Friday, November 20, 2009

Imminent Move

We have been assigned a moving date, and, as promised, we've received a full two weeks notice. The Thanksgiving holiday will eat a chunk of that but with the help of our supporters we will pack our offices and on-site collection materials and move on Friday, December 4th.

As previously noted, we're returning to familiar ground. Our new building on the Queen Lane campus (2900 W. Queen Lane, 19129) is not far from the former Medical College of Pennsylvania Hospital, the campus built and occupied by Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1930.

Before we leave our current home at Hagerty Library we are hosting an Open House at the library on December 2, 4-6pm. Please join us to commemorate our partnership with the University Archives and celebrate our move to our new space.

Here's a peek at the new space.

Miles of aisles!

The as yet un-populated reading room.

Art shelving.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

From the Collections: Women Physicians at War

We have previously taken a brief look at female doctors who served during the Civil War; today, with Veterans' Day upon us, we will examine a number of women physicians who served in twentieth-century wars.

In 1917, Dr. Bertha Van Hoosen (at that time the president of the Medical Women's National Association) established a War Service Committee; it evolved into the American Women's Hospitals (PDF finding aid). The name was chosen to reflect the good works of the Scottish Women's Hospitals, which sent teams of female doctors and nurses throughout war-ravaged Europe. Although their direct military service had been rejected by the US government, AWH doctors designed their own uniforms and sailed to Europe in 1918, establishing their first hospital in France.

Under the leadership of Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy, AWH established hospitals and clinics in various parts of France, Serbia and the Middle East. In 1922, AHW staff witnessed the burning of ─░zmir (or Smyrna, as it appears from time to time in the correspondence in the collection) and physicians including Dr. Mabel Elliott became heavily involved in treating refugees and orphans throughout Turkey, Armenia and Greece under obviously trying conditions. While most AWH doctors and nurses were never officially members of the military (a few were accepted as contract surgeons, but were not commissioned officers), their service during wartime was certainly comparable - and it laid the groundwork for the next generation.

A bill to allow female physicians full appointments in the Army and Navy Medical Corps was brought before Congress in 1943; while it makes fascinating reading in general, the testimony from Dr. Emily Dunning Barringer apparently had quite an effect on the committee, and what became known as the Sparkman Act was duly passed.

Immediately thereafter, the first woman doctor was commissioned in the Army Medical Corps; Dr. Margaret D. Craighill, dean of Women's Medical College from 1940-1946, was given leave to take up her post. After her appointment, she encouraged newly-minted women doctors to consider a military career. (A small aside - this clipping and photo detailing Dr. Craighill's 1944 WMC commencement address advice is particularly interesting, given that many Japanese-Americans were still in internment camps - and Dr. Toshiko Toyota, a native of Utah, overcame considerable adversity in her medical school career, according to notes in the Faculty Minutes - there were several attempts to have her expelled).

Dr. Craighill, in her capacity as Major Craighill, went on to survey conditions for the Women's Army Corps and recommended that air conditioning be provided as a matter of course for those stationed in hot climates; noting its success in Tehran, she said, "I do hope some of these lessons learned in the Persian Gulf will be carried out in the Pacific" (New York Times, 6/24/45).

Dr. Bernice R. Walters (WMC 1936) was the first woman doctor assigned to shipboard duty in the US Navy. She served aboard the USS Consolation, which was chiefly stationed off the Korean coast, beginning in 1950, but had actually joined the Naval Reserve in 1943. Of her initial induction, she noted, "They didn't even know how to process me...I almost wound up as an apprentice seaman" (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 11/23/52).

Our collections in this area are some of our most heavily-used by researchers, and yet the role of women doctors in the military and at war seems little-known to the general public; we hope future research and a few upcoming publications will help to correct that deficit.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Latest Construction Photos: Nearly There!

Despite last week's torrential rain, some brave members of Team Archives went to the Queen Lane campus to check on the progress of our new building - and it's almost at the 'finishing touches' stage. Without further ado, a quick photo tour:

An exterior wall, just outside the lobby

Stairs off the lobby head down to the Archives, as is right and proper

Inside the future stacks - note the rails for the compact shelving

We will host future researchers here, in the reading room

Office interior - the windows may be well above eye level, but they still allow natural light!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

From the Collections: Women's Suffrage

Today marks the 89th anniversary of the 19th Amendment going into effect (which, oddly, doesn't get an artistic rendering from Google). In a few short weeks, as part of the Institute for Women's Health and Leadership, we'll be kicking off Vision 2020 at the National Constitution Center and we will also be involved in quite a few events to celebrate the 90th anniversary of women's suffrage next year as well as working toward the centennial in 2020. In light of that, here are a few items from the collection related to winning the right to vote.

