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.

 

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.

The Michael M. Davis Papers and Economics in Medicine

By Carrie Levinson, Reference Services & Outreach Librarian

Recently, the Academy hosted a talk between Paul Krugman and Tsung-Mei Cheng, entitled “Priced Out: The Economic and Ethical Costs of American Health Care.” This event focused on Uwe E. Reinhardt’s latest book, which discusses today’s U.S. healthcare system. Krugman and Cheng delivered lively and nuanced explanations of why our system is so expensive, especially compared with other similar countries, the morality involved in having costs so high, and some potential solutions.

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A photograph of Michael M. Davis from Michael M. Davis: A tribute, by Alice Taylor Davis and Gertrude Auerbach (1972?). NYAM Collection.

The debate about healthcare in the United States is not a new one, however. One notable medical economist whose collection is one of the most interesting in the Academy’s library, Michael Marks Davis, advocated for comprehensive medical care and national health insurance, and worked in many prominent organizations and committees throughout his career, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Julius Rosenwald Fund, the Committee for Research in Medical Economics, and the Committee for the Nation’s Health (New York Academy of Medicine, n.d.).

Davis donated his collection of papers and reports in 1962. This collection is important because, among other things, it provides source material for studying some of the most significant historical legislative advances in the United States, as well as social trends of the 1920s through the 1960s, aspects of medicine and health in other countries, and confidential and other unpublished reports that likely are not duplicated elsewhere. Below is a short description of the kinds of material that can be found within these papers, originally compiled by Lee Ash (1967).

Series 1: Medical Economics and Medical Sociology

  • Material on medical care costs and studies by, for, and about the Committee on the Costs of Medical Care, including confidential reports; also material on state, industrial and cooperative medical plans, comprehensive group medical plans, and union health programs.

Series 2: Medical Care in the United States

  • Materials including confidential reports made for foundations in the United States; material on rural economic conditions from the 1930’s through the 1950s, and on rural health problems and programs, material on medical education, hospitals, and medical personnel.

Series 3: Legislation and Legal Aspects

  • Materials on legislation since 1950, and publications, reports, correspondence, and ephemera relevant to legislation prior to 1950, public assistance and child welfare, mental health, and state legislation, including sickness and disability insurance programs to be paid for by the state, and original texts of bills.

Series 4: Organizations

  • Samples of special reports, annual reports, and letters to and from Dr. Davis concerning the work of various organizations, grouped into the following sections: Professional Organizations, General Organizations, International Organizations, and Political Organizations.

Series 5: Medical Care in Foreign Countries

  • Public documentation and correspondence with leaders and private physicians concerned with social medicine and public health abroad; a good deal of material focusing on the National Health Service Act; published and unpublished reports from many other countries.

Series 6: Personalities

  • Correspondence, notes, comments, clippings, personality evaluations, and memorabilia to, from, and about all of the leaders Dr. Davis associated with in his work.
Article with graphs looking at illness and income

Article with graphs looking at illness and income in Volume 21 of the Michael M. Davis papers. NYAM Collection in Public Health in Modern America, 1890-1970 .

These short descriptions don’t even begin to cover the richness of the Davis collection. With over 400,000 pieces (Ash, 1967), it might seem insurmountable to researchers, but that’s not the case. We have an excellent finding aid that goes into more detail about the materials and how to find them, as well as giving detailed biographical information on Dr. Davis. Not enough for you? You may recall our blog post about our partnership with Gale to digitize material related to public health in America. Well, this entire collection can be found in Gale’s new database Public Health in Modern America, 1890-1970! If your institution doesn’t subscribe to it, you can make an appointment to view it at our library.

Conversation and arguments about healthcare costs and structure are unlikely to stop anytime soon, but with collections such as Davis’s available to those who are interested, we can understand the history of such discussions in going forward.

