K.C. Jaski, a Harvard Undergraduate concentrating in History of Science with a secondary degree in Government and citation in French, will graduate in May 2013. She spoke with us about her experiences conducting research in a variety of Center collections.
What was the topic of your thesis? Why did you select that topic?
The title of my thesis was, “Conceiving History: A Case Study of In Vitro Fertilization, Reproductive Research, and Care at the Free Hospital for Women, 1938-1945.” In the thesis, I sought to understand how the conceptualization of IVF by John Rock, Miriam Menkin, and those financing Rock’s Fertility Clinic fit within or diverged from the larger understandings of reproductive politics, fertility, and heredity from 1938 (when Rock began to direct IVF research and two years after he founded The Fertility Clinic) to 1945 (a year after Rock and Menkin first published their findings and when Rock’s efforts in IVF began to dwindle). I sought to demonstrate how the social hierarchy of gender, a new national emphasis on reproductive health research being conducted at hospitals, and the transformation of the hospital into a major bureaucratic institution entangled with one another during this time. I argued that conducting IVF research within the context of World War II and within the specific institutional framework of the Free Hospital for Women influenced Rock and Menkin’s research that eventually led to success.
I selected this topic based on a longstanding fascination and intrigue into the way scientific innovation is incorporated into American society at large at the legal level, and more intimately in the private sphere (in schools, the family, or home). Whether it was after researching the ethical controversies of in vitro fertilization to learn more about the way I was conceived or participating in medical discussions at the dinner table with my parents who are physicians, tracing the historical origins of IVF at the Free Hospital for Women seemed to be a perfect confluence of my intellectual interests that also resonated personally.
What were your initial thoughts about going to the Center for the first time to use the special collections? Had you been in the Countway Library before this year?
I first went to the Center to look at the John Rock collection in the spring of my junior year, intrigued by his relationship to the birth control pill, to begin research for a paper in my History of Science junior tutorial. Upon my first visit, I was astounded by the wealth of rich resources the Center contained. Looking at the primary source documents only piqued my interest in the topic and expanded my interest to include the Free Hospital for Women as a complex and unique institution itself.
Were you able to find the necessary materials and information about the collections via Hollis and Oasis? Were there other resources that you found helpful? Which collections(s) did you use?
I was able to locate a vast majority of materials using Hollis and Oasis. Whenever I did have a question, reference archivist Jessica Murphy was extremely helpful in assisting me to find the necessary resources, including secondary sources on my topic. I used several collections at the Center for History of Medicine. I primarily used the Free Hospital for Women records, 1875-1975, the John C. Rock personal and professional papers, 1918-1983 (that included his colleague, Miriam Menkin’s papers), and the 1953 Free Hospital for Women Scrapbook.
Did you discover any extremely interesting item(s) or information in the collection(s) that you used?
I found many pieces in the collections extremely interesting! Of particular note would be the 1953 scrapbook of the Free Hospital for Women (also digitized online). Its inclusion of fantastic photographs of the interior and exterior of the Free Hospital for Women that traced its development, of doctors and nurses at work, in addition to popular articles written about the hospital, its patients, and research conducted there provided a wealth of information that colorfully textured the Free Hospital for Women’s history and how IVF, John Rock, and Miriam Menkin, fit into it. In addition, Dr. Rock’s fan mail and his exchange with patients provided fascinating insight into the dynamic doctor-patient relationship.