Although it was at the forefront of women's medical education in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it may come as a surprise to some to learn that not all Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania students and faculty were in favor of the suffrage movement. This editorial in the student magazine from 1912, was very much opposed to the notion, even though the author (an anonymous female medical student) agreed, in principle, that women should have the right to vote - it just wouldn't be a good thing for the nation as a whole.

However, that was most definitely not the majority view; another anonymous student satirized the anti-suffrage viewpoint held by some men under the none-too-subtle pen name 'J. Ilted' in this poem from the very next issue of the magazine.

Throughout this period, there are notices of pro-suffrage meetings being held in the Philadelphia area (such as this one), and some WMC faculty members were by no means quiet about the issue.

Dr. Ellen C. Potter (WMC 1903) issued a call to arms in 1912, lamenting the fact that contemporary young women medical students were apathetic compared to the previous generation's struggling pioneers. Dr. Potter was a very popular professor and later a pioneer in public health and preventive medicine, which was a cause taken up by not a few suffragist physicians.

One of those was Dr. Anna Howard Shaw, who was a regular visitor to WMC, serving as commencement speaker when her schedule permitted (she was the leader of the National American Woman Suffrage Association for a number of years); her death, only a few months after the passing of the 19th Amendment, inspired the creation of the Anna Howard Shaw Memorial Deptartment of Preventive Medicine - although it was no easy task. The department was not officially created until 1930, even though a campaign was begun in 1920 to raise funds.

Despite earlier anti-suffrage positions from some students, there is no indication that anyone chose not to take advantage of the college holiday afforded by the 1920 election; the account in the Bulletin recorded that, '...the casting of our first ballots assumed the solemnity of a religious ceremony.' Students took the opportunity to do some of the above-mentioned fundraising, '...collecting the National American Woman Suffrage Association's 'thank-offering' for the Anna Howard Shaw Memorial.'

It may have been a working holiday, but it was a most welcome one.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Louisville Floods & Racing History

The entrance to the Derby Museum is just to the left of this gateIt's typically an extremely rare occurrence when my worlds collide - oddly, this is the second time it has happened this year.

As many in the archival world know, I write about horse racing. And some in the horse racing world have a vague idea that I'm an archivist, but people in both spheres are probably a little unclear about what happens in the other one.

Here's the short version for each group - first, for the archivists: horses run around a track and I comment on it. American horse racing has a long and storied history that could be more (and here I'm dropping in a professional buzzword) accessible - but more on that later. For the racing folk: archivists preserve documents, photographs, ephemera, etc. from the past so that people (and not just historians) can learn about (and from) that shared past. We also do a lot of complicated things with digitization and metadata - while the usual adjectives employed to describe our profession are 'dusty' or 'musty,' that's only a small part of what we do.

Quite often, the archives (and the archivists who work there) are located in the basement - and that becomes a major issue in, say, a flood. The Kentucky Derby Museum at Churchill Downs just completed a renovation to their basement (where the storage and, as ever, archives are), including new shelving, when they were hit by a flash flood yesterday.

New shelving to an archivist is a precious commodity - we are rarely lucky enough to get shelving that is truly designed for archival use and it is difficult to raise money for it (as we have been doing in our archives for many a long day) because it's not immediately apparent to someone outside the profession how much the right shelves help protect and maintain the collection.

But of course, even the best compact shelving cannot save the collections from the archivist's second-greatest fear - water. At least one of the comments on the Courier-Journal article by Jennie Rees is wondering why the historical collections were stored in the basement, where they would be subject to flooding - and while that may seem unusual to the public, that's essentially standard practice; except for the few institutions that have successfully implemented a visible storage project, cultural institutions cannot take up exhibit space with shelves and processing space - and you need a large open space for most useful shelving systems. Best practices may seek to get the archives and artifact storage above the flood line, but it rarely happens - indeed, when our archives moves into our new building, we will again be in the basement. (It may come as something of a surprise to some to discover that water damage happens even when collections are stored on higher levels - leaky pipes are a constant source of worry in the archival world).

