Living (and Breathing) Museum Research

What is it? Does this inhaler featured in this 1875 trade card reside in the Dittrick’s collections?

When the museum receives donations from the community, sometimes little surprises find their way into unexpected collections. Frequently, we classify artifacts based on the donor’s description and our expectations. Until we dig into their stories for an exhibit, these unexplored artifacts sit on shelves among surgical sets, microscopes, and pharmaceuticals, waiting to be discovered. One such specimen found its way into our work space as we pulled items for a recent installation on Obstetrical Anesthesia from 1850 to 1890.

We were familiar with the Bennett Inhaler (Fig. 1), a handheld device intended to be filled with chloroform for laboring women to self-administer anesthetic. During childbirth, women using this inhaler would lose the ability to hold the item close to their face, their hand would drop, and they were less likely to experience a chloroform overdose. Although we were delighted by this object, there was one problem — it was patented in 1910, outside of our desired time period.

Fig. 1. Bennett Inhaler from the Dittrick Museum Collections.

Fig. 1.: Bennett Inhaler from the Dittrick Museum Collections.

Fig. 2: Bennett Inhaler Ad from the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, 1910.

Fig. 2: Bennett Inhaler Ad in the American Journal of Clinical Medicine, 1910.

A little digging in an artifact box entitled “Inhalers” turned up this item: a small, hard rubber device with two nozzles, a center cork, and a lid (Fig. 3). Other than being marked “Patented in 1873,” we had little else to go on, except the hope that it was used far earlier than the Bennett Inhaler in obstetrical cases, and could fit in our exhibit.

Fig. 3: Mystery Inhaler from Dittrick Museum Collections.

Fig. 3: Mystery Inhaler from Dittrick Museum Collections.

The first step was looking through lists of inventions from 1873, published in the Official Gazette of the U.S. Patent Office (1874)– a task made significantly easier with digitized records. We searched individual patents for all of the the objects listed as “inhaler,” “respirator,” or “anesthesia,” and compared the drawn plans to our item. Only one stood out as a possibility (Fig. 4).

1873 Patent Illustration for Crumb's Inhaler

Fig. 4: 1873 Patent Illustration for Crumb’s Inhaler

Fig. 5: 1873 Crumb's Inhaler Ad

Fig. 5: 1873 Crumb’s Inhaler Ad

William R. Crumb of Buffalo, NY patented an inhaler of a similar shape to the Bennett Inhaler used, not for anesthesia, but as a general means of treating any and all respiratory ailments. An ad in the Gem of the West and Soldier’s Friend journal in 1873 claimed the inhaler instantaneously improved catarrh (excessive mucous), bronchitis, asthma, and colds if used in tandem with Crumb’s other product — “Carbolated Chloride of Iodine” as an inhalant (Fig. 5).

As a proprietary medicine salesman, Crumb fashioned himself as an “MD,” to assure customers of his credibility. However, in 1881 the Buffalo Medical College of Physicians revoked his recent degree on the grounds of plagiarism, “having been proven upon examination that the thesis upon which the degree was conferred was written by a Dr. Walton.”

Fig. 6: 1886 Crumb's Inhaler Ad

Fig. 6: 1886 Crumb’s Inhaler Ad

Despite this news (and a move to Ontario), Crumb continued to improve his inhalers and advertised their popularity in later ads showing a model of the inhaler similar to our’s. It featured a lid so customers could easily carry the inhaler in their pocket and sleeker medication chamