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!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

From the Collections: Correspondenzblatt der Homoeopathischen Aerzte

We’re in the process of expanding our digital collections and one of the upcoming additions is the Correspondenzblatt der Homoeopathischen Aerzte, a small journal published from 1835-1836 by the North American Academy of the Homeopathic Healing Art (which was known as the Allentown Academy, having been located in Allentown, PA).

Homeopathy is a therapeutic system based on the law of similars, “Similia similibus curentur” or, let likes be cured by likes. In 1835 the practice of homeopathy was just getting a foothold in the United States.

The Correspondenzblatt der Homoeopatischen Aerzte (Correspondence Paper of Homeopathic Physicians) is from the Hahnemann Collection and was the first homeopathic journal published in the United States, created by and for homeopathic practitioners who submitted case notes, observations and questions about their patients. Constantine Hering, one of the founders of the Academy and considered to be the “father of American Homeopathy”, served as the journal’s editor.

The issues are short but dense, running 4-8 pages each (with a total of 16 issues in its short life) and are packed with detailed case studies on ailments being treated homeopathically. In aggregate, they illustrate the holistic approach used by homeopaths in treating minor and major illnesses, from toothaches to measles. More than a few of the case studies detail the use of homeopathy to treat animals, including pigs, horses and cows. Some descriptions are graphic and should be avoided by the faint of heart.

The original publication is mostly in German with a few entries in English. We’ve had the entire run translated to English which we’ll post along with the digital facsimiles of the paper. Some translated excerpts:

M.W. a brunette woman nearly 40 years old reported to me on April 11, 1836 the following complaints: tearing in the right arm and in the sinews, worse with motion, pulls down into the hand, with heat in, so that the veins swell.

Poorly-handled or neglected skin burns cured by ars. Xo in many cases.

The eyes of an old, corpulent daily drinker were severely inflamed, burning with pain – the flow of tears – red blood vessels on the zygoma and nose – allopathic remedies had been applied in vain for a long time – nox. vom. in several doses cured despite the continued enjoyment of holy drinks.

The homeopathic substances are abbreviated throughout. The remedies here refer to Arsenicum Album (ars.) and Nux Vomica (nox. vom.) but the abbreviations aren't always consistent. We're still working out exactly how we'll match abbreviations to fully-termed substances in the digital version.

In his role as editor, Hering encourages the practice and growth of homeopathy and cajoles his readers to contribute and share.

“Everything which the individual discovers must become the common good of all! That is the great noble principle that ensures the new art its position.”

Friday, February 6, 2009

From the Collections: Dr. Rebecca Cole

Rebecca Cole's thesisNot infrequently, we find a certain synchronicity about research requests; often, a collection or individual that might have been under the radar suddenly becomes the subject of several similar avenues of inquiry in a remarkably short span of time. We had a flurry of activity around our American Women's Hospitals collection for much of last year, and in the past few weeks we have experienced something similar regarding Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania graduate Rebecca Cole.

As mentioned in passing in the entry on Eliza Grier, Cole was the second African-American woman in the United States to receive a medical degree. Unlike Grier, Cole lived a long life and practiced medicine for more than fifty years – yet we have remarkably little first-hand information about her. In our collection, we do have her 1867 thesis: 'The Eye and its Appendages' (cover pictured here) and a mention in passing in some 1906 correspondence between Clara Marshall, WMC dean at the time, and W.E.B. DuBois.

We had been doing a bit of research on Rebecca Cole on our end for a project related to our new building; shortly after beginning to look around here, we started receiving related reference requests (and please keep them coming!) – somehow, everyone's timing has been perfect. As a result, we've been able to cobble together some links to other resources regarding her life.

Prior to attending WMC, Rebecca Cole graduated from the Institute for Colored Youth (now Cheyney University) in 1863. After receiving her medical degree, she moved to New York, where she became a 'sanitary visitor' for the New York Infirmary for Women and Children, working under Elizabeth Blackwell. She later moved on to South Carolina, but returned to Philadelphia where she partnered with Dr. Charlotte Abbey (WMC 1887) to start the Physician Woman's Directory in 1894. The Directory was established (according to Abbey in this publication from 1915) '...for the purpose of preventing the establishment of a foundling hospital in Philadelphia.' The Directory's aim was to educate and support unmarried mothers (mostly of the 'domestic service or factory class') with the hopes that they could keep their children and referred them to employment situations that supported this goal.

Perhaps as a result of this experience, Cole moved to Washington, DC, where in 1899 she became the Superintendent of the Orphans' Home run by the National Association for the Relief of Destitute Colored Women and Children. Her arrival was mentioned in their thirty-seventh annual report:

Dr. Cole herself has more than fulfilled the expectations of her friends. With a clear and comprehensive view of her whole field of action, she has carried out her plans with the good sense and vigor which are a part of her character, while her cheerful optimism, her determination to see the best in every situation and in every individual, have created around her an atmosphere of sunshine that adds to the happiness and well being of every member of the large family.
The report is from the Daniel A. P. Murray Pamphlet Collection at the Library of Congress. It seems Cole remained in Washington, DC until her death in 1922 - but unfortunately there are no known photographs of her. It is possible this 1870 engraving from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper does, indeed, feature Cole (in shadow, left-hand corner of the picture); the accopmanying text says:
"...every face is a more or less carefully elaborated portrait- not from photographs, but as they appeared, intent upon the lecture, to the artists eye. The ages of the scholars may also be approximately surmised, and their degree of intelligence and enthusiasm. Among them will be noticed the dark-skinned, but intelligent and intellectual features of the young lady who graduated during the past month, and who, in addition to other distinctions, possesses that of being the first colored female graduated doctoress in America, or perhaps the world."
(Thanks to Diana Carey at Schlesinger Library for the quotation and for details on the image).

While we now know that Cole was in fact the second (after Rebecca Lee Crumpler, who graduated from the New England Female Medical College in 1864), that only became apparent in the 1940s - so it's entirely possible that Cole was sitting in on anatomy lectures in New York as part of her work at the New York Infirmary. (You may be able to tell we've gone back and forth on this one). It's entirely possible there are photos of her as well, as yet undiscovered - perhaps some day a processing project in the DC area will hit paydirt in that regard.

Here are some other links Rebecca Cole researchers may find of interest:
Changing the Face of Medicine
(National Library of Medicine)
Emergence Community Arts Collective
The Library of Congress: American Memory

The Library of Congress: Prints and Photographs
Schlesinger Library - Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study

And a few published references that mention Cole (copies of which are available in our archives, atlhough not online):
Brown, Sara W. "Colored Women Physicians." Southern Workman, 52:12 (December 1923) 580-593.

"Dr. Rebecca Lee, First Negro Woman Medical Graduate." Bulletin, Medico-Chirurgical Society of the District of Columbia, Inc., 41:1 (January 1949).

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