Regardless of how the water gets in, archivists usually respond in just the way the Derby Museum staff did - by creating a human chain to get the materials and artifacts to higher ground. To add insult to injury, several museum employees lost their cars to the floodwaters while working to save the collections - but the good news is that it seems nothing was lost - just made very wet. Conserving wet materials is not as easy as just letting them dry off - the most effective approach is to have them freeze-dried and dealt with by a disaster mitigation firm. Obviously, that's not cheap, but some organizations are lucky enough to have insurance to cover those costs - I don't know whether that's true of the Museum, but I hope they are able to get their collections back to the pre-flood state I enjoyed when visiting the Museum only last month.

Public libraries are rarely that fortunate - and the Louisville Public Library sustained very serious damage to both the physical plant and the books and computers (as did several of the branch libraries). In their case, a fund has been set up and donations are being accepted; keeping libraries running can be a challenge under the best circumstances, but the combination of a down economy and a major disaster is one that no library director wants to face - it's a worthy cause.

I mentioned accessibility above and the lack of accessibility to horse racing history was, rather serendipitously, the topic of Teresa Genaro's article in The Saratogian today (a note to the archivists reading - Teresa writes the rather wonderful Brooklyn Backstrech blog and was one of my co-bloggers for this year). She noted how difficult it was to authoritatively establish basic facts not only from the more distant past, but even statistics from recent years - and as someone on both sides of that fence, I couldn't agree more with her conclusions. American racing history is fairly widely dispersed - there's the Keeneland Library, the currently-damp Kentucky Derby Museum, the International Museum of the Horse, the National Museum of Racing and the National Sporting Library and while there is some crossover, for the most part, each has a different collection policy and research goals.

That list does not even begin to take into account an individual racetrack's holdings (and who knows what happens when they close - where are the records of Ak-Sar-Ben? Who will take on those of Hollywood Park?) including their film and video storage. Other sources of racing history, like the Daily Racing Form or Equibase, tend to be considerably more proprietary about their information. Unlike the aforementioned libraries and museums, making their information accessible is not the goal - and while that makes a certain amount of sense in their business models, it would be nice if they turned their data over to one of the aforementioned institutions or had a records management policy that involved making that data available online (with a preservation copy elsewhere) after a certain time period - I'd be happy to recommend a number of Kentucky-based archivists for the job.

It's difficult enough for researchers to find the information they are looking for under normal conditions; dealing with a disaster like the flooding in Kentucky makes the archivist's goal of preserving the past and providing access that much more difficult. The only potential upside is that the spotlight these cultural institutions unwittingly find themselves in brings in some much-needed funds for repairs and, hopefully, future improvements that serve both the collections and the public.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Construction Update: July

We were lucky enough to get some updated photos of how construction is proceeding; while it's certainly exciting to see the exterior come together, we were thrilled to get some previews of our actual workspace as well.

Building exterior: those partial windows at the bottom left will be ours.

Inside (and, you'll notice, down the stairs, as is the rule for archives): we're reasonably sure this is where the compact shelving is going.

Interior: this looks to be the reading room (or the office watching over it - we're not entirely sure which side of the wall we're seeing).

Interior again: Finally, an office! And, in an even more exciting development, we can see what I understand is a 'window' - something nary a one of us has had at work for years. Granted, it's above eye level, but it's still natural light.

Now we just need to figure out how and when we're moving everything...

Friday, June 12, 2009

This Thing Is Actually Happening

Not an appropriate storage solutionWe had one of our not-as-frequent-as-they-should-be formal staff meetings yesterday and as you might expect, our move was one of the larger topics of conversation. The concept is becoming less ephemeral as the building looks more and more like a real building, even if the actual move-in date keeps shifting. We hear that it's possible construction will be largely completed at the end of October, and that our compact shelving could be installed at that point - and that's when the fun begins.

