Friday, January 30, 2009

From the Collections: Dr. Amy Kaukonen

Amy KaukonenWe had what turned out to be a fascinating research request for a 1915 Woman's Medical College graduate about whom we had only a small amount of information, but we discovered considerably more in the New York Times online archive and elsewhere. We did have a few photos, notes and some general information from her file, but the story became particularly exciting after she left Philadelphia. First, however, here's what we found on our end:

Amy Kaukonen arrived at WMC in September, 1911, to begin medical school; she came straight from high school in Conneaut, Ohio. Fellow students that year hailed from all across the United States as well as Canada, India, Puerto Rico, Russia and other more distant lands (as evidenced by the matriculation book all students signed). Some had undergraduate degrees, others were high school graduates like Kaukonen and a few already held medical degrees from other institutions.

Apparently Kaukonen made an early mark as extremely studious; the 1911 yearbook offered this couplet for the young freshman:

K stands for Kaukonen, with piles of hair so light;
She grinds so hard, that she forgets to go to bed at night
At some point in 1913 or 1914, she had to take time off due to illness; as a result she was moved into the 1915 graduating class, but the details are a bit vague – there’s just a quick mention of the event in the student magazine (PDF - see page 20), and then she next appears in her graduation photo in 1915 (she's number 21). She remained in Philadelphia to complete her residency at the Woman's Hospital of Philadelphia, and then vanished from our records. When she resurfaced a few years later, she generated national headlines.

In 1921, just months after the 19th Amendment was passed, Dr. Amy Kaukonen was elected mayor of Fairport Harbor, Ohio - becoming one of the first female mayors in the United States. Her platform was largely Prohibitionist, apparently informed by her experiences as a doctor treating victims of moonshiners and bootleggers (a particular concern for the town, given its location on Lake Erie). Upon her election, she received a congratulatory telegram from President Harding and became known nationwide as the glamorous 'Girl Mayor' (although her age seems to vary depending on the newspaper - it's given as anywhere from 22-28 in a number of 1922 articles, but it seems most likely she was actually 31 at the time). Despite the publicity, her job was not smooth sailing - she was assaulted at work and eventually decamped with little notice to Seattle (according to further contemporary news reports kindly forwarded to us by our researcher). There is speculation that the sudden move may have been the result of threats from bootleggers, but we don't have much concrete evidence to go on - it's certainly a possibility.

It seems Kaukonen later returned to Ohio, where she lived out of the spotlight and continued to practice medicine; she married in the 1930s but never had children (laying to rest the rumor that she was the grandmother of Jourma Kaukonen of Hot Tuna fame). We hope our friends at the Finnish Heritage Museum continue to fill in the blanks and keep us posted on their ongoing research.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

From the Collections: Dr. Eliza Grier

We often receive reference requests for images and information about Dr. Eliza Grier, who graduated from Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania in 1897. Although she was not the first African-American graduate of WMC (that honor went to Rebecca Cole in 1867 – the second African-American woman to receive a medical degree in the United States), we have considerably more documentation on her (difficult) life.

We do not have details of her early life beyond the fact that she was born into slavery; she spent the better part of the 1880s putting herself through the Advanced Normal course of study at Fisk University over a period of seven years in which she alternated a year of study with a year of picking cotton in order to support herself. She wrote to WMC to ask whether scholarships or other funding sources might be available (here is the letter - further links lead to scans of other related documents), asking if the College administrators were aware of '…any possible way that might be provided for an emancipated slave to receive any help into so lofty a profession.'

Some help was evidently provided, although not so much that Grier could attend to her studies without seeking outside employment; as a result, it took her seven years to complete her M.D. In 1898, the year following Grier's graduation, WMC Dean Dr. Clara Marshall wrote that Grier had '…been constantly harassed by want of adequate means of support' during her WMC career.

In any event, Grier returned to her hometown of Atlanta and presented herself to the Georgia state board of medical examiners (rather to the surprise of the all-white, all male membership) and was found to be '...thoroughly informed in her profession.' The event was deemed newsworthy; in this clipping (scroll to the bottom right), the North American Medical Review felt compelled to remark upon the licensing of this 'coal black woman doctor' who would '...make no discrimination on account of color' in her practice.

