Tuesday, February 7, 2012

This blog has moved!

The Movable archives has in fact moved and we are now blogging on the Legacy Center's website: http://archives.drexelmed.edu/blog/. Do visit!

Friday, October 1, 2010

Schamberg's Well-Known Kissing Party: Mistletoe, syphilis, and other holiday hazards

During the 1920s and 1930s, 4th Year students of Woman's Medical College (WMC) were required to write a thesis for their Hygiene and Preventative Medicine class. I've been looking at some patterns running through these theses and found that between 1928 and 1932, six WMC students wrote papers focusing on the different aspects of syphilis.

A line in one of these syphilis theses caught my eye and intrigued me. Student Adele Cohn's 1931 paper makes a reference to "Schamberg's well-known kissing party."

"Schamberg's well-known kissing party" is a phrase chosen by Adele Cohn as a reference to Jay F. Schamberg's 1911 article "An Epidemic of Chancre of the Lip from Kissing" (Journal of the American Medical Association, Vol. 57 p. 783, September 2, 1911). Jay F. Schamberg, M.D., was Professor of Diseases of the Skin at the Philadelphia Polyclinic and College for Graduates in Medicine.

A good summary of Schamberg's "kissing party" article is found in a 1930 article on syphilis by Marion Craig Potter:

"The most common of all extragenital lesions are on the lips, from the use of common cups, the interchange of cigarettes, and kissing. Schamberg reports an epidemic of chancres from kissing following a Christmas mistletoe party. 'The source was a young man who had a chancre of the lip. Six young women kissed by him developed chancres on the lip. Another young man developed a chancre on the lip, apparently, from the virus deposited on the lip of one of the young women. In addition, a young woman who was kissed by the offender at a third social affair was inoculated, making, in all, eight labial chancres from one source; and later Schamberg was consulted by another girl who had acquired a chancre of the cheek from a kiss from one of the aforementioned young women.' Many babies in the cradle are infected in this manner. Kissing is dangerous!"
(from "Venereal Diseases: Part I: Syphilis" by Marion Craig Potter, The American Journal of Nursing, Vol. 30, No. 2, Feb 1930, pp. 155-160 (http://www.jstor.org/stable/3409971)

While Marion Craig Potter concludes that "kissing is dangerous" and Adele Cohn chooses the wonderful phrase "Schamberg's well-known kissing party," they are not alone in their appreciation for the case study. Another source mentions that "The kissing party reported by Schamberg has become classic" (see Preventive Medicine and Hygiene, 4th ed., edited by Milton J. Rosenau, 1921 p. 61).

The particulars of kissing under the mistletoe are described in detail in Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable: "The correct procedure, now rarely observed, is that as the young man kisses a girl under the mistletoe he should pluck a berry, and that when the last berry is gone there should be no more kissing." I haven't yet found any discussions of this berry-limiting, portion-controlled approach to minimizing disease transmission, but it may be an area ready for research.

I did find further discussion of mistletoe-related infections in a 1952 feature called "Any Questions?" in the The British Medical Journal (BMJ, Vol. 2, No. 4799, Dec. 27, 1952, pp. 1431-1432, http://www.jstor.org/stable/25394763). After a discussion of technique, comparing the "dutiful or chaste kiss" to the "full-blooded passionate kiss," the author moves on to the topic of infection transmission.

In regard to spreading syphilis through kissing, "certain very delicate micro-organisms ... can certainly be transmitted directly, notably those of Vincent's infection [aka "trench mouth"] and syphilis." The author does put things in perspective, saying that many mouth-bourne bacteria have no problem living outside the mouth, therefore "it is of course worse to be sneezed or coughed at, and the probability is ... that a kiss would be preferable to either of these experiences."

It goes on to warn, "Don't assume you know where your family members' lips have been" (my paraphrasing). The author then follows through on this familial warning with a tongue-in-cheek, washing-my-hands-of-the-situation comment: "This discordant and unpleasant note is introduced only for the sake of scientific completeness." Right.

But there's more to holiday parties than extragenital disease transmission. Seasonal social gatherings are beset with unforeseen physiological mechanisms and their repurcusions. This section in BMJ includes a Q&A for other holiday hazards, including:
  • Does mulled claret and punch make you drunk faster if it is served hot or cold?
  • What are the botulism risks of imported canned meat?
  • Should a bowel purgative be used after a heavy Christmas dinner?
  • What are the poisoning risks for holly and mistletoe berries?
  • Will one's drunkenness feel worse after a person ventures out into the cold?
  • How does one sterilize his or her bagpipes?
  • What are the risks of handling radioactive isotopes?
I don't know about that last question, but evidence suggests that the holidays are a bloody minefield.

I have a yearly ritual -- as soon as Thanksgiving is over, I start listening to Christmas music. Since starting this research, all I now hear are clandestine death threats. Whether it's Burl Ives trying to poison me with his "Holly Jolly Christmas" or Andy Williams wishing me lip sores and an unspecified cardiac condition: "There'll be much mistletoe-ing / And hearts will be glowing." Maybe Andy is trying to warn us, I can't tell. And a montage from some sort of Martin Scorsese film reels through my head when I hear Frank Sinatra insinuate: "Oh, by gosh, by golly. It's time for mistletoe and holly. Fancy ties an' granny's pies, an' folks stealin' a kiss or two. As they whisper, Merry Christmas to you." I'm starting to think that Grandma had it lucky when she got run over by that reindeer. At least she went quickly.

So, from the safety of my basement archives bunker, I wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season. I'm still deciding whether to light a candle or curse the darkness, but either way I hope to see you in the New Year.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Open for Interpretation: Squeezing more use out of our collections

We've been preparing for three exhibits, one opened last week and two others are fast approaching:

September 24: Parallel exhibits on the early history of American Medical Women’s Association and American Women’s Hospital Service, developed through the hard work of excellent intern Alex Miller -- that's Alex setting up the case in the photo. Exhibit in our lobby.
October 6: Changing the Face of Medicine, a traveling exhibit put together several years ago by the National Library of Medicine (online exhibition at NLM) that uses a lot of our collection material. We'll be supplementing the traveling component with a couple exhibit cases of original items.
October 21: Kickoff event and exhibit associated with the conference for the far-reaching Vision 2020 gender equality initiative. At the National Constitution Center in Philly.

"Interpretation," if you aren't familiar with it, is a term most often used by museum folks. That's an understatement: Interpretation is the word that drives museum folks. It refers to selection of artifacts and archives to illustrate a certain theme or story.

Interpretation is the process that uses a story to connect the stuff to the audience.

Two different groups of archival materials could be used to illustrate the same story. Or one group of materials could illustrate multiple stories.

As an archivist, I love interpretation:
  1. Interpretation creates use: We're not waiting for the researchers to come to us, we're getting out into the physical and online communities to bring the stories to them. The wonderful thing is that interpretative cycles back onto itself -- the increased awareness leads to more researchers becoming interested and can even result in new donations of archival materials.
  2. Interpretation creates a story: People love stories about people and events. And our collections are full of stories of people who have the grit and gumption (dagnabbit) to actually inspire people. Exhibits and other outreach efforts make these stories relevant to people's lives.
  3. Interpretation is creative: It is challenging and fun to create something that tells a story, uses historical documents and artifacts, and appeals to a wide audience. Interpretation allows us to be partial and to tell a story from a certain point of view. Haha! Take that, objectivity!

As I understand it -- I'm new here by the way -- this sort of exhibit development is not something we've been intensively involved in until recently. But as of late, we're all about interpretation. In addition to these three exhibits, we have our upcoming planning grant to use online archives in Grades 6-12 (more about this is a previous post).