Our collections are currently in three major chunks as far as their physical locations - a small portion is here on-site in Hagerty Library, a very large segment is in our 'local' offsite storage and another grouping of possibly indeterminate size is held by Iron Mountain. We discussed whether it makes sense to move any one group first, leaving space for the others, since we'd like to start actually putting items in accession order (notwithstanding the fact that there are a few different systems of accessions floating around - and of course scary unaccessioned items). It's clear in any event that getting everything in order is the new space will be a very long process; just the initial integration of these three groups that have not seen each other in years is going to be tricky. We do not know yet whether we will be able to rely on the movers for their large library carts (and manpower) in terms of simply getting things staged and on shelves, but we do know that we need to get it done (at least a first pass) with some celerity - there is a planned opening event for the building in January (for which we also want to create a small exhibition), and we're going to be involved in quite a few major events throughout 2010.

As our goal is to complete the move without having to shut down entirely to researchers, time will be of the essence in that regard as well - so even though we know there will be some very necessary reboxing (especially with the Iron Mountain materials) and moving around, we're going to have to try to make it snappy.

As much as we are looking forward to having our new offices (with windows! well, technically the windows will be above eye level, but they will be there all the same) it's clear we won't be spending much time in them for the first few weeks/months/longer.

But there will be a certain satisfaction when we can input meaningful information in the Archivists' Toolkit 'location' tab - the idea that in the near future we can simply look up a collection or box and know exactly where it is (rather than referring to several spreadsheets and a reasonably useful mental map) makes the move worth the hassle.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

From the Collections: Drugs

As any archivist will attest, one not infrequently comes across something interesting while looking for another item entirely and it's necessary to make a note to go back to interesting item number one (although following up on these Notes To Self is a rarer occurrence, at least in my experience). Luckily, I had the chance again recently to pull out the same journals and boxes in which I'd found these magnificent drug ads for your viewing pleasure. They are in chronological order (for your convenience, naturally).

The first ad was placed in The Medical Woman's Journal in 1924; back then, it seems one drug could do it all and still be 'agreeable to the taste' - this particular offering had been on the market for decades at this point:

The next ad, also from The Medical Woman's Journal but placed ten years later, shows that even in 1934, advertised drugs were still rather one-size-fits-all:

You may rest assured that it 'can be prescribed at any season of year.' Whew!

Ten years on, Girl Power was the order of the day - this ad is also from the The Medical Woman's Journal, from May, 1944 and the influence of women's war work is clear:

Ergoapiol had been popular since at least the turn of the century for a number of uses; it would seem the prescribing physician is invited to read between the lines in certain situations.

Sticking with 1944 and the same publication, we start to get slightly more straightforward ads about family planning - although clearly there's a need to market contraception as a last resort. In this instance, kidney trouble provides the key:

Interestingly, other similar ads from the same year start to drop the 'protecting health' angle and go straight in for a more modern one - although they are still fairly discreet.

The next series of ads are from a 1958 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Women's Association - it's quite clear we're almost in the modern era.

The first ad has dispensed with any excuses for its product and simply sticks to a clinical theme:

The one consistent thread through these late-'50s ads is that they are still marketing to doctors - not directly to patients. One presumes the array of psychotic characters presented in this ad would have been familiar to its audience:

I'm not entirely sure what's wrong with the older woman near the top of the 'D' - is it the fact that she's so cheerful despite having Angry Old Man to her left and Proto-Goth-Girl just below her? One can only assume she's dealing with the 'minor emotional disturbances' Dartal handles, while everyone else falls into the 'major' category.

And in case you require a weight-loss method, fear not - your goal can be accomplished through diet, exercise and a fun mixture of methamphetamine and pentobarbital. Wait, what?

Well, it does also have vitamin c. Who wants to stick to plain old diet and exercise, anyway?

Finally, Bonadoxin not only stops morning sickness but compels the expectant patient to garden furiously:

If someone wanted to compare the way drugs were (are?) marketed to female doctors and their male counterparts, I imagine there's a PhD in there somewhere...

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

From the Collections: Civil War Doctors

We recently had a research request regarding women physicians and their role in the Civil War. At least two Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania graduates and one student provided medical care on the battlefields. While not a WMC graduate, we also have a large collection related to Dr. Mary Edwards Walker, who was perhaps the most famous American woman doctor of the Civil War era - although she was not necessarily best known for her medical skills.

The first doctor for whom we have records, Dr. Orianna Moon-Andrews, graduated with her MD in 1857; at that time, the school was still known as the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania. She had married fellow Southerner Dr. John Summerfield Andrews in 1861 and began to serve as his nurse (at least so far as the records show, although other research suggests she did considerably more than some of the medical men of the time cared to admit).