Unfortunately, Grier's triumph over circumstances was short-lived; she became ill in 1901 and, unable to practice, sent a desperate letter to Susan B. Anthony asking for help, which Anthony duly forwarded to Grier's alma mater. Unfortunately, that is where our record ends – there is no indication in the records here as to whether or not some assistance was sent, and Grier died shortly thereafter in 1902.

This is something of a common pattern among some of 'our' 19th century graduates – women who may have come to the medical profession somewhat later in life (often from teaching) finally obtain their medical degrees and then suddenly die after a year or two of practice. I'm sure there's a PhD in there for someone…

For a complete listing of all our digitized files regarding Eliza Grier click here.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Plots and Plans

Constantine Hering in a not-at-all posed shot Details about the move tend to hover around the edges of our day-to-day work; we try to fit in planning meetings where and when we can. Yesterday's edition was all about furniture - whose budget will it come out of? Are we getting new furniture at all? Will our existing furniture fit in the new offices? What are we forgetting? What happened to things that went into storage after the last move? Of course, we had not gotten very far in making our furniture lists before we had to move on our next engagement - training on our new overhead camera system (PDF warning) and the CaptureOne software that powers it.

We obviously have a lot to learn about it, but we are starting to get to grips with it just in time - requests came in for a number of oversized items to be digitized, and happily we could meet those needs in-house (although I'm sure we will be tweaking things for some time to come). We also experimented with some of our smaller photographs to see just how much detail we could get out of them - (and also because we needed to digitize them quickly - it was serendipitous timing) this one of Constantine Hering from the Hahnemann collection was one of our first guinea pigs, with the finishing touches only added this morning.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New blogger

I am now a blogger.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Documenting ourselves

Originally uploaded by mmg24
The groundbreaking was joyful as it was simultaneously laughable (golden shovels and hardhats) and exciting (anticipating a new space in the not-too-distant future).

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Where we are, where we're going

You could say that the fact that our current offices are nowhere near the reading room or the actual materials keeps us fit to a certain extent; while we are very appreciative of the space our Drexel University Archives colleagues share with us, we won't miss having to circle the semi-wall that divides the basement of Hagerty Library (and blocks what little view of the reading room we had before it suddenly appeared one Monday).

Our new building will be on the main Med School campus in the East Falls section of Philadelphia; it's something of a homecoming for the Woman's Medical College half of the collection which was largely created in the same neighborhood. Of course, being archivists, we will still be housed in the basement, but our new space will have what I understand are called windows in it. They may be slightly above our heads, but at least we will be able to keep an eye on the weather. Even better, the reading room, digital lab, workspace and storage will all be together - along with our offices. It's going to be lovely once we are moved and settled in (and re-arranged the entire collection). I suspect the actual moving part won't be quite as much fun, but at least the movers know us well already...

Monday, January 5, 2009

What's this all about?

Magic golden groundbreaking shovels, Drexel University College of Medicine, Philadelphia, PA, December 18, 2008The Drexel University College of Medicine Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine and Homeopathy (to give the full title) is an experienced traveler. The entire collection was moved in 2004, again in 2006 and is preparing for its third (and, one hopes, final) move in 2009 (or possibly 2010, depending on how construction progresses). This semi-official blog, penned by the archivists and staff, will document the move (from all viewpoints) and the planning involved in getting all 4000 linear feet (and growing) in one place for the first time ever.

The good news is that after years of making do with space wherever it could be found, we will be moving into an entirely new building and that we have had a reasonable amount of input as far as how our space will function (fire supression! compact shelving! workspace! windows!), but we've also had to wear some unexpected hats - fundraiser, cheerleader, space planner - you name it. No doubt as the physical move approaches we will be donning further pieces of unfamiliar headgear, but our plucky little team hopes the rest of the archival world can learn from our experiences and inevitable mistakes along the way.

In the meantime, we continue to welcome researchers and look forward to the day when we don't have to apologize for some materials being offsite!

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