I love researchers, they're probably my favorite part of the job, but I think interpretation, outreach and education are the direction archival repositories need to go to really be valuable to society. For every 10 researchers who use our collections in-depth, we might have hundreds or thousands of users of our exhibits or teacher materials. The wonderful thing is that this isn't an either-this-or-that calculation, we can do both. We should do both. And both feed into each other: Use begets use.

Want to see these exhibits? Well you've got me there...you'll have to visit the places they're installed. Or you can wait until we get our online exhibit space up and running (using Omeka, for those of you who are interested).

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Job Opening at the Legacy Center

We have begun our search for a new archivist to replace the recently vacated Assistant Archivist position. This position is being re-titled "Archivist."

The position scope covers reference and outreach and the Archivist provides both public and technical support in the overall management of the archives. This is a full-time, year-round position reporting to the Center's Director, working closely with other senior staff and providing some supervision to student workers. The Legacy Center is located on the Queen Lane campus in East Falls.

The Legacy Center contains the records of the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, Hahnemann Medical College, and their predecessor and successor institutions, including Drexel University College of Medicine. The Special Collections comprise materials documenting the history of women in medicine, women’s health and homeopathy. The Center is a core program of the College of Medicine’s Institute for Women’s Health and Leadership.


The Archivist is the key responder to reference requests and is charged
with establishing positive relationships with users and providing
productive research experiences:

  • works on-site and remotely with researchers to provide professional reference service;
  • oversees scanning and photocopying requests;
  • manage rights and reproductions for requested collection materials;
  • improves and maintains work flows.

The Archivist develops and maintains projects designed to broaden and
increase usership:
  • maintains the Archives blog;
  • utilizes electronic information and networking tools;
  • develops and maintains physical and electronic exhibits or oversees such projects;
  • supports history outreach efforts related to the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership;
  • represents the Center at local, regional and national meetings.

The Archivist contributes to physical and electronic collections
  • accessions incoming materials;
  • retrieves new collection material;
  • works with team in decision-making regarding processing collections;
  • works with team in establishing electronic records protocols;
  • assists in supervision of student workers.

Master's degree in Library and Information Science, History or Public
History or other appropriate degree, with an archives concentration
preferred. A minimum of two years archival experience is required.
Experience is necessary in conducting reference work in an archives or
library setting and in implementing archival description standards,
procedures and best practices.

Deft command of desktop computing skills and strong technical
orientation are necessary; demonstrated experience or familiarity with
various information systems and services including the application of
social networking tools in an archival setting is highly desirable. Experience blogging is also a welcomed asset.

The successful candidate will demonstrate initiative, excellent organizational skills, strong interpersonal and communication skills and be able to lift 40 lb. boxes.

SALARY: $40,000 - $44,000

Please send letter of interest, resume and 3 references to Margaret Graham, mgraham@drexelmed.edu

This announcement can also be viewed at www.drexelmedjobs.com – click search postings – and choose 'Archivist' from Job Title drop down box.

Friday, June 4, 2010

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye

Dr. Emeline H. Cleveland - awaiting your research interest
It's true - we made it through each part of the move, including leaving the old building, getting into the new building, moving collections from two off-site facilities and remediating the worst of the Iron Mountain failures - but the economy is driving our team apart.

I'm off to new adventures of a non-archival nature; finances compel me to resume my previous IT career.  The archival profession as a whole should have an open discussion about why a career that requires at least one (and often more) advanced degrees and a high degree of technical skill typically pays so poorly; hopefully, at some point in the future, that will change.

While that will not happen soon enough for me, I can say unreservedly that I've had a blast in this profession, and especially here at Drexel - how many jobs combine detective work, fun with history, techie buzz and all-around camaraderie with an amazing team? 

And my work will stay with me - when last in Seattle, I noted places where Amy Kaukonen (WMC 1915) had lived and worked in that city, and I can answer just about any question you might pose about the evolution of women in medicine (or at least point you to someone who might know where else to look for details - why not start with The Chaff?).  When looking for pet names, my first impulse is now to honor an early woman doctor - it's no doubt a modern manifestaiton of Jeremy Bentham naming his cat The Reverend Sir John Langbourne, DD (perhaps this happens to other UCL alums as well?) - although I would maintain that Anna M. Longshore-Potts, MD, is much easier to remember.