The second of 'our' doctors, Dr. Chloe Annette Buckel, graduated in 1856. She left a role as a physician at the New York Infirmary to volunteer her services and was chosen to select and train nurses for the Union army - apparently the North was equal to the South in not wanting to employ qualified women as physicians. She later relocated to California as a practicing doctor, where she wrote scientific articles and was an advocate for children.

Although not a graduate, Anne Smith was a student at WMC after the Civil War; however, it was her war work that brought this particularly interesting item of ephemera to our archives. The pictured permission pass allowed her to pass between the Northern and Southern armies - it seems likely she was working as a nurse at Gettysburg and possibly other major battlefields. Unfortunately that's about all we know about Smith - we'd certainly be grateful to get more information.

Last but certainly not least was Dr. Mary Edwards Walker; we have approximately 30 linear feet related to Walker including much of her correspondence and an unpublished manuscript about her life (as well as many photographs). Walker was eventually given the Medal of Honor (although it was later revoked and restored), but for most of her working life she was the subject of great controversy. Although many of her male 'colleagues' wanted rid of her, she was eventually given a commission as a surgeon. She was also captured by the Confederate army as a spy and held for a number of months. After the war, she became notorious for dressing in men's clothes (even the dress reform movement wasn't sure what to do with her) and was even arrested on occasion as a result. Syracuse University holds her papers - I'm betting they have the other halves of some of the letters in our collection.

Anyone want to write a grant?

Friday, April 10, 2009

From the Collections: A Nymphomania Cure?

We came across this item last week in the papers of Woman's Medical College dean Rachel Bodley (1831-1888). It is from a woman best know to history as 'The Patient' of neurologist Dr. Charles K. Mills (whose own collection is housed nearby at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania). He had published her story as "A Case of Nymphomania with Hysterio-Epilepsy and Peculiar Mental Perversions — the Results of Clitirodectomy and Oophorectomy — The Patient's History as Told by Herself" in the Philadelphia Medical Times in 1885.

It would seem that by February of 1886, The Patient had her own theory as to why her various 'treatments' had failed, and wished to have it confirmed:

"…so that proof may be had that the cure of nymphomania by oophrectomy is effected by separating some telegraphic connection leading from the sexual organs to the brain."
She hoped for this 'proof' to be discovered after her death, and so wrote to Bodley to will her body to science (specifically to the Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia). She apparently carried on a brief correspondence with Bodley (the file contained two letters, in addition to the 'will' reproduced here with identifying information redacted – just in case).

What is not clear is what happened after this correspondence; did she write the letters suspecting that she was dying, or did she live on for many years beyond that? She does give directions on how the situation is to be handled if she outlives the physicians she has selected to handle her case (in addition to Dr. Mills, she mentions Dr. Anna Broomall and Dr. Hannah T. Croasdale, both WMC professors).

It's possible the answers lie elsewhere in the collection or perhaps in Nymphomania: A History by Carol Groneman (in which she recounts the case in some detail – it would be nice if we had it in the library here!). In any case, what started off as mild amusement at a glance at the will led to a deeper curiosity about what happened to the unfortunate Patient – did she remain a resident of the Women's Nervous Wards at Philadelphia Hospital? Did she die shortly after writing the letters? Or was she eventually released and lost to history?

We'd love to know - in the meantime, here is a link to a PDF of the complete will.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

From the Collections: The Sporting Life

It seems appropriate at this time of year to consider the role sports played in the lives of Woman's Medical College students, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While a number of options were available over time, the one that seemed most popular throughout the years was basketball.

1913-1914 WMC basketball team, l to r: Helen Houser, 1915; Anna Taylor, 1915; Regina Downie, 1914; Lora Dyer, 1914; Myrtle Jane Hinkhouse, 1914

Indeed, although a gymnasium was established in the 1880s and fencing made its mark as the first official athletic club in 1898, nothing seemed to hold the attention of the student body quite as emphatically as basketball.

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 7, 1888

L to R: Florence Richards & Ella Grim, class of 1899

The sport is mentioned frequently in student publications, especially in the 19-teens. There are complaints:
"There's a really fine gymnasium going almost to waste in connection with our college."