References

Ash, L. (1967). The Michael M. Davis Collection of Social and Economic Aspects of Medicine. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 43(7), 598–608. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1806900/

New York Academy of Medicine (n. d.). Library of social and economic aspects of medicine of Michael M. Davis [Finding aid]. New York, NY: Author. Retrieved from https://www.nyam.org/library/collections-and-resources/archives/finding-aids/ARM-0003.html/

Monstrosity and Motherhood in Seventeenth-Century English Print

By Hannah Johnston, Library Volunteer 

While today many of us would relegate monsters to fantasy books and Halloween decor, to people in seventeenth-century England, monsters were very real. Fantastical beasts were thought to inhabit the far corners of the world, but perhaps more astonishing were the “beasts” born right at home.[1] Narratives of “monstrous births” could be found in pamphlets, balladry, and even medical books, and the infants in question ranged in these texts from frightening spectacles to prodigal symbols. Of course, many of the babies deemed “monstrous” were not, in fact, monsters. For every “actual” monster – serpents, flying infants, rabbits birthed by a human woman – there was a birth which in the modern era could be explained by numerous common as well as rare conditions.[2]

Nevertheless, this fascination with abnormal births can tell us quite a bit about the many ways early modern people conceptualized and dealt with bodies that defied categorization; among these was the child’s relationship with its mother. The placing of blame on mothers for their own monstrous births reflects a frustration with the lack of understanding of the female body, as well as an interest in encouraging “proper” behavior in women.

False Lover Rewarded

The False Lover Rewarded, 1760? Huntington Library 289786, EBBA 32528. Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

Most people in the 17th century would learn about a monstrous birth from cheap print sources such as pamphlets and broadside ballads. Broadside ballads in particular were incredibly popular, affordable, and widely available to the public. Often sold by female “hawkers” on the street, broadside ballads could be bought by just about anyone and were written to entertain as well as inform.[3] While some ballads were based on true (if exaggerated) events, many were entirely works of fiction. Ballads overall were more concerned with entertainment and moral policing than exploring the functional causes of abnormal births. Sensationalist in nature, they often focused on the spectacle of a single birth, and were often framed as a divine punishment for the mother’s sins or flaws.

The Lamenting Lady

The Lamenting Lady, 1620? Magdalene College – Pepys Ballads 1.44-45 EBBA 20210. Licensed under CC BY-NC 4.0.

While many ballads focused on the physical aspects of infants’ bodies, the way some births occurred were seen as monstrous in and of themselves. “The Lamenting Lady,” published circa 1620, was one such ballad, focusing on the story of a “[lady] of degree” who, despite having beauty and a comfortable lifestyle, could not bear a child.[4] One day, a “poore woman” came to her door with her two children to beg for money. The woman could not fathom why “Beggers [sic] have what Ladies want,” and became irate with the beggar, asserting that she had had her children as a result of being unfaithful to her husband.[5] To punish the woman for her jealous behavior, the beggar woman promptly cursed her:

And for these children two of mine

heaven send thee such a number

At once, as dayes be in the yeare,

to make the world to wonder.

For I as true a wife have beene,

unto my husbands love:

As any Lady on the earth,

unto her Lord can prove.[6]

Because of her unkindness towards the poor woman, the wealthy woman was cursed to give birth to three-hundred and sixty-five children in succession.[7] “The Lamenting Lady” was, of course, a fictional account. However, this chastising tone is common to even the true (or at least more believable) accounts of monstrous births. Balladry, while interested in the causes of monstrous births, was centered on using them both to entertain and to discourage the behavior that was thought to cause them.

While pamphlets and ballads were focused mostly on the spectacle aspect of monstrous births, many books, in particular medical or midwifery manuals, sought to explore their cause. Aristotle’s Masterpiece was one of several works to try to answer the pressing question of where monstrosity came from. An amalgam of earlier works by various authors, the book was first published in 1684 and remained widely popular among curious readers through the early 20th century.[8] The author (or compiler) of the work is unknown, having used “Aristotle” as a pseudonym, likely to invoke authority.[9]

Example of a "monster" in Aristotle’s Masterpiece

Example of a “monster” in Aristotle’s Masterpiece, or The Secrets of Generation displayed in all the parts thereof… London, 1684. NYAM Collection.