It's also been interesting to see how many search results we get from middle schools, especially those looking for information on women doctors during the civil war, such as Mary Edwards Walker, and those looking for Rebecca Cole and Eliza Grier.  It's especially encouraging in light of the planning grant we recently received to develop more content (and context) for this age group - something I'll be keeping tabs on from afar.

I look forward to a future blog post when the Correspondenzblatt der Homoeopathischen Aerzte goes online - while I may be moving on, this blog will be in the extremely capable (if very busy) hands of other members of the department, so do continue to follow along.  Hopefully, there will be a new hire announcement in the near future (and I'll try not to leave anything too strange for that person in my soon-to-be-former office - we've got enough of that sort of thing in the stacks).

And here are a few other takeaways –
With that, I must say farewell - it's been a wonderful opportunity to share some of our work here with you, and I'll continue to keep an eye on future developments.  Watch for more to come!

    Thursday, April 15, 2010

    A Bit of Good News

    We're getting a Pew grant! The hard work of our crack grant-writing team* paid off and the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage awarded us a $75,000 Interpretation Planning grant to support the development of interactive online programs for young audiences based on our collections.

    This will not be the first time we've looked beyond our usual academic researcher demographic and aimed for younger audiences; in 2006, we received a History Channel grant that led to a relationship with the Philadelphia High School for Girls. Using primary sources from the collection, the students learned about women in medicine by looking at the long history of Girls' High graduates attending the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania.

    This time around, the focus is on 'serious play' (which, pictured at right, was rather different in the 1880s) - reaching students in grades 6-12 through online games and interactive features that incorporate original documents and photos. The spotlight remains on the history of women in medicine (as well as Philadelphia's place in medical history), but the project should lead further into digital humanities directions. You can keep up to date on our progress via our new Twitter account - feel free to follow along!

    *All three of them

    Wednesday, March 24, 2010

    Could Catharine Macfarlane's work have lengthened Ada Lovelace's life?

    One more post in honor of Ada Lovelace Day, who connects to many women in many different ways. I’m connecting Ada with Dr. Catherine Macfarlane. Had Ada been born a bit later, or Catherine Macfarlane earlier, Ada’s life may have lasted longer than her short 36 years.

    Ada Lovelace died fairly young of cancer, in 1852. Some sources say uterine cancer specifically and some say she was bled to death in treating her illness.

    The same year of Ada’s death, when women had few options for medical training, the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania (later Woman’s Med) graduated its first class of eight women physicians. Its 46th class of women physicians graduated in 1898 and included Catherine Macfarlane.

    Evening Public Ledger, 1940 - Battle for HealthMacfarlane practiced and taught obstetrics and gynecology in Philadelphia and in time turned to research. Her work led to a theory that regular examination of women in apparent good health would be the best method to detect cancer in its early stages when it was most treatable. Initially, her theories were not popular and she had little support for her research.

    In 1938 she co-founded the Cancer Control Research Project at Woman’s Med where women patients came in for regular pelvic examinations. The clinic was planned to run for five years but ultimately covered a fifteen-year period, providing data from over one thousand women. The project’s 1953 findings
    supported Macfarlane’s theory and indicated that regular exams could help detect cancer of the uterus early on. Macfarlane then helped establish the first uterine cancer screening in Philadelphia, one of the earliest programs in the country.

    Had Catherine Macfarlane been born earlier, would her work have changed the outcome of Ada Lovelace’s illness? In Lovelace’s era, women had almost no support for studying medicine; even in Macfarlane’s time, she was discouraged in pursuing her research. However, perhaps Lovelace’s passion and interest fanned the development of schools educating women, attitudes about women’s health, and ultimately, Macfarlane’s groundbreaking work in early cancer detection.

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