"We ought to have a good sized class for an hour, two days a week. A half hour of light exercise, Sweedish [sic] drill perhaps, and then a half hour of basketball."

- The Esculapian, Vol. II, No. 5, p. 8 (April 1913)
There are more subtle suggestions:
Basket Ball.
"At the College there is a good gymnasium, fine dressing rooms, and shower baths. If you are not able to play, show your College spirit by attending the games and encouraging those who do."

- Student Handbook, 1909

There are explanations of just what's so great about basketball, anyway:
"The basket-ball teams will be organized in the near future. It is earnestly desired by those who played last year that every girl who possibly can, will seek this form of recreation. It is an opportunity not only for good, healthy exercise and mental relaxation, but one for meeting members of the different classes in a social way."

- The Esculapian, Vol. II, No. 1, p.8 (October 1910)
And there was even a little bragging; not only had the 1912-1913 WMC team defeated the YWCA team 47-11, they'd even made enough money on admissions to buy a new basketball.

Poor tennis was left in the dust!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

More Construction Photos

We got another set of construction photos this morning (and were duly warned that although things seem to be moving with some celerity now, we may later have the opposite impression) but it’s difficult not to get a little bit excited about them since the size and outline of the building are so much more apparent.

The approach to the building is clearer now.

The framing for the upper floors is in place.

The big machines are working in what will be our office and stack space; the small orange one in the center is more or less in Joanne's future office. (Or possibly it's the back of the stacks - we're not entirely sure how it matches up to the blueprints).

We are excited (and not least because we can visualize where our windows will be)! On that note, I'd also like to add that I'm proud to be counted as a 2009 Shover and Maker - with all this construction, it seems, somehow, appropriate.

Construction pics courtesy of Bernard Moore, Drexel University College of Medicine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Big Dig

The speed of the building progress caught us by surprise. Just a few short weeks ago, I visited the hole in the ground, which was unreasonably impressive - we could actually imagine ourselves moving in and managing our materials there in the dirt.

Since we are not currently at the same location as the new building site, more thrills came when these images were sent.

Forms for walls.

Progress as of just last week. The first pour: setting the forms for the rails that will support the compact shelving.

Before we know it we'll be loading our 9,000 linear feet of shelf space...

Zamboni for concrete.

Construction pics courtesy of Bernard Moore, Drexel University College of Medicine.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fun with Furniture

Yesterday we attended a Furniture Fair, featuring a number of Drexel-approved vendors. While we still aren't sure exactly how much new furniture we'll be able to afford as part of the move, it was a nice way to get started thinking about the possibilities in slightly more concrete terms. I hadn't realized the variety of options now available in the office furniture market - but luckily we now have something on the order of fifty catalogs to keep ourselves thinking about what we'd like.

While most of the offerings were reasonably straightforward, we did come across a magnificent publication from a company called Coalesse (Artsy layouts! Floating pullquotes in edgy fonts! Different kinds of paper in one catalog!). They described themselves thusly:

With products that fit as naturally in the office as the living room, Coalesse focuses on the increasingly growing similarities between work and life.

Gone are the harsh lines and glaring surfaces that have long characterized the workplace. Coalesse has replaced them with softened, contoured shapes that represent the new sensibilities of the modern way we work.
To that end, we decided we had no choice but to invest in this $12,000 chair for our new reading room:

I'm sure our researchers would appreciate it.

But in all seriousness, we did get the opportunity to give the treadmill workstation a try - and we absolutely loved it.

It would make cataloging and working with our accessions data a breeze - and we'd keep fit too! If only we could find a grant to pay for it...

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Every Day is Ladies' Day with Me

March is here, and with it I'm seeing a bit of an uptick in reference requests from elementary schools working on projects for Women's History Month. We love getting these requests (anything that has kids looking for primary sources is a good thing in my book), but by the same token we don't go out of our way to do much as part of Women's History Month - simply because our stewardship of the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania collection means that's (largely) what we do all day, every day, year-round.

Want to know more about the first American woman to be dean of a medical school? We have that. How about what female doctors did during and after the First World War (when the US government didn't want them officially involved)? Got that too. Want to know what female medical students did for fun when they weren't studying? We can help there as well. Need a fix on what it was like to be one of a very few woman medical missionaries in the 19th century? You're covered!

