Category: History

Gender-Bending in Thirteenth-Century Literature: The Roman de Silence

Do genetics or environmental factors determine one’s gender identity? The question may seem a distinctly modern one. Indeed, premodern people — and especially medieval ones — are often considered naively incapable of even pondering such concepts. We assume it was a simpler time, long before the theoretical legwork of social constructionism and so much feminist… Read more →

“Buried with Doctor’s Certificate”: Reading the Uses and Abuses of Bodies in a Medical School Thesis

In 1886, Marie K. Formad graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, entering the small but rapidly growing body of American women holding the degree of Doctor of Medicine. Along with Dr. Formad, the 31 other members of the class of 1886 demonstrated clearly the progress of women’s medical education in the thirty years… Read more →

Bradley Snyder and the Legacy of First World War Blind Veteran Rehabilitation

On April 30 People Magazine featured a story on Brad Snyder, a young swimmer seeking a gold medal at the summer Olympics in Rio this year. Snyder’s journey is extraordinary in and of itself, having served two tours of duty in the Middle East as a bomb disposal technician. The story is perhaps most intriguing,… Read more →

Disproving Self-Indulgence: Congenital Addiction in the Early Twentieth Century

On October 10, 1989, police arrived at the Medical University of South Carolina. They handcuffed Lori Griffin, a black girl not yet eighteen, and arrested her for distributing cocaine to a minor. That minor was her newborn child — distribution took place through the placenta. The police came because Lori’s urine had tested positive for… Read more →

Venus Revisited

“Creepy.” “Weird.” “Messed. Up.” Such are the visceral responses of my women’s history students to an admittedly bizarre and complex historical phenomenon: the Anatomical Venus. Designed to be realistic and anatomically correct wax models of the female body, Anatomical Venuses emerged in eighteenth-century Europe (primarily Spain, Italy, and Austria) to help train medical students who… Read more →

Sex, Secrecy, and Abuse in a 19th-Century Workhouse

“He asked him if he had seen the doctor having connection with a nurse.” Archives pose constant distractions. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve mentally stored away a snippet not directly relevant to the task at hand, but to be used somewhere, at some indefinable point in the future. It’s one of… Read more →

Poking Holes in Political Memes: History, the Welfare State, and the Trope of the Founding Fathers

An elderly man behind me in the checkout line at the grocery store asked me what I do. When I told him I’m a PhD candidate in history, he commented that understanding history better would really help this country to get “back on track.” I braced myself for a speech about the greatness of the… Read more →

A Letter to the Lady in Pants: Dr. Mary Edwards Walker and the History of Women (Un)Worthies

“WALKER, Mary Edwards (Nov. 26, 1832 – Feb. 21, 1919), Civil War medical worker, dress reformer, and eccentric.” So begins the description of the collected papers of Dr. Mary Edwards Walker at Syracuse University: a strange summary of a strange life.1 Dr. Walker, though she was a contemporary of Drs. Elizabeth Blackwell, Ann Preston, and… Read more →

Tea Kettles and Turpitudes: Abortion and Material Culture in Irish History

In 1932, a Donegal woman was brought up on criminal charges after she attempted miscarriage by consuming both pills as well as a ubiquitous item in early twentieth-century households: a bottle of castor oil.1 Just a few years earlier a Belfast midwife, Isabel, defended herself in court after being charged with giving another woman an… Read more →

But It’s Vintage Lifestyle Change: Surveying the History of American Orthorexia with the Whole30

Before I go any further, let me make one thing perfectly clear: this article is about a diet. Yes, I went on that diet and followed it to the letter. No, you’re not going to find out whether I lost weight. This is partly because I don’t know, since I don’t believe a numerical representation… Read more →