Category: History

The Angel of the Workhouse: The Body, and the Body Politic, of Victorian Women with Disabilities

On September 12, 1846, a poet-prince married a “rather plain, thin, faded, hysterical woman [who] was loved for herself as perhaps none of all the world’s famous beauties has ever been.” Perhaps that rather dramatic description is not an entirely fair account of the elopement of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett, but their readers’ continued… Read more →

Who is Dead?

The February 5, 2018 New Yorker carried a story of Jahi McMath and her family. In 2013, McMath went into Oakland’s Children’s Hospital for a routine surgery for tonsil removal. After the surgery, she experienced extreme blood loss and her heart stopped beating. Two days later, a doctor declared her brain dead. Her family battled… Read more →

Golden Girls, Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and the Legacies of Hysteria

On September 23, 1989, the fifth season of Golden Girls opened with a two-episode arc entitled “Sick and Tired.”1 The show as a whole focuses on the fictional comedic escapades of four older women sharing a home in Miami, Florida. The story line that opened the fifth season, however, was deeply autobiographical in nature, as… Read more →

Between War and Water: Saratoga Springs and Veteran Health after the First World War

One month and eight days before world leaders signed the Armistice to end the First World War, New York Governor Charles Whitman wrote to Surgeon General William Gorgas to ensure that his state would play a role in caring for America’s veterans. He advocated on behalf of Saratoga Springs, a vibrant city forty miles north… Read more →

Whose Milk? Changing US Attitudes toward Maternal Breastfeeding

In the spring of 2018, government delegates from around the world gathered in Geneva, Switzerland for the World Health Assembly in affiliation with the United Nations. Delegates from Ecuador introduced a resolution, outlining a policy supporting maternal breastfeeding and calling for better regulation of the marketing of breastmilk substitutes. Most delegates expected the resolution to… Read more →

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 →