Buried History: A Halloween Post

RockefellerWe’ve spent the last few posts describing the famous–and the infamous–body snatching incidents of our local, regional, and national past. What better way to follow up all that grave-robbing that with a Halloween post about our favorite Cleveland “graveyard”: The Lakeview Cemetery.

But what is a graveyard? And is it the same thing as a cemetery? The words are often Allen Severance famsused interchangeably, but there are historical reasons for the shift in terminology. Traditionally, the green space or yard area surrounding a church housed the graves of its parishioners, thus a grave-yard. But by the late 18th century, many of these areas were full. Add to that an increasing secularization and a desire to make the grave-site a “final resting place” of more park-like appearance, and you have the impetus for change. The word “cemetery” comes from the Greek word koimētērion ‘dormitory’, from koiman ‘put to sleep’ [1]. It was originally applied to the Roman Kelley 2catacombs, but became increasingly used to describe the new burial grounds. Here in Cleveland’s Lakeview Cemetery, we see some of their best features: beautiful trees and plantings, natural elements like hillsides and streams, and a general sense of peace and calm in nature. Even so, some of the people buried here were quite lively characters in their lifetimes, including Dr. Horace Ackley (1810-1859), who appeared in last week’s post for, let’s say, “borrowing” a pauper’s body for dissection purposes.

Ackley 3Speaking of Horace, here he is just in front of me (at right; Brandy Schillace). Dr. Ackley’s career was remarkable and anything but dull. Co-founder and first professor at the Cleveland Medical College (which later became Medical Department of Western Reserve College and eventually Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine), the first physician to use ether for surgical anesthesia in Northern Ohio, and the “father” of the Northern Ohio Insane Asylum, Ackley personally combated and contained an outbreak of Asiatic cholera in Sandusky in 1849 (2). He was also responsible for stealing bodies (on one occasion, a “body” turned out to by quite alive but very drunk), for attacking a bank with a sledgehammer when they refused to pay back his money, and for an urban legend that suggests he *might* have shot one of his patients. (Not that seriously, mind. But still). NessColorful and fascinating stories lie behind many of Cleveland’s medical professionals, making each grave marker a kind of touchstone for rich and varied lives. And that’s hardly all Lakeview has to offer. Did you know Rockefeller is buried here? And Elliott Ness? There’s more to tell and more to see, proving that a place doesn’t have to be “haunted” to tell stories–or to stir the soul.

On November 1st, the Dittrick staff will be leading a tour around the cemetery. It’s a revival of tours given a number of years ago, and we hope to make it a twice yearly occurrence. I hope you will join us in the future–and in the meantime, visit the Dittrick online “tour” for more (or print the map and take a tour yourself!)



[1] “cemetery, n.” OED Online. Oxford University Press, September 2014. Web. 31 October 2014.

[2] “Horace Ackely” Lakeview Cemetery. Dittrick Museum of Medical History. Web. 31 October 2014

A Grave Matter: Legislating Dissection

It’s 1855 in Cleveland, Ohio and you need a surgeon. There were quite a few local options including the physicians out of the Cleveland Medical College and the Western Homeopathic College of Cleveland. In soliciting one of these (mostly) men, you assume that they have the adequate experience to perform whatever operation you need. But where did they get it?

Cleveland Medical College c. 1865

Cleveland Medical College c. 1865

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Grave Robbing for “The Benefit of the Living”

Rattle his bones over the stones,
He’s only a pauper, whom nobody owns. [1]

Imagine you are a sick pauper living in Cleveland, Ohio in 1855. For shelter and medical attention, you stay at the newly built City Infirmary, where faculty and students of the Cleveland Medical College offer their services. Alas, your illness cannot be cured and you die – friendless and alone. Your body is taken to the Potter’s Field in Woodland Cemetery across town. But there it is not to stay.

