supporters characterized the attacks against him as petty envy.[10]

The conflict came to an end in March 1935 when a riot broke out in Harlem. E. Franklin Frazier, a prominent black sociologist, investigated the cause of unrest and determined the hospital’s perpetual discord was a contributing factor.[11] In the years that followed, Harlem’s medical community directed greater public attention toward matters of patient care.

Latent resentment, however, lingered for decades. In 1952, despite an illustrious career, when Wright was nominated for the National Medical Association’s distinguished service award, he received only one vote.[12] Public doubts about black doctors and Harlem Hospital also persisted. Maynard lamented that accepting black doctors onto its staff had the ironic side-effect of diminishing the hospital’s reputation among Harlem residents.[13] Local political figures and New York’s medical community held similar doubts. In 1958, when Martin Luther King, Jr., was taken to Harlem Hospital for emergency care, one nurse in attendance recalled, “a lot of time was wasted while they argued.…They didn’t want to take him to the black hospital.”[14]

HarlemHospital_CorettaScottKing_1958_watermark

Coretta Scott King in children’s ward of Harlem Hospital with flowers sent to Martin Luther King, Jr., September 1958. Image: Harlem Hospital records, 1887-1962, NYAM Collection.

More than a celebratory centennial, the story of desegregation at Harlem Hospital raises meaningful questions about how best to address the problem of race in medicine. The conflicts that emerged within Harlem’s black medical community were not peculiar racial idiosyncrasies but, rather, emblematic of unresolved tensions evident in the profession at large and unaddressed in the hospital reforms. Desegregation proved not to be a miracle cure but instead led to a renewed call for black doctors to further interrogate the deeply embedded, protean forms of racial exclusion that endured in their profession and American society. Today, it reminds us that even watershed victories require continued vigilance and an unyielding commitment to the pursuit of racial justice.

References

[1] Aubré de L. Maynard, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story  (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1978). 51.

[2] Michael L. Goldstein, “Black Power and the Rise of Bureaucratic Autonomy in New York City Politics: The Case of Harlem Hospital, 1917–1931,” Phylon 41, no. 2 (1980): 191.

[3] Maynard, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story: 18-25.

[4] Louis Tompkins Wright. “I Remember….” In Louis T. Wright Papers, Box 130-1, Folder 12. Manuscript Division, Moorland–Spingarn Research Center, Howard University, n. d. p. 93–94; Maynard, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story: 23.

[5] Maynard, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story: 43.; “Barely Avert Riot at Harlem Hospital,” New York Amsterdam News, 6 July 1927, 1, 2.

[6] “Harlem Hospital Staff Is Reorganized, Giving Place to Nineteen Negro Doctors.” New York Age, 22 February 1930, 1.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “Doctors Quit North Harlem Society to Form New Medical Body; Old Body Repudiated,” New York Age, 24 May 1930, 1, 3.

[9] Maynard, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story: 53.

[10] “Plan City Hall March in Fight on Hospital,” New York Amsterdam News, 8 March 1933, 1, 2; Vanessa Northington Gamble, Making a Place for Ourselves: The Black Hospital Movement, 1920–1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 58–66.

[11] Charles V. Hamilton, Adam Clayton Powell, Jr.: The Political Biography of an American Dilemma (New York: Cooper Square Press, 2002). 55–63.

[12] W. Montague Cobb, “Louis Tompkins Wright, 1891–1952,” Journal of the National Medical Association 45, no. 2 (1953): 3.

[13] Maynard, Surgeons to the Poor: The Harlem Hospital Story: 81–82.

[14] Ebony Magazine. “[IN MY LIFETIME] Goldie Brangman on Saving Martin Luther King’s Life.” 2016.

How Long Will We Wait? A Recap of Our Latest Race & Health Series Event

This guest post is by Dr. Danielle Laraque-Arena, the 2019 Scholar in Residence at the New York Academy of Medicine. She is the tenured Professor of Pediatrics, Psychiatric & Behavioral Sciences, Public Health & Preventive Medicine at SUNY Upstate Medical University (UMU), the Former President of UMU, and moderated the Race & Health Series event, “How Long Will We Wait? The Desegregation of American Hospitals” on July 10, 2019.