Among many topics pertaining to sex, pregnancy, and childbirth, included in the Masterpiece was a chapter on the causes of “monstrous conceptions.”[10] Many people believed that a monstrous conception could be caused by a birth ill-timed with the stars, or a flaw in the “seed” of either parent.[11] The Masterpiece, while acknowledging these to be true, noted another important factor in an abnormal birth – the thoughts of the parents, particularly of the mother.[12] Already a popular concept by the Masterpiece’s publication, the theory of maternal imagination stated that the pregnant mother’s feelings, experiences, and thoughts could impact the development of her child.[13] While in line with the representations of monstrous births in balladry, the theory of maternal imagination sought to explain how the mother’s actions could physically alter her unborn child’s body. In particular, an infant could become “monstrous” if its mother were to wish for, think about, or look upon a thing or person to excess. The theory of maternal imagination would have supported the interpretations of monstrous births seen in cheap print, where mothers’ sins marked the bodies of their children.

Together, the representations of monstrosity in cheap print and in books suggest an interest in finding someone to blame for the curiosity, fear, and occasional tragedy associated with abnormal births. Seventeenth-century English print constructed a connection between the actions of mothers and the bodies of children that served to entertain, inspire fear, and encourage moral behavior in mothers-to-be.

References

[1] Lorraine Daston and Katharine Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature (New York, NY: Zone Books, 1998), pp 173–214.

[2] For flying: “The False Lover Rewarded” (London, UK: 1760), EBBA; For rabbits: See the well-known case of Mary Toft, who (falsely) claimed to have given birth to rabbits. Glennda Leslie, “Cheat and Impostor: Debate Following the Case of the Rabbit Breeder,” The Eighteenth Century 27, no. 3 (1986): 269–86.

[3] Patricia Fumerton and Anita Guerrini, ed. Ballads and Broadsides in Britain, 1500–1800 (Oxon, UK and New York, NY: Routledge, 2010).

[4]The Lamenting Lady, Who for the wrongs done to her by a poore woman, for hauing two children at one burthen, was by the hand of God most strangely punished, by sending her as many children at one birth, as there are daies in the yeare, in remembrance whereof, there is now a monument builded in the Citty of Lowdon, as many English men now liuing in Lowdon, can truely testifie the same and hath seene it,” 1620? EBBA.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] 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, pp 43–74; Pseudo Aristotele, and John How, Aristotle’s Masterpiece, Or The Secrets of Generation displayed in all the parts thereof  (London, England: 1684).

[9] Fissell 47.

[10] Aristotle’s Masterpiece 51.

[11] Ibid 52.

[12] Ibid 51.

[13] Daston & Park 192.

Opium in the Library: Remedy & Reverie in the 18th and 19th Centuries

By Hannah Johnston, Library Volunteer

Writing on opium and opioids in the 20th century, particularly in the United States, was often characterized by an interest in the mechanisms of addiction, a growing concern for public health, and a widespread and a deep-rooted fear of the “dope evil.”[1] Only two centuries earlier, however, the “dope evil” was instead “a safe, and noble Panacea.”[2] While there was certainly an understanding of the addictive nature of opium and, to some extent, concern over its safety, many writers in the 18th and 19th centuries were simply fascinated by the drug.

Two works in particular, The Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d by Dr. John Jones (1645–1709) and The Seven Sisters of Sleep by botanist Mordecai Cubitt Cooke (1825–1914), showcase this interest in the origins, nature, and various uses of the drug. While differing in their goals and their opinions on the primary benefits of opium, both works demonstrate some of the ways eighteenth- and nineteenth-century writers grappled with a substance unlike any they had previously encountered. In conversation with each other, The Mysteries and The Seven Sisters can reveal how changing ideas in medicine, culture, and politics influenced the perception and use of opium in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Considered one of the first comprehensive works on the effects and mechanisms of opium, The Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d aimed to demonstrate how, when used effectively, the drug could be a reliable and incredibly useful medicine.[3] Dr. John Jones first explained the origins, nature, uses, and possible misuses of opium.[4] Jones’ book was what one might expect from an eighteenth-century English medical book—while he did devote time to discussing the history and recreational use of opium, he was most deeply invested in unearthing the mechanisms by which opium “lulls, sooths, and, as it were, charms the Mind ….[5]

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A table of opiate dosages to give to various populations of men and women from John Jones’s Mysteries of opium reveal’d (1701). NYAM Collection.