Map of Cleveland in 1861, with the relative locations of Woodland Cemetery, the Cleveland Medical College, and the Cleveland Infirmary marked.

Map of Cleveland in 1861, with the relative locations of Woodland Cemetery, the Cleveland Medical College, and the Cleveland Infirmary marked.

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Madame du Coudray: A Midwife in a Man’s World?


From Madame du Coudray’s book, plate XV

Here on the Dittrick Blog, we’ve begun a series on body-snatching for the purpose of anatomy… but today, we’d like to interrupt that history with another, equally fascinating but focused on the other end of the life spectrum. It’s National Midwifery Week, and today we present the history of a “woman in a man’s world,” the midwife Madame du Coudray.

Angelique Marguerite Le Boursier du Coudray (1712-1790) was the “King’s Midwife” in France. And yet, Madame du Coudray left no journal and few personal papers, meaning that while her deeds are well-recorded, her life is still somewhat mysterious. She remained unmarried, though took on the title of Madame, appropriate to her work as a sage femme (literally “wise woman,” but also the French term for a midwife).

Mission and Machine: “Saving Babies for France”

“Th[e] paradox of the singular, idiosyncratic woman who follows a ‘quest plot’ instead of a ‘marriage plot”

–Nina Gelbart, The King’s Midwife, 13

angelique-marguerite-le-boursier-du-coudrayAfter ten years as a midwife in Paris, Madame du Coudray was hired by King Louis XV to travel across France to better train rural midwives. There were political motivations for this; Louis wanted to boost a “declining” population, and more subjects also meant more capable soldiers. Unlike Queen Charlotte of England who chose William Hunter as the royal obstetrician, Louis appointed du Coudray, a woman, to train women. Madame du Coudray became the national midwife in 1759, earning 8,000 livres a year (equal to that of a decorated military general).[i]

Madame du Coudray’s accomplishments are remarkable even by our own standards, but this is especially true considering the time period. After all, in Britain, midwives had been replaced by man-midwives (or surgeon/obstetricians) by the middle of the eighteenth-century. What led to so radical a shift? And why was du Coudray so successful, even in a “man’s world”?

L0018481 Carciature of a man-midwife as a split figureMan-Midwives

Adrian Wilson traces the English history of male practitioners to Percival Willughby of Derby, who served in “the midwife’s bed” from 1630 to 1670[ii]. This phrase, which comes from Willughby’s Observations, suggests a clandestine affair, a blushing sneak, almost unmentionable. In fact, most early male practitioners were called surgeons, which, as Wilson points out, “tends to conceal their obstetric practice.”[iii] Surgeons attended at the behest of the midwife, and Willughby himself only served in place of the midwife for three expecting mothers over the course of many years.[iv] Male involvement was unusual, but by the eighteenth century, midwives like Elizabeth Nihell could accuse man-midwives like William Smellie of releasing “swarms” of male midwives into practice.  A variety of things contributed to this change–so many, that we probably can’t point to a single event.  The advent of lying-in hospitals, as well as changes in fashion, politics, and social structure in England were part of the shift.[v]  It is also true that cases like the “Rabbit Breeder of Godalming” brought midwifery to embarrassing public notice in England.

‘Breeding Rabbits’ and the Power of Instruments

Wellcome Image: Toft

Wellcome Image: Toft

In 1727, Mary Toft mimicked birth pangs and contractions and fooled many into believing she had given birth to a brood of baby rabbits. The case was finally overturned by surgeon Sir Richard Manningham, who threatened to cut her open in a live vivisection. Toft confessed to the hoax–(who wouldn’t?) While Manningham’s threat was probably an empty one, it is useful case study for two reasons; first, Toft—as an uneducated woman—was thought incapable of fooling the medical men (who presumably “knew” more about birth than she).[vi] Second, Manningham’s threats were of a particularly surgical kind. The mystery of female anatomy would be rendered plain through the surgeon’s instruments. Instrumentation had been one of the ways in which male surgeons protected their interests, for only a surgeon could wield instruments, and only those wielding instruments could be considered surgeons. The fact that only man-midwives could use forceps helped to build their practice. The rise of the man-midwife and the rise of forceps tend to go together. So–given that all of this occurred around the same time du Coudray was practicing in France–how did she gain such a powerful position? Why wasn’t a surgeon obstetrician chosen as the national midwife?