The Race & Health Series, a powerful series of presentations, was initiated early this year, envisioning a more just society, reviewing key lessons of the past, evaluating current status of health equity, and engaging in robust dialogue with the community on the social, economic, and systemic issues that keep all people from enjoying a healthy life. The first presentation in this series reviewed the history of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study and posed the question of whether Tuskegee could happen again. The second presentation, “How Long Will We Wait? The Desegregation of American Hospitals,” was prefaced by a showing of the documentary film, Power to Heal: Medicare and the Civil Rights Revolution, followed by a community-engaged discussion of the implications of the film for our current-day realities.

race_health_1

The Academy Library displayed archival Harlem Hospital photos in the lobby.

Barbara Berney, Ph.D., M.P.H. produced the documentary film. Dr. Berney, a distinguished scholar in public health, environmental justice and the US healthcare system, joined us from the shores of California. Barbara was joined by Professor Adam Biggs, an American historian from the University of South Carolina. The two scholars spoke to the diverse audience of about 300 people from the Harlem area, New York City, and New York State at large. They took us on a historical journey of the deeply segregated United States of the Jim Crow period. Their focus was on recounting the impact of Jim Crow state and local laws that dictated every aspect of life for black Americans following Reconstruction. During this period, segregation was mandated in all public facilities such as restrooms, restaurants, hotels/motels, schools, and hospitals. Professor Biggs highlighted the period from 1919–1935, focusing on the desegregation of Harlem Hospital. The audience, many of whom work or have worked at Harlem Hospital, were on the edge of their seats for this important discussion.

race_health_6

The author (left) with panelists Barbara Berney and Adam Biggs.

The background analysis of the Jim Crow period led to a focused discussion regarding the segregation of American hospitals and the dire conditions of health care for black Americans. The response from black physicians, the formation of the National Medical Association, the advocacy efforts of the NAACP, and the force of the conviction of people of conscience throughout the United States led to the partnering of the American government under John F. Kennedy and then Lyndon B. Johnson with activists, to begin to transform the landscape of American life and politics. The palpable national tone of the bitter struggles of the Civil Rights movement—with activities such as voter registration in the southern states that often led to the murders of civil rights activists—was ever real for many who in the audience had lived through those dark days.

race_health_3

Audience members at the panel discussion respond to the speakers’ powerful remarks.

In fact, among the attendees were individuals such as Phyllis Cunningham and Roger Platt, both of whose efforts were shared in the film. I had the honor of working with both Phyllis (nurse, activist) and Roger (internist, hospital inspector) during my 24 years in the Harlem area, but had renewed respect when I witnessed—as demonstrated in the film—their immense courage during the dangerous times of the 60’s. Others featured in the film included David Satcher, M.D., Ph.D., former U. S. Surgeon General. I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Satcher a number of times. He spoke of the achievements of the Civil Rights movement, the passage of Medicare, and the continued aspiration for universal access for all: recognizing that health care is a right and not a privilege.

The film also reviewed the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and of Medicare in 1965. The intersection of these two landmark events leveraged their collective impact to amplify the message that health care is a human right. At the time of the passage of the Medicare legislation, the persistence of the “separate but equal” effect of Hill-Burton Act, providing for hospital construction, was alive. As Johnson noted, a hammer was needed to propel the desegregation of hospitals, and this was done by having the receipt of federal dollars in support of the care of the elderly be contingent upon desegregation of hospital services. The key lesson was that incremental progress, as had been imperfectly done in education, would not yield the fundamental results needed in health care. Civil rights were to be baked into the administrative process. Desegregation occurred through the brute application of the principle “follow the money.”

race_health_8

Audience members lined up to ask questions at the end of the discussion.

The two-hour session engaged questions from the audience. Individuals lined up to ask the obvious: How do we learn from the courage of those who achieved so much in the past decades? Does such courage exist today? What was the effect of desegregation on the elimination of health disparities—and by implication, is desegregation sufficient? The importance of history, the importance of courage under fire, and the lifelong commitment to social justice and health justice was clear from the engagement of the audience and the resounding voices of our distinguished panel.

Members and Fellows of the Academy, please follow our blog—and show your strong support for The New York Academy of Medicine by making sure your membership/fellowship dues are paid and up to date. Post a response to this blog and let us know how the Academy can work for you and continue the struggle for social justice and health equity. Thank you!