While on one hand endeavors like Women's History Month can make it seem (to the non-specialist) as though 'our' part of the larger American mosaic only needs to be discussed once a year, on the other it definitely does point out to the younger user that this history is here (and not all online!) and that it is important. The challenge is keeping that higher level of awareness throughout their academic careers so that they can become the next generation of historians, curators, museum-goers and (perhaps most importantly) interested citizens who work to keep cultural institutions going when economic times get tough. It's a start.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

From the Collections: Potts, Kettle, Quack?

Prompted by a reference request, I've been looking around to see what other institutions (and, of course, Google Books) might have regarding Dr. Anna Longshore-Potts – a member of the first graduating class (1852) of the Female Medical College of Pennsylvania which would later become the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (and yes, it's 'Woman's' and not 'Women's'). While we had a few items (most of them of a slightly hagiographical bent), I hoped to find a bit more elsewhere to broaden the possible directions of the request.

At first, the online results were quite similar to our own analog holdings – short biographies mentioning her popular lecture tours, her books and her wide travels. Indeed, she seemed to be something along the lines of a medical Oprah – she was even quoted in a A Text-book of the Science and Art of Bread-making, presumably to help boost its sales.

However, once I got into the scholarly journals of the day a very different picture emerged from the male medical establishment – the vast majority of those opinion-makers wanted nothing to do with 'Mrs. Dr. Longshore Potts.' The Journal of the American Medical Association (in 1895) published a note from London whose author did not exactly hold back his (and I think we can very safely say 'his') opinion of Dr. Longshore-Potts and her education:

While it is true that medical education had become much more professionalized from the point at which Dr. Longshore-Potts submitted her thesis ('A Disquisition on Electricity' - one from our collection), by the 1890s the curriculum at WMC was not dissimilar to other highly-regarded medical schools of the time - and was probably quite a bit more stringent than not a few big names. Obviously, that impression was not held by the medical men who edited the Medical Press and Circular in 1899:

It is, perhaps, a bit unfair to point out that the same edition of JAMA featured an article on 'The Incandescent Light, or Radiant Heat Bath' by no less an authority than Dr. J. H. Kellogg of breakfast cereal fame (complete with photos of the light baths in question) which sang the praises of sitting in a light-bulb-lined box to promote 'protoplasmic activity' - or that the Medical Press argued forcefully regarding the dangers of reading in bed - but somehow, it seems worth mentioning.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You Can't Always Get What You Want...

Noted archival move experts Mick Jagger and Keith RichardsWe had quite a bit we wanted to say last week about the latest installment in our move saga, but we opted to wait to see how the situation developed. Without going into too many specifics, it's a near certainty that any major construction project at a university will undergo a few changes along the way and, as with any large organization, those changes may or may not be communicated to all interested parties (especially when the news might not be welcomed by said parties).

It's easy to understand why there was reluctance to announce 'we're putting a large electrical room where your stacks are on the plans' (clearly, no one wants to cross a bunch of scary archivists!) and given the scale of the larger project, it is perhaps surprising something similar had not happened already. The good news is that everyone who needed to know did find out in time and while more complicated political machinations were going on behind the scenes, a happily workable solution was produced (we think!).

While the placement of the new electrical room is in direct opposition to Chapter 3 of Planning New and Remodeled Archival Facilities and so of course we still have concerns about what this means as far as fire suppression, water damage possibilities and general environmental concerns, there is good news - the loss of storage space will not be nearly as bad as we feared (despite a loss of overall square footage). In fact, it's possible that we will end up with a more usable (if slightly less aesthetically-pleasing) space as a result of being forced to think creatively about how to manage the interloper. And when all is said and done, we'll still have the entire collection in one space and largely housed in fantastic compact shelving - it's only to be expected that there will be some bumps along the road, from both internal and external sources.

Hopefully this is the last major layout concern we will face, as we really want to move on to the more important items on our moving list - like choosing paint colors for the walls and panel colors for the aforementioned compact shelving. Given that the footprint for what will be our offices finally exists (and, therefore, seems a lot more real), we are looking forward to getting those fun decisions made (and we are not at all procrastinating about the hard ones, like the logistics of actually getting all our offsite material folded into one big, happy collection).

The lessons so far can be summed up as follows: 1) remain vigilant; 2) make friends and influence people; 3) Mick and Keith were right: you just might find you get what you need!

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