Staff Finds: Arthur Hertig and Carnegie #7699

By , July 18, 2017

While processing the papers of Arthur Hertig, Center staff came across drafts and notes from an article by Hertig and John Rock entitled “Two Human Ova of the Previllous Stage, Having an Ovulation Age of about Eleven and Twelve Days Respectively” (Contributions to Embryology 29 (1941): 127-56). The paper describes Carnegie embryos #7699 and #7700, with #7699 being at that point the youngest human ovum discovered by researchers. Hertig was working with Rock and the Carnegie Institution of Washington to conduct studies of early human embryos, research which enabled later advances in the birth control pill and in vitro fertilization.


Arthur Hertig

The embryos were taken from women who were scheduled to undergo hysterectomies, who were married, under 45, and who had at least two children. Rock’s assistant Miriam Menkin recruited the eligible women, and guided them through the process of recording their body temperature in order to determine their time of ovulation. Loretta McLaughlin, in her book The Pill, John Rock, and the Church, describes the next step in the process:

At this point Rock and Hertig’s version of the instructions given the women differs somewhat from Miriam’s. But it was she, not they, who was dealing directly with the “candidates.” Rock and Hertig hold that the women were advised in the final month to continue their normal pattern of sexual intercourse – but this time without using any precautions to prevent conception. The women were asked to keep a record of the dates of any intercourse, and that was all. Miriam says there was a little more than that to it. Miriam would point out to the candidates “these other women sitting on the bench in the fertility clinic. They are women who would like to have a baby, who can’t. We want to find out more about how to help them by finding out more about the early stages of a baby. “ She would reassure the women that “even if you have intercourse you won’t have a baby because you have to have the operation anyway.” She would hint at least that it would be useful to the research if they had intercourse during the final fertile period. “After all,” she rationalized, “the practical fact of it was that there wasn’t much point in going to all the trouble of preparing the women for the study, if none were going to at least give their eggs a chance to be exposed to their husband’s sperm. There was a crude pregnancy test at the time but it couldn’t work until a woman was six to eight weeks pregnant. Neither we nor they could know whether they were pregnant at the time of the surgery.”

Below are scans from the above-mentioned article drafts. Included are drafts of text and tables demonstrating how Hertig and Rock were able to date the ovum.

For information regarding access to these collections, please contact the Public Services staff.

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