Category: History

Modern Medicine Has Improved Our Lives, But What About Our Deaths?

In 1929, a young woman entered Koch Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. Her symptoms may have included coughing, difficulty breathing, and fatigue. She was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis. The disease is caused by a bacterium and, at the time, had no cure. Her doctor admitted her to a hospital that specialized in the care and… Read more →

What Happens Under the Ether: Vaginismus and the Question of Consent in the Nineteenth Century

Content Warning: sexual violence; gynecological and obstetric violence. Vaginismus is having a moment. A sexual disability that is medically classified as the involuntary spasming of vaginal walls, vaginismus might not seem like an obvious choice for pop culture representation. But the last decade has seen a marked uptick in its visibility: the Netflix miniseries Unorthodox… Read more →

Can every baby be a Gerber Baby? A century of American baby contests and eugenics

In 2018, Gerber made headlines for selecting baby Lucas as the winner of its Spokesbaby Contest, making Lucas the first Gerber baby with Down syndrome in the company’s 95-year history. As then-President and CEO of the well-known baby food company Bill Partyka explained in a 2018 press release, “Every year, we choose the baby who… Read more →

Losing ‘sorrow in stupefaction’: American Women’s Opiate Dependency before 1900

In 1791 Elizabeth Blake tried to help her sister, New Yorker Catalina Hale, to end her years-long dependency on laudanum, a pain reliever that consisted of opium and alcohol. Catalina was turning twenty-two, and she had already made two attempts to quit.[1] She had begun taking laudanum under a doctor’s orders, to treat “a painful… Read more →

Why We Need the Pink Triangle in the Era of “Don’t Say Gay”

Before the rainbow flag became synonymous with the LGBTQ+ community, the emblem of queer activism was the pink triangle, a symbol that originated as a Nazi concentration camp badge. How did this repressive symbol become a liberating emblem of queer identity? The history of this transformation offers both a warning and inspiration in the face… Read more →

Better Sight, Better Light: Eyesight and Selling the Farm Wife on Electric Modernity

On a chilly Monday in early February 1940, hundreds of locals had crowded into a “big top” tent in Johnson City, Texas to see the electric circus.[1] On the stage, a woman stood before a table of lamps, prepared to give a speech that she’d given dozens of times before. She would begin: “Everybody here… Read more →

Jim Bob’s Humbug: Freaks, Fitter Families, and 19 Kids and Counting

On May 25, 2022, Joshua Duggar (34) was sentenced to 151 months in federal prison and 20 years’ probation after being found guilty at the end of last year on two counts of receiving and possessing child sexual abuse materials (CSAM). The scion of America’s most famous “Quiverfull” family, Josh Duggar first came to the… Read more →

Healing on Credit: Medical Bills and the Politics of Medicine in Eighteenth-Century Pondichéry

Jacques Albert, the surgeon-major of Pondichéry, India, probably thought that Marie Cuperly was “good for it” when it came to paying her outstanding medical bill. He put that belief to the test in 1711 when Cuperly, his patient of more than five years, died. Just hours after she passed away, Albert submitted a petition to… Read more →

Holworthy Hall’s The Man Nobody Knew and Facial Wound Narratives after World War I

In his 1919 novel The Man Nobody Knew, Holworthy Hall introduced readers to Richard Morgan, a fictional American soldier who enlisted in the French Foreign Legion during World War I.[1] Disaffected from his hometown of Syracuse, New York and a broken engagement, Morgan fought in the war to prove his worth to society. Authorities reported… Read more →

The Rainbow Underside of Pristine White Roses: Exploring the Impact of Purity Culture in the Lives of Queer Youth

Since 2018, the Muncie LGBTQ+ History Project has been collecting the stories of queer people who grew up in and around Muncie, Indiana. I worked with the project for over a year as a research associate, conducting interviews with members of the LGBTQ+ community about their experiences growing up in Muncie, a small town in… Read more →