Madame du Coudray among the Surgeons



In France, there was also a contest between male and female practitioners. After all, André Levret is considered one of the  most powerful and influential figures in French obstetrics. The procedure for breech delivery, “Mauriceau-Levret manipulation,” is named after him and physician François Mauriceau. At the same time, Jean-Louis Baudelocque was working with William Smellie’s methods to “modernize” obstetrics in France–and he did so partly through instrumentation. His pelvimeter measured  pelvic dimensions (to see if the pelvis was wide enough for uncomplicated birth). These two men were critically important for turning midwifery into a science in France, and it should be noted that Baudelocque was named the first chair of obstetrics by Napoleon in 1806. The tide was turning, therefore, and yet Madame du Coudray held a prominent position well into the 1780s. How did she accomplish this?


Madame du Coudray’s manikin in Rouen, France (images c/o James Edmonson, chief curator)

As Nina Gelbart points out in The King’s Midwife, du Coudray was not a feminist or even an advocate for other women. If anything, she de-emphasized her gender as much as possible, preferring instead to consider herself an equal to men. That means she often worked within the status quo rather than trying to change it. She wrote a medical text, amply illustrated, just as the man-midwifes had done, and as Gelbart explains, Coudray envisioned herself as a “man of action” [my emphasis]. Working within the system meant courting powerful friends–often among surgeons. Levret and an acquaintance of du Coudray, César Verdier, inspected her miraculous “machine” (or manikin) in 1756, approving of it and helping to spread her fame. This also helped to validate her practice. And what is this machine, but a kind of instrument–a piece of the mechanical and technological revolution for turning midwifery into a science? As Gelbart reminds us, even the language du Coudray uses is aimed at men–and though she taught mechanical means of birth to her female midwifery students, she also rapidly became the exception that proved the rule. She defied the marginalization of women by demanding attention, recognition, and payment for her work. Even so, she was also a vehicle for the very progress that was a distinct goal of the male physicians, obstetricians and surgeons.


Fetus in placenta, Rouen, France (photo c/o James Edmonson)

Madame du Coudray was a remarkably successful woman, especially in terms of her legacy. Like Smellie, she developed a machine for teaching. Also like Smellie, she trained an enormous number of students (by 1780, two-thirds of the midwives in France were Madame du Coudray’s pupils!) Her career ended in obscurity, partly due to the revolution in France, but during her tenure and her travels, she was the most successful of all female midwives of the period.

[i] Gelbart, Nina. The king’s midwife: a history and mystery of Madame du Coudray. (University of California Press, 1999): 177

[ii] Wilson, Adrian. The Making of Man-Midwifery. (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1995): 6.

[iii] Ibid, 47.

[iv] Ibid, 48

[v] Wilson, Making, 6.

[vi] I do not wish to overstate this claim, but it seems apparent from the case that the surgeons felt justified upon discovering that Toft’s mother-in-law (a midwife) was behind the hoax. It did not occur to the male midwives that a woman, by virtue of being a woman alone, might know more about the workings of the female anatomy than the practitioner.

Body Snatching, You Say?

