Category: History

Murder and Motherhood in 1950s Ireland: The Trial of Abortionist Mamie Cadden

On the evening of April 17, 1956, thirty-three-year-old Helen O. visited nurse Mamie Cadden at 17 Hume Street, Dublin, for what she likely thought would be a routine, if illegal, abortion.1 Helen O.’s death after the attempted abortion provoked a national controversy that complicated dominant constructions of motherhood and domesticity in mid-twentieth-century Ireland. In the… Read more →

“Considerable Grief”: Dead Bodies, Mortuary Science, and Repatriation after the Great War

In September 1919, Mary McKenney was forced to relive the horrors of her husband Arthur’s death. Sergeant Arthur McKenney was wounded in France and returned to the United States.1 Despite his minor injury, he later died at a US Army hospital in Colonia, New Jersey from shock following an operation. After the autopsy, his body… Read more →

Intersex Revolutionary War Hero Did Good Because Doctors Did No Harm

The startling knowledge that the Polish nobleman and military leader, Casimir Pulaski, a hero of the American Revolution, may have been intersex should leave us with two important takeaways. First, people have always been born with intersex traits, or atypical sex development. Even the ancient laws of the Talmud recognized this fact, offering rules for… Read more →

The (Historical) Body in Pain

For the last decade, I’ve been reading and writing about other women’s pain. Contractions lasting 72 hours. Feverish deliriums after a punctured uterus. A woman beaten with a tree branch. I study the history of gender and medicine, and my book manuscript examines the parallel processes of the medicalization of childbirth and the criminalization of… Read more →

How to Do It: Sex Education and the “Sex Life”

In 1696, in Somerset county in southwest England, a schoolboy named John Cannon and his friends took their lunchtime break on the banks of a river near their schoolhouse. Unlike other uneventful riverside lunches, though, this day was memorable enough for Cannon to record in his memoirs. An older boy who was “about 17” years… Read more →

The Lady with the Alligator Purse

A Tisket a Tasket, Three Little Fishies, Baa Baa Black Sheep — these nursery rhymes were an integral part of my childhood experience. The rhyme that most captured my attention when I was a child, however, was Miss Lucy Had a Baby: Particularly fascinating to me were not the presence of the nurse, doctor, or… Read more →

Mange, Morphine, and Deadly Disease: Medicine and Public Health in Red Dead Redemption 2

Spoiler warning: This essay discusses major plot points about the ending of Red Dead Redemption 2. It’s dead midnight, there’s moonlight on the corn, and Thomas Downes owes me money. He protests he doesn’t have anything to spare, but I insist he does, and so we end up wrestling against the wood fence. Then, bruised… Read more →

Teaching Abélard and Héloïse

One of the wearying inevitabilities of 2018 was that even the most cursory glance at the news was likely to bring you a fresh tale of sexual assault — in politics, the entertainment industry and, closer to home for me, academia. Much of the resulting commentary was almost as jarring as the news articles themselves…. Read more →

Manly Firmness: It’s Not Just for the 18th Century (Unfortunately)

The references to “manly firmness” are everywhere in late-18th-century political sources. For example, Edward Dilly wrote to John Adams from London in 1775 to praise the men in the Continental Congress, “for the Wisdom of their Proceedings — their Unanimity, and Manly firmness.” In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson listed the crimes of the… Read more →

Femininity and Legitimacy: Policing Women and “Witches” in Post-Apartheid South Africa

One night in the late spring of 2008, in the South African town of Mondlo, an assembly of neighbors brought 72-year-old Ntombikayise Zulu to tribal court. The neighbors suspected she wanted to kill them after they had killed her “familiar” — a squirrel who hunted chickens. Zulu, who tearfully claimed that she never practiced witchcraft,… Read more →