Category: History

Woman in Focus: Jessie Tarbox Beals

Had she never laid her eyes on a camera, Jessie Tarbox Beals might have made a life as a teacher. In 1887, at the age of seventeen, she had just moved from her home of Ontario, Canada to pursue a teaching job in Williamsburg, Massachusetts.1 The daughter of a successful sewing machine manufacturer who had… Read more →

Architecting a “New Normal”? Past Pandemics and the Medicine of Urban Planning

COVID-19 isn’t going anywhere. Months into the global pandemic, when many parts of the world have entered a second wave of outbreaks, health experts have cautioned the need for a “new normal” in which medical precautions guide most of our daily activities. Since cities have been hit hardest by the pandemic, policymakers have begun discussing… Read more →

Weaponizing Weakness, Diagnosing by Gif

We’ve all seen the clips from President Trump’s commencement speech at the United States Military Academy on June 13. One clip of Trump drinking lasts approximately three seconds, while another of him walking down a ramp lasts 15 seconds. In no time, then, the truth is out: Trump is not well. The evidence can be… Read more →

“The Sex Lady Talks”: Disability Rights and the Normalization of Sex in a 1980s Institution

When recreational therapist Lisa Freeman began working in the Dual Diagnosis Unit at Indiana’s Central State Hospital in 1986, she frequently encountered patients having sex in and around the unit.1 Central State was a long-term psychiatric hospital and the Dual Diagnosis Unit (DDU) served patients who had been diagnosed with both mental illness and intellectual… Read more →

Psychiatry and Homosexuality Draft Exemptions during the Vietnam War

When Bob McIvery reported for his mandatory physical exam to determine if he could be drafted into the Army, the doctor didn’t believe he was gay. Although McIvery, a member of the Gay Liberation Front, had checked the “homosexual tendencies” box on his pre-induction medical form and stated verbally that he was gay, he was… Read more →

The Children’s Nutrition and Dental Clinics of Mobile: Public Health, Volunteerism, and the Color Line during the Great Depression

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a staggering economic impact in a short time. Jobless numbers in America are growing and food banks and other emergency relief efforts are struggling to keep up with demand. As we struggle to understand what long-term cultural and economic changes the pandemic might leave in its wake, it is worth… Read more →

Lieutenant Lowderback’s Short Snorter: A Flight Nurse’s Service and Souvenir in WWII

Lieutenant Ruth Banfield Lowderback was nervous on her first flight accompanying wounded and ill soldiers back to the mainland U.S. The plane barreled down the runway of Hawaii’s Hickam Airfield to embark on a twenty-hour flight to San Francisco. On February 17, 1945, twenty-seven-year-old Lowderback, newlywed and newly deployed, marked two milestones: her first service… Read more →

For the Sake of Humans: Animal Casualties and Medical Testing in Modern War

During the First World War, a group of British and American military engineers conducted a series of experiments to determine what kinds of dugouts would give soldiers the most protection from high explosive artillery shells. They did so in response to battlefield evidence that dead soldiers had been found with their bodies whole, with only… Read more →

“A keen vision and feeling of all ordinary life”: Pandemic Journaling in the History Classroom

In January 2020, I showed students a clip of historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich in the documentary A Midwife’s Tale. Ulrich discusses how she reconstructed the life story of midwife Martha Ballard from the sparse entries left behind in Ballard’s diary. The diary covered all aspects of life on the Maine frontier in the late eighteenth… Read more →

Such a Pretty Tsaritsa

In her 2018 memoir Such A Pretty Girl, Nadina LaSpina describes her childhood in mid-twentieth century Sicily, and the pitying comments directed at her, a disabled girl, that cast her in two lights: attractive, but damaged.1 LaSpina contracted polio as a child, which left her without the use of her legs. Her family moved to… Read more →