Writing Histories of Intimate Care and Social Distancing in the Age of COVID-19

In hindsight, it was probably a touch of grad school-induced hubris that led me to assert, in an early draft of my dissertation, that the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries were marked by chronic disease epidemics. I based this conclusion on the work of scholars like sociologist Bryan Turner, who in 1987 wrote almost… Read more →

Ordinary Death in a Pandemic

On Tuesday, March 17, 2020, shortly after noon, my mother, Carol Lenoir Price Swedberg, died in home hospice at the age of 90. I had arrived to be by her side three days earlier despite the fact that COVID-19 had already started to disrupt travel and other aspects of our daily lives. Mom died an… Read more →

Sunday Morning Medicine

A weekly check-up of gender, medicine, and history in the news We are at war. On grief, history, and COVID-19. The history of the Hawaiian shirt. Sex in the time of the Black Death. A brief criminal history of the mask. A history of mass graves for the poor. Horseback-riding nurses of the 1930s. Americans… Read more →

Bottled Racism: A Review of Skimmed: Breastfeeding, Race, and Injustice by Andrea Freeman

In recent years, the black maternal and fetal health crisis has been front page news, and for good reason. Black women die from pregnancy complications at three times the rate of white women, and the black infant mortality rate is more than double that of all other ethnic groups. Due to racism in the medical… Read more →

The Vaccine at the End of this Pandemic

In the summer of 1952, parents didn’t let their children visit playgrounds, swimming pools were closed, movie theaters shuttered, and when September finally arrived, some public schools didn’t open. The polio epidemic reached its peak that year, after several years of steadily increasing numbers of infections and deaths. In early December 1952, The New York… Read more →

Sunday Morning Medicine

A weekly check-up of gender, medicine, and history in the news Why hair matters. The other pandemic. The trouble with Triscuits. The myth of black immunity. The history of jigsaw puzzles. Snails, salves, water, and syrups. The tiger king of the 19th century. The epidemic that preyed on children. Childbirth and maternal death in Venezuela. … Read more →

Art as a Tonic: Making Pottery and Defeating Tuberculosis at the Arequipa Sanatorium

In the spring of 1913 journalist Elise Roorbach was walking around downtown San Francisco when she passed a gift store. She saw some unusual vases in the window and went into the shop to look. They weren’t finely formed, and they didn’t have shiny glazes in pretty colors. Some were rather crude, with drip marks… Read more →

Portraying Abortion in Portrait of a Lady on Fire

Film and TV portrayals of abortion in the last decade have become both more prevalent and complex. Take the different abortion storylines over the course of HBO’s series Girls (love it or hate it). In Season 1’s “Vagina Panic,” Jessa is scheduled to have an abortion when she conveniently has her “period” in a bar’s… Read more →

Dr. Fauci and My Mom

In these scary times, many of us find comfort in watching Dr. Anthony Fauci on TV. I like seeing Dr. Fauci for another reason: he rekindles memories of my mom, who died in 1990. Dr. Fauci was my mother’s doctor. For five years in the 1980s, she was a patient at the National Institute of… Read more →

Luxury or Right? Artificial Insemination by Donor in 1970s France

Hungary recently made international headlines by announcing that the state would soon cover the cost of IVF treatments. Along with financial incentives for Hungarian women who produce four children, IVF will form part of Prime Minister’s Orban’s strategy for increasing the Hungarian birthrate. The announcement attracted international attention in part because Orban connected his support… Read more →