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Mary Edwards Walker; we have approximately 30 linear feet related to Walker including much of her correspondence and an unpublished manuscript about her life (as well as many photographs).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!

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