Category: History

When Legs and Arms Won: The Culture of Dissection and the Role of the Camera at the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania

In Fall 1906, three weeks into their freshman year, Elizabeth Cisney-Smith and her classmates were, as she wrote, “initiated” to the dissecting room of The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania (WMCP), one of the nation’s first degree-granting medical schools for women.1 Per tradition, a crowd of upperclassmen assembled in the third floor hall, just outside… Read more →

Land-Grant Eugenics: Spreading an Idea in Rural America

Eugenics as an explicit social program went mostly out of favor in the United States after the Second World War, although many of its underlying beliefs, methods, and goals persisted. The science and language of genetics remained. The techniques used to modify plants and animals continued. Horticulture continued to develop (“Horticulture!?” you ask. Why yes,… Read more →

“What Must That Sound Like?”: The Trauma of Family Separation

On June 22, 2018, US Representative Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California’s 33rd District, stood on the floor of the House of Representatives to demand action regarding the children in “Tender Age” detention shelters as a result of the Trump Administration’s new immigration policy of separating children from their parents at the US/Mexican border. In… Read more →

A Kick for a Bite; Or, Review Upon Review Upon Ten Babies on the Floor

On April 18, 2018, the United States Senate voted unanimously that both male and female senators could bring infants up to one year old into the chamber. This vote was prompted by Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth’s desire to come to the floor of the Senate to vote when her daughter, Maile Pearl Bowlsbey, was only… Read more →

From Mooktie to Juan: The Eugenic Origins of the “Defective Immigrant”

On a Monday in November 1905, a “little deaf and dumb … 10-year old Eurasian girl” called Mooktie Wood arrived in the US on the steamship Canopic. An orphan with no known relatives, Mooktie had been “picked up” by an American Pentecostal missionary, Lillian Sprague, in the wake of one of the many devastating famines… Read more →

Sex, Death, and Atole at the Royal Indian Hospital

Mexico City, 18th Century For the wounded, diseased, and ailing of Mexico City, just about anything was better than the Royal Indian Hospital. By the 18th century it had been around awhile. King Philip II had established the Indian Hospital in the 1560s in a haphazard attempt to demonstrate the Crown’s supposed “piety and love… Read more →

Deconstructing the Stonewall Myth (Brick by Brick)

If you’ve been on social media at all during the month of June, you’ve probably seen Marsha P. Johnson’s name floating through your feeds. Johnson, a self-identified drag queen and founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, looms large in public consciousness today as the “black, bisexual trans woman, who was a sex worker, that… Read more →

What Will Today’s Immigration Detention Centers Look like to Future Americans?

This piece originally appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2016 and is reprinted here with permission of the author. Janet Golden’s latest book is Babies Made Us Modern: How Infants Brought America into the Twentieth Century. Seventy-five years ago, over 125,000 Americans (the majority of them citizens) were sent to concentration camps. Over half of those interned were children. As… Read more →

The Discovery of the Mental Institution – With Apologies to David J. Rothman

On February 15, 2018, President Donald Trump spoke about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in which Nikolas Cruz killed seventeen people. While Trump did mention “a shooter,” who “opened fire on defenseless students and teachers,” when it came to solutions, he focused on mental illness rather than the tools… Read more →

Do This One Thing: Curing Symptoms not the Disorder

This spring, as I was preparing for my wedding, recovering from what was my fourth illness of the year, and attempting to finish the first chapter of my dissertation, my fiancé told me that he got an amazing job offer in Chicago and — surprise! — we had to decide immediately whether to stay in… Read more →