“Filth is the Arch Enemy of Health”: The Committee on Public Health and Waste Management in New York City

This guest post is by Tina Peabody, 2019 Audrey and William H. Helfand Fellow at the New York Academy of Medicine, and a doctoral candidate in history at the University of Albany, SUNY focusing on the urban environment in the United States. She is currently completing her dissertation entitled “Wretched Refuse: Garbage and the Making of New York City”, a social and economic history of waste management in New York City between the 1880s and 1990s.

The Committee on Public Health at the New York Academy of Medicine is well known for their role in creating the Department of Sanitation in 1929, through the development of the Committee of Twenty on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness. However, the broader Committee’s activism on sanitation has a longer and more complex history. Soon after its formation in 1911, the Committee on Public Health decried the conditions of city streets. They held conferences on sanitation in 1914 and 1915 which included representatives of the Department of Street Cleaning and other municipal departments.[1] While Department of Street Cleaning Commissioner J. T. Fetherston claimed he could not update equipment nor flush streets with water, he nonetheless encouraged the Committee to educate the public about the connections between dirt and disease.[2]  With that in mind, the Committee wrote a report in 1915 which connected the pathogens in street dirt to illness.[3]

Two men hauling garbage into an open refuse truck.

Commitee of Twenty, Dusty Trucks 2

The Committee of Twenty was particularly concerned about open refuse trucks which could spew dust and debris. Images: Committee of Twenty, Committee on Public Health Archives, New York Academy of Medicine, ca. 1930.

In 1928, a subcommittee called The Committee of Twenty was formed, in part because conditions did not improve substantially after the conferences and report.[4]  Among their recommendations, the Committee of Twenty supported the creation of a unified sanitation agency with full control over street cleanliness.[5]  They envisioned themselves as educators for the Department of Sanitation as well as the public, and they researched the latest collection methods and equipment from Europe to recommend improvements.[6] The newly-created Department of Sanitation, however, resisted investing in the recommended equipment, partially due to the expense.[7] Still, the Committee monitored street conditions, and kept photographic evidence of city and private sanitation trucks spewing dust and debris on the streets or other violations of sanitary ordinances.

Commitee of Twenty, Dirty Streets

Picture of overflowing refuse cans from the Committee of Twenty. Image: Committee of Twenty, Committee on Public Health Archives, New York Academy of Medicine, ca. 1930.

The Committee of Twenty also educated the public about outdoor cleanliness and especially the connections between dirt and disease. They issued pamphlets warning that “filth is the arch enemy of health,” and urged them to take personal responsibility for clean streets. “Do not put all the blame on the city administration,” one pamphlet read. “This is your city. A clean city means better health, better business; greater happiness for all; respect for law and order.”[8]  Along with educational literature, they placed litter baskets around the city, and posted signs which reminded New Yorkers of sanitary practices like “curbing” dogs.[9]  They also encouraged public participation in solving sanitary problem in novel ways, such as holding a contest for the best litter basket design in 1930.[10] 

Committee of Twenty, Don't

Educational Pamphlet from the Committee of Twenty. Image: Committee of Twenty, Committee on Public Health Archives, New York Academy of Medicine, ca. 1930.

The Committee was also influential in the citywide cleanup effort in preparation for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Members of the Committee of Twenty and their allies argued that the Fair was the perfect opportunity for improving street cleanliness. Committee members Bernard Sachs and E. H. L. Corwin wrote that New York City was “the ‘Wonder City of the World,’ beyond a doubt; the ‘cleanest city,’ by no means. But we must make it that.”[11]  In line with the idea, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia declared April 1939 “dress up paint up” month, and launched a broad beautification effort which included removal of litter, dog waste, and even “beggars, vagrants and peddlers.”[12]  Bernard Sachs was the representative for the Committee of Twenty on the Mayor’s Committee on Property Improvement, which was developed for the cleanliness campaign.

Committee of Twenty, Why Clean Streets 1

Educational pamphlet from the Committee of Twenty. Image: Committee of Twenty, Committee on Public Health Archives, New York Academy of Medicine, ca. 1930.

Committee of Twenty, Why Clean Streets 2

Educational pamphlet from the Committee of Twenty. Image: Committee of Twenty, Committee on Public Health Archives, New York Academy of Medicine, ca. 1930.

