UMass Boston Visits Center for the History of Medicine

By , May 20, 2016

On May 4, 2016, Olivia Weisser’s UMass Boston graduate seminar “Women’s Health and Healing” visited the Center for the History of Medicine. The course investigated the history of women for and by women in Europe and America, from the medieval period through the late 19th century, tracing changing ideas about women’s health and bodies, and their roles as healers and patients.

Before the visit, the class read articles on late 19th and early 20th century attitudes toward birth control and the methods used to achieve it. To facilitate discussion, Joan Ilacqua, Project Archivist for the Archives for Women in Medicine, and Jessica Murphy, Reference Archivist, displayed birth control, fertility, and other research materials, including:

 

Aristotle’s Masterpiece

"The Works of Aristotle," or "Aristotle's Masterpiece," according to historian Mary Fissell is "one of the best-selling books ever produced in English on sex and making babies." The first edition, published in 1684, was wildly popular. Unregulated copies and versions were created and sold through the 1870s in North America, and was reprinted in Britain through the 1930s. Several copies of "The Works of Aristotle" are available via the Medical Heritage Library and more information on Mary Fissel's ongoing research on the cultural history of the Masterpiece is available via The Public Domain Review.

“The Works of Aristotle,” or “Aristotle’s Masterpiece,” according to historian Mary Fissell, is “one of the best-selling books ever produced in English on sex and making babies.” The first edition, published in 1684, was wildly popular. Unregulated copies and versions were created and sold through the 1870s in North America, and were reprinted in Britain through the 1930s. Several copies of “The Works of Aristotle” are available via the Medical Heritage Library and more information on Mary Fissel’s ongoing research on the cultural history of the Masterpiece is available via The Public Domain Review.

 

Intrauterine Device

This inter-uterine device is from the Clarence J. Gamble Papers. Dr. Gamble was a major figure in 20th century population control. He presided over field work researching fertility and birth control around the world, and his field workers, predominantly women, would poll, advise, and advocate for contraceptive techniques and devices, like this plastic inter-uterine coil for women in developing nations.

This plastic intrauterine device (IUD), was known as the Gynekoil, Margulies Spiral or the Perma Spiral. According to the Dittrick Medical History Center, IUD coils were popularized in America in the 1960s as a simpler form of birth control than the Pill, although the reputation of the IUD has suffered due to scandal surrounding the Dalkon Shield brand IUD.

This IUD is from the Clarence J. Gamble Papers. Dr. Gamble was a major figure in 20th century population control. He presided over field work researching fertility and birth control around the world, and his field workers, predominantly women, would poll, advise, and advocate for contraceptive techniques and devices, like this plastic inter-uterine coil for women in developing nations.

Rythmeter

A rhythmeter is used to help a woman determine her fertile and infertile periods using information including her last menses and the length of her cycle. This rhythmeter dates to 1944 and is part of the Abraham Stone papers. Stone was the Medical Director, and later Director, of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau in New York City, and an administrator of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Stone specialized in marriage counseling, family planning services, and fertility and sterility services.

The rhythm method of birth control uses information including a woman’s last menses and the length of her cycle to determine her fertile and infertile periods. A rythmeter allows a woman to easily calculate when she is most and least likely to conceive. Once the only legal form of birth control, this rythmeter dates to 1944 and is part of the Abraham Stone Papers. Dr. Stone was the Medical Director, and later Director, of the Margaret Sanger Research Bureau in New York City, and an administrator of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the International Planned Parenthood Federation. Stone specialized in marriage counseling, family planning services, and fertility and sterility services. The rhythm method is still used today, albeit on cell phone apps.

In addition to discussing the history of fertility research, the class was given an overview of the history of women at Harvard Medical School and an introduction to doing archival research at the Center for the History of Medicine.

Interested in bringing your class to the Center for the History of Medicine? Contact chm@hms.harvard.edu.

 

 

 

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