More than a hundred years later, in the mid-19th century, Mordecai Cubitt Cooke wrote a very different kind of opium book. The Seven Sisters of Sleep focuses on seven narcotic drugs – opium, tobacco, cannabis, betel nut, cocaine, datura (a genus of hallucinogenic plants), and fly agaric (a psychoactive mushroom) – allegorically described as the “sisters” of the Queen of Sleep, who each ruled over different portions of the world.[6] Six of Cooke’s twenty-six chapters were devoted to opium in various respects, and the appendix of the book included tables and information on the use and trade of opium on a global scale.[7] While Jones was more concerned with the proper way of producing opium, dosage for various ailments, and outlining the drug’s exact effects on the body (he noted that opium primarily impacted the stomach), The Seven Sisters was primarily focused on recreational or regular use of the drug, and offered personal accounts of experiences with opium as well as comprehensive reports of opium use, particularly in China.[8]

Cooke_SevenSistersOfSleep_1860_370_watermark

A table of opium and its substitutes, from Mordecai Cubitt Cooke’s The seven sisters of sleep: Popular history of the seven prevailing narcotics of the world (1860). NYAM Collection.

Cooke_SevenSistersOfSleep_1860_368_watermark

A table estimating the amount of people taking narcotics around the world, from Mordecai Cubitt Cooke’s The seven sisters of sleep: Popular history of the seven prevailing narcotics of the world (1860). NYAM Collection.

Writing on the possible pitfalls of opium use, Jones argued that opium “does not diminish or disable the Spirits by any means whatsoever… when duely and moderately used. Cooke, however, addressed several rather terrifying side effects of the drug.[9] He devoted his twelfth chapter to the dangers of opium, describing in vivid detail the horrifying dreams had by some opium users and noting the occurrences of violent psychotic breaks fueled by opium use.[10] While both works discuss the “noxious principle” of the drug, Cooke devotes far more discussion to its potential for misuse, perhaps reflecting a growing understanding and worry about opium’s addictive nature.[11]

Both works made a point to discuss the place of opium on the global stage; the differing ways each author approached the subject, however, reveal the rapidly increasing role of opium in British imperial activities around the world. Jones’ discussion of this subject is limited mostly to the origins of opium, where he notes the relative quality of opium sourced from different countries.[12] Cooke’s work, on the other hand, was published after the Opium Wars between Britain and China of the previous two decades, and reflects the importance of opium in British imperial growth. He described the ways that different ethnic groups used opium, particularly in Asia, and included reports on the rates of opium use throughout different parts of China.[13] Although largely refraining from the demonizing Chinese opium users, which often happened in late 19th century Britain and the United States, Cooke’s writing suggests a British fascination with opium as a cultural import as well as a recreational drug.

The Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d and The Seven Sisters of Sleep reflect the many ways in which views on opium have changed over the last three hundred years. All in all, both writers were invested in defending the use of opium, and noted the many pleasurable effects the drug had on mind and body. However, the ways in which these effects were described by each writer show how the changing political and cultural climate altered the place of opium in the public mind and on the global stage. These works can offer us a glimpse into the worldviews and events that informed the evolving understanding of opium, its uses, and its dangers.