In 1950, the Committee on Public Health supported an initiative to introduce alternate side street parking to allow street cleaning unobstructed from parked automobiles, but otherwise was much less active on sanitation issues after the 1939 World’s Fair.[13]  At a meeting with Department of Sanitation Commissioner Andrew Mulrain in 1950, the Committee even debated whether unclean streets actually did cause disease.[14]  One Dr. Lincoln wondered if clean streets were not simply a matter of “public pride.” [15]  Still, the Committee’s early work on outdoor cleanliness would have a lasting legacy, particularly in terms of public education. The Outdoor Cleanliness Association, which was formed shortly after the Committee of Twenty [16], continued their educational work with regular cleanliness drives through the 1950s and 1960s in coordination with the Sanitation and Police departments.

References

 [1] “Minutes of the Meeting of the Public Health, Hospital, and Budget Committee October 26, 1914,” The Public Health Committee of the New York Academy of Medicine Minutes 1914–1915 (New York, NY), 74; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Public Health, Hospital, and Budget Committee Conference on Street Cleaning May 7, 1915,” The Public Health Committee of the New York Academy of Medicine Minutes 1914–1915 (New York, NY), 153–55.

[2] “Minutes of the Meeting of the Public Health, Hospital, and Budget Committee,” November 16, 1914, The Public Health Committee of the New York Academy of Medicine Minutes 1914–1915 (New York, NY), 84–85; “Minutes of the Meeting of the Public Health, Hospital, and Budget Committee Conference on Street Cleaning May 7, 1915,” The Public Health Committee of the New York Academy of Medicine Minutes 1914–1915 (New York, NY), 153-54 .

[3] Committee on Public Health, “Thirty Years in Community Service 1911–1941: A Brief Outline of the Work of the Committee on Public Health Relations of the New York Academy of Medicine” (The New York Academy of Medicine, 1941), 79.

[4] Committee on Public Health, “Thirty Years in Community Service 1911–1941,” 80.

[5] “Minutes of the Meeting of the Executive Committee of the Committee on Public Health Relations,” May 14, 1928, The Public Health Committee of the New York Academy of Medicine Minutes 1927–1928 (New York, NY), 134; Committee on Public Health, “Thirty Years in Community Service 1911–1941: A Brief Outline of the Work of the Committee on Public Health Relations of the New York Academy of Medicine,” 10.

[6] Committee on Public Health, “Thirty Years in Community Service 1911–1941,” 80.

[7] Committee on Public Health, “Memorandum of a Conference between Dr. William Schroeder, Jr., Chairman, Sanitary Commission…..May 19, 1931,” 1–4, Committee on Public Health Archives, Box 4, Folder 50c.

[8] Committee of Twenty on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness, “Why Clean Streets? Because Filth Is the Arch Enemy of Health” (New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.), Special Collections, New York Academy of Medicine Library.

[9] Committee on Public Health, “Thirty Years in Community Service 1911–1941: A Brief Outline of the Work of the Committee on Public Health Relations of the New York Academy of Medicine,” 80.

[10] Committee of Twenty on Street and Outdoor Cleanliness, “Prize Contest for the Design of a Litter Basket For New York City” (New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.), Special Collections, New York Academy of Medicine Library.

[11] Bernard Sachs and E. H. L. Corwin, “Fair Offers Opportunity: City Is Urged to Institute a Program of Outdoor Cleanliness,” New York Times, July 4, 1938.

[12] Marshall Sprague, “Clean City for Fair: Public and Private Groups Hard at Work Dressing Up New York for April, 1939 Mayor Is Enthusiastic Keeping Waters Pure Refurbishing Statues Beautification Drives,” New York Times, September 18, 1938; Elizabeth La Hines, “Drive Is Begun For a Tidy City During the Fair: Outdoor Cleanliness Group to Ask Wide Aid in Fight on Sidewalk Rubbish One Nuisance Abated Aid Through New Equipment Model for Other Cities,” New York Times, April 9, 1939.

[13] Committee on Public Health, “Pioneering in Public Health for Fifty Years” (The New York Academy of Medicine, 1961), 62.

[14]  “Minutes of the Meeting of the Subcommittee on Street Sanitation,” June 21, 1950, The Public Health Committee of the New York Academy of Medicine Minutes 1949–1950 (New York (N.Y.)), 473.

[15]  Ibid.

[16]  George A. Soper, “Attacking the Problem of Litter in New York,” New York Times, November 5, 1933.