Part of the Dittrick collection; Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage

Part of the Dittrick collection; Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage

Gross Anatomy, or the dissection of bodies by medical students for study has not always been a given of medical training. In fact, the practice has been fraught almost since the first, a battleground over bodies from the religious prohibition of the pre-modern period to a “gory” New York City riot in the eighteenth century when an enraged public rose up against body-snatching anatomists. What caused these tensions? Inconsistencies of jurisprudence and issues of class and race were all factors in the race to obtain a suitable corpse… And, given shortages, that sometimes meant “by any means necessary.” Let’s have a look at the issue in British and US history:

The 1832 Anatomy Act in England intended to provide greater access to cadavers for medical science, but it was viewed with enormous suspicion and public outcry. Called the ‘Dead Body Bill’, the ‘Dissecting Bill’ and the ‘Blood-stained Anatomy Act,’ it allowed the unclaimed bodies of paupers to be given to the anatomy schools.[i] The bodies consisted of poor, indigent, trod-upon groups. The 1834 Poor Law that followed added to the unease for the laboring poor in Britain; Peter Bussey, a 19th century Bradford Chartist, who claimed in 1838 that “If they were poor they imprisoned them, then starved them to death, and after they were dead they butchered them.”[ii]

Similar incendiary attacks were made in the United States, both before and after the New York “Doctors Riot” of 1788. The riot itself killed as many as twenty people and was sparked by a series of newspaper stories. In a Smithsonian article titled “The Gory New York City Riot that Shaped American Medicine,” author Bess Lovejoy remarks that a rash of media tales about grave-robbing medical students helped to stir unrest. Most of these robberies took place at potter’s field and the city’s so-called “Negroes Burial Ground.”[iii] Lovejoy quotes from a petition in February of that year: “young gentlemen in this city who call themselves students of the physic […] under cover of the night, in the most wanton sallies of excess … dig up bodies of deceased friends and relatives of your petitioners, carrying them away without respect for age or sex.”[iv] The practice of robbing graves among poor and minority groups persisted, however, well into the 19th century; John Harley Warner, co-author of Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine, notes that in Boston in the 1840s, the influx of “Irish paupers” shifted the balance, though even in the twentieth century, African-Americans remained the primary “at-risk population.”[v] The New York riot—and subsequent laws in the US—were driven primarily by breaches in this “acceptable” practice of dissecting along race and class boundaries. Sentiments “boiled over” in New York when the body of a white woman was stolen from Trinity Churchyard.[vi] Warner cites a similar example of public outcry when the body of a former senator and son of President William Henry Harrison was discovered (by his son, no less) hanging in a dissection lab in Ohio in 1878.[vii] However, so long as the “resurrectionists” followed what a 19th century anatomist called the “prudent line of stealing only the bodies of the poor,” the practice continued unabated.[viii]

Securing the Specimen

Anatomical specimens must be procured somehow. Occasionally, students themselves might work to get a body, but in places where body trafficking was heavy, professional “resurrectionists” held sway.[ix] The means of securing specimens may seem barbaric to us now, but could be very workman-like; a good resurrectionist would have an extensive network that included undertakers, graveyard workers, and even other doctors who might be called to the deathbed of a patient and so provide first notification. The coffin would be uncovered and the top broken to allow access to the body, which would be drawn forth by a rope tied around the neck.[x] The bodies were stripped of incriminating identification and the dirt, flowers, and other grave arrangements would be replaced to disguise interference.

L0019663 Burke and Hare suffocating Mrs Docherty for sale to Dr. Knox

Wellcome Collection image of Burke and Hare suffocating Mrs. Docherty for sale to Dr. Knox

In Britain, the practice was largely the same, though the at-risk population was that of the poor. The graves of paupers were not deep and a single one might have as many as four bodies. Resurrectionists in urban areas worked late at night, using wooden shovels to avoid the tell-tale “clank” of digging.[xi] A “gang” could remove a body and replace the dirt in twenty minutes or less.[xii] Then there were those, like Burke and Hare, who got a head start–they didn’t quite wait for people to die, and were guilty of killing 16 people in Edinburgh and selling their bodies. It’s little wonder the practice was viewed with suspicion.