This blog post was written to complement The New York Academy of Medicine’s  Opioid Symposium, held on Friday, September 20th, 2019. You can also “adopt” The Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d, featured in this blog post, and other related works, to help ensure their care and preservation. See more information about this here

References

[1] Several articles in [Lawrence Boardman Dunham clippings and correspondence albums], Dec 1926 to Sept 1932, Volume 1, Manuscripts, New York Academy of Medicine Library, New York, NY.

[2] Dr. John Jones, The Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d (London: 1701), 1. All emphasis original unless stated otherwise.

[3] Ibid; Richard J. Miller and Phuong B. Tran, “More Mysteries of Opium Reveal’d: 300 Years of Opiates,” Trends in Pharmacological Sciences 21 (August 2000), 299–304.

[4] Jones, 1.

[5] Jones, 216.

[6] Mordecai Cubitt Cooke, The Seven Sisters of Sleep: Popular History of the Seven Prevailing Narcotics of the World (London: 1860), 1–5.

[7] Ibid, 357–371.

[8] Ibid, 163–180, 357–371.

[9] Jones, 81.

[10] Cooke, 163–180.

[11] Jones, 1; Cooke.

[12] Jones, 6.

[13] Cooke, 132–148, 366–368.

Opium in the Library: A ‘Smorgasbord’ of Twentieth-Century Understandings of Addiction and Drug Use

By Hannah Johnston, Library Volunteer

“For sale in the open market — misery, degradation, crime, shame, disgrace, and untold suffering — who’ll buy, who’ll buy? … All the world, apparently.”[1] In her 1927 New York American article, “Disgrace and Crime Sold Openly in the Opium Market!”, Winifred Black bemoaned the toll that the opium trade and widespread use of the drug took on the American people.[2] She cautioned readers grimly of the fate of opium smokers, warning that using the drug would lead them to become “flitting shadows of men.”[3]

Dunham_Clippings_1927_BlackArticle_watermark

Winifred Black’s article in the February 22, 1927 New York American. NYAM Collection.

Black’s alarming article sits with hundreds of companions in a handmade, three-volume collection of clippings of news articles about narcotics dating from 1926–1932. The articles may have been collected by Lawrence Boardman Dunham Sr. (1882–1959), who was heavily involved in efforts to stem New York City’s drug trade in the 1920s and 1930s.[4] The collection was acquired by the NYAM Library in 1950.

More than fifty years later, in 2013, Thomas Reed donated an assortment of his own. Aptly titled Smorgasbord for Newcomers, and compiled in the 1970s by Reed and his colleague Herschel Kaminsky, the four-volume collection contains various photocopied writings and pieces pertaining to New York’s controversial Addiction Services Agency (ASA) from 1967–1975.[5] Founded in 1967, the ASA coordinated and operated drug rehabilitation programs in the city.[6] The Smorgasbord covers the Agency’s history, therapeutic approaches, legal battles, and much more.[7] Together, the narcotics article clippings and the Smorgasbord showcase the changing ways the U.S. handled and conceptualized opioid use and addiction, and demonstrate how these kinds of collected materials are exciting historical artifacts in and of themselves.

Lawrence Boardman Dunham’s apparent understanding of the drug crisis of the 1920s and 1930s, as evidenced by the clippings he chose to collect, was colored by a morality-based concern for the consequences of drug use and the drug trade.[8] The articles expressed concern and even outright fear over specific drugs — morphine, heroin — as well as over the vague but terrifying catchalls “narcotics” or “dope.” Writers stressed the threats drugs posed to society, particularly noting the supposed relationship between drugs and criminal activity. Just one day after her “Disgrace and Crime” article, Winifred Black published again in New York American on the issue of opium, this time warning the public of addicts themselves. She asserted that “[many] of the most brutal murders in America have been committed under the urge for morphine.”[9]

To the modern eye, these articles seem highly sensationalized, but their use of what we might today see as fear-mongering suggests a vested interest in prevention (as opposed to treatment) of addiction, particularly through the “education” offered by the articles. “Ignorance is the ally of the Drug Menace,” quipped an article in the Boston Daily Advertiser. “Knowledge is its enemy — the ONLY enemy which can scotch the serpent, and, some day, slay it!”[10]

Dunham_Clippings_1927_FearNarcoticsArticle_watermark

“FEAR Narcotic Drugs!” in the February 23, 1927 Boston Daily Advertiser. NYAM Collection.

