Friday, February 26, 2010

From the Collections: Constant Diversity?

The Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania had a long tradition of diversity; in addition to opening the doors to a formal medical education to American women of many backgrounds, including a former slave like Dr. Eliza Grier, it also helped to educate women from around the world - and that's back when it was such an usual move that international students made headlines, just for coming. In 1885, there were three such 'exotic' women attending WMC at the same time - Dr. Anandibai Joshee, class of 1886, who was the first Indian woman to earn an MD; Japan's Dr. Kei Okami, class of 1889, and Dr. Sabat Islambooly (yes, it's a typo on the caption - and a very old one), class of 1890, from Syria - so naturally, a photograph was taken to honor the occasion:

By 1904, the College could boast alumnae hailing from '...Canada...Jamaica, Brazil, England, Sweden, Denmark, Switzerland, Russia, Syria, India, China, Japan, Burmah, Australia, and the Congo Free State. Its living alumnae number about a thousand, and are found in nearly every part of the American republic and in many foreign countries, among them Egypt, India, China, Japan, Persia and Korea.'

Indeed, in the early twentieth century, the press loved nothing more than featuring women medical students from around the world in their native costumes - this example is from 1928 (although perhaps what is more interesting is that as late as 1928, a newspaper with a general readership could make a pop culture allusion to Gilbert & Sullivan and have it understood):

While a commitment to diversity waxed and waned throughout the years, it is interesting to note that it was strong in a very public way, at a time when it was not necessarily a popular stance. At the height of the Second World War, WMC admitted students from Japanese internment camps, although it is clear from a few not-so-subtle hints in the Faculty Minutes that not everyone was happy about their presence - one of them was nearly forced out on several occasions, and made to repeat work - all while being closely monitored.

But even within the wartime Japanese-American community at WMC (admittedly, a very small one), there was no single path that defined their experiences. Dr. Toshiko Toyota began her studies with the class of 1943, but the resulting chaos surrounding some Japanese-American students (and not a little suspicion from someone in the faculty - it seems from existing records that her time as a student was made as difficult at possible) delayed her schoolwork and pushed her into the class of 1944.

By contrast, Dr. Emma Hatayama, class of 1945, started at WMC in 1941; she had been advised as an undergrad to apply to east coast medical schools because of the increasing suspicion with which Japanese-Americans were viewed in the west, even prior to 1941 - but according to her oral history, she managed to avoid many of the tribulations other Japanese-American students suffered, largely by being in the right place at the right time - as she started her medical education on the east coast prior to the US entering the war, she was not subject to the restrictions placed on others.

Dr. Mary Sakaguchi Oda, class of 1946, was the sole Japanese-American student in her class; she was in medical school at UC Berkeley when war broke out; a California native, she was sent with her family to Manazar War Relocation Center in 1942, where Ansel Adams them (and where they suffered a number of family tragedies in 1944). After graduation, she returned to California to practice medicine.

Dr. Ruby Inouye, from Seattle, had been a pre-med student at the University of Washington in 1941; after the attack on Pearl Harbor, she found herself in the Minidoka War Relocation Center in Idaho with her family. In 1943, she was able to transfer to the University of Texas to complete her undergraduate education - while her family stayed behind in the camp. Organizations such as the National Japanese American Student Relocation Council worked to find places for Japanese-American college students at universities outside the 'restricted area' - and families who would house and 'monitor' them as required by the terms of their release from the camps. She arrived at WMC in 1944.

But Dr. Inouye was not the only Japanese-American student accepted in 1944 - Dr. Kazuko Ono (later Bill, whose family was in an internment camp in their home state of California, and whose education had been similarly interrupted) started at the College the same year. They are pictured together here in a College event from 1947:

In a class of fewer than 35 students, two who required considerable 'extra' administrative work certainly stood out - and it is interesting that there is no record of any Japanese-American student coming across discrimination from the faculty after Dr. Toyota's experience.

It's not clear whether she was simply the victim of bad timing or a particular individual with a grudge - but she and her fellow Japanese-American students went on to successful careers after graduation, although some continued to face discrimination in the years immediately following the war; but whether that was down to racism or sexism (or both) is another question entirely.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From the Collections: Harriet

She became famous at the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition, generations of medical students consider her part of their alma mater(s) and she's even been considered an off-the-beaten-track tourist attraction - but who was 'Harriet?'

Hahnemann Medical College in the 1880s was still very much a homeopathic institution - but that did not mean its professors overlooked basics such as anatomy. Enter Dr. Rufus B. Weaver, Professor of Anatomy. Weaver was an 1865 graduate of Penn Medical College, a institution that lasted from 1853-1880, and also known as the Penn Medical University - incidentally, it was co-ed from the start, as were a few other eclectic medical schools of the era. It was a purely homeopathic school which shared a founder with Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania (although a few early graduates later became homeopaths, teaching at Woman's Med was always allopathic) in Dr. Joseph Longshore.

Weaver joined the Hahnemann faculty in 1869, first as a 'demonstrator' of Anatomy ('demonstrator' was a common job title for medical school faculty members in the nineteenth century), and later as a full professor. At some point during his career there in the 1880s, he crossed paths with Harriet Cole, an African-American cleaner at the College (you can find her described in more colorful fashion, as it were, by Time Magazine in the 1930s). When she died of tuberculosis in 1888, she willed her body to the College (although it's equally possible that there was some opportunism at work on Weaver's part). He set about dissecting her nervous system, a process that took him over five months of full-time work, and mounted it for display. While the intent was to employ Harriet (or, more accurately, what was left of her) as a teaching aid, the results were considered so tremendous that she was later submitted for display at the Columbian Exposition in Chicago, winning a number of prizes.

Harriet returned to Hahnemann as first 'worked' as a teaching tool, and later as a museum piece; restored by Hahnemann-trained cardiologist Dr. George Geckeler in the 1960s, she became part of the fabric of the institution and greeted medical students at Hahnemann's Center City Philadelphia campus - even through mergers and related administrative upheavals.

Harriet remained in Center City until a recent renovation to the Hahnemann Library - she moved to Drexel University College of Medicine's Queen Lane campus in 2008. While she is no longer part of the curriculum, Harriet still oversees current medical students; she is posted just outside the bookstore in the Student Activities Center.

While some who see Harriet in passing do not realize she was part of a real person, Weaver's groundbreaking work with 'Harriet' continues to be referenced in medical journals - even as recently as 2005. While we know very little about Harriet Cole's life, hopefully this sheds a little light on someone who made Weaver's scientific efforts a success - and who deserves more than a brief footnote in his biography.

  © Blogger template Brooklyn by 2008

Back to TOP