In much of the United States, laws against grave-robbing were slow in coming (in Nashville, it wasn’t officially outlawed until the twentieth century), and in Britain, the practice was a misdemeanor; only when an object was stolen from the body did it become a felony. Buyers and sellers squabbled over the “specimens,” which were subject to supply and demand, and cadavers traveled about like the other goods produced by the industrial age. The examination of the corpse may have brought about the modernization of medicine, but it did not change the view of the horror-stricken bereaved. What we see instead is a contest of sorts between the medical professional and the public over the sanctity of death, and a real fear that dissection “dehumanized” the doctor as well as the deceased.

Next week, tune in for a look at grave-robbing in our own back yard–Cleveland, Ohio body snatching!

~Brandy Schillace, PhD, research associate


[i] Knott, John. “Popular Attitudes to Death and Dissection in Early Nineteenth Century Britain: The Anatomy

, 1

[ii] Quoted in Ibid., 2.

[iii] Lovejoy, Bess. “The Gory Riot New York City Riot that Shaped American Medicine.” History. Smithsonian Magazine. June 17, 2014.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Warner, John Harley “Witnessing Dissection.” Dissection: Photographs of a Rite of Passage in American Medicine 1880-1930. John Harley Warner and James Edmonson, Eds. New York: Blast Books, 2009.

[vi] Lovejoy, 2.

[vii] Warner, 19.

[viii] Ibid., 18.

[ix]  Warner, 17.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] Knott, 2.

[xii] Ibid.

Listening to the Body: Stethoscopes in 1900

Cinemax’s The Knick transports viewers to at a New York hospital at the turn of the twentieth century to listen in on the drama between colleagues and patients. Each episode shows the variety of early instruments, ranging from x-rays to thermometers, used by doctors in 1900 to diagnose disease and trauma. While these objects were able to speak to the body’s condition — the shape of a broken bone or the magnitude of a fever, it was the stethoscope that brought the actual sounds of the heart or lungs to the diagnostic listener. What stories did these devices hear, and do they have their own tales to tell?

From the Sharp & Sharp Catalog of Instruments, 1905, displaying the variety of Cammann Stethoscopes available.

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NYAM hosts Vesalius 500: Art and Anatomy

WebThis October, the New York Academy of Medicine will host Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500, Guest curated by artist and anatomist Riva Lehrer

On October 18, the NYAM’s second-annual Festival for Medical History and the Arts, “Art, Anatomy, and the Body: Vesalius 500″ will celebrate the 500th birthday of anatomist Andreas Vesalius. Our own Brandy Schillace, research associate and guest curator for the Dittrick, will be one of the hosted speakers! Click here for the full schedule–and see below for a short description.

Vesalius’ groundbreaking De humani corporis fabrica (The Fabric of the Human Body) of 1543 is a key Renaissance text, one that profoundly changed medical training, anatomical knowledge, and artistic representations of the body, an influence that has persisted over the centuries. The Festival is one of a global series of celebrations of his legacy, and a day-long event will explore the intersection of anatomy and the arts with a vibrant roster of performers and presenters, including Heidi Latsky’s “GIMP” Dance Project; the comics artists of Graphic Medicine; Sander Gilman on posture controlling the unruly body; Alice Dreger on inventing the medical photograph; Bill Hayes on researching hidden histories of medicine; Steven Assael, Ann Fox and Chun-shan (Sandie) Yi on anatomy in contemporary art; Chase Joynt’s Resisterectomy, a meditation on surgery and gender; Brandy Schillace on ambivalent depictions of female anatomy in the 18th century; Lisa Rosner on famous body snatchers Burke and Hare; the art of anatomical atlases with Michael Sappol; medical 3D printing demos by ProofX; anatomical painting directly on skin with Kriota Willberg; Daniel Garrison on translating Vesalius for modern audiences; Jeff Levine and Michael Nevins on revisiting The Fabrica Frontispiece; and many more!

To join this excellent event, register here or visit the NYAM blog!