In the intervening years between the sensational news stories of the narcotics clippings and the politically fraught world of the Smorgasbord, New York City saw numerous political as well as medical changes in the way drug use was understood and managed on a citywide level. In 1944, at the request of Mayor Fiorello H. LaGuardia (for whose first mayoral campaign, it should be noted, Dunham was the campaign manager), a committee formed by the New York Academy of Medicine released a report on “The Marihuana Problem in the City of New York.”[11] Although the LaGuardia Report debunked claims that this particular drug caused “delinquency” and crime, it confirmed larger-scale prevailing ideas about drug use even as it refuted them — namely its social nature.[12]

This continuity with the world of the narcotics clippings, however, contrasts with the apparent growing government interest in more deeply understanding drugs — in particular opioids —  and those who used them. The contents of the Smorgasbord reflect this ongoing shift. In particular, the first volume of the Smorgasbord reveals the ways the Addiction Services Agency engaged with changing views of addiction — while many powerful figures in the early years of the agency clung to moral and social understandings of opioid addiction, the document makes clear the growing trend towards understanding addiction as a physiological affliction.[13] Reed and Kaminsky’s collections reveal an agency with changing and conflicting ideas, motives, and goals in the growing opioid crisis of the 1960s and 1970s.

The narcotics article clippings from Lawrence Boardham Dunham and the Smorgasbord are wonderful and rare sets of materials. Both collections offer a snapshot of the country’s (and particularly New York City’s) understanding of narcotic drugs. However, the collections also reflect the positions and motivations of the individuals who compiled them. As modern readers, we can learn much from them — both from what is in them and from what has been left out. The clippings and the Smorgasbord can show us how the U.S. grappled with addiction at different points in the 20th century, but can also reveal the ways in which the compilers’ own thoughts and feelings influenced the stories they put together.

This blog post was written in anticipation of The New York Academy of Medicine’s upcoming Opioid Symposium on Friday, September 20th, 2019. See more details and register here. You can also “adopt” the two works featured in this blog post, which will help ensure their care and preservation. See more information about this here

References

[1] Winifred Black, “Disgrace and Crime Sold Openly in the Opium Market!”, New York American, February 22, 1927, from [Lawrence Boardman Dunham clippings and correspondence albums], Dec 1936 to Sept 1932, Volume 1, Manuscripts, New York Academy of Medicine Library, New York, NY.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Description for [Lawrence Boardman Dunham clippings and correspondence albums].

[5] Thomas Reed and Herschel Kaminsky (compilers). Smorgasbord for Newcomers, circa 1967–1975, Volume 1, Manuscripts, New York Academy of Medicine Library, New York, NY.

[6] “A Political History of the Addiction Services Agency,” Smorgasbord, Volume 1, Part ii, 23.

[7] Reed and Kaminsky, Smorgasbord.

[8] [Lawrence Boardman Dunham clippings and correspondence albums].

[9] Winifred Black, “Opium Held Accountable for All Drug Addict Evils,” New York American, February 23, 1927, [Lawrence Boardman Dunham clippings and correspondence albums]. It should be noted that Black, along with many of her contemporaries, use the word “opium” seemingly to refer to opioid drugs such as morphine as well as or instead of pure opium itself.

[10] “FEAR Narcotic Drugs!”, Boston Daily Advertiser, February 23, 1927, [Lawrence Boardman Dunham clippings and correspondence albums].

[11] Mayor’s Committee on Marihuana. The marihuana problem in the city of New York : sociological, medical, psychological and pharmacological studies.  Lancaster, PA: The Jaques Cattell Press, 1944.

[12] Ibid.

[13] “A Political History of the Addiction Services Agency,” Smorgasbord, Volume 1, Part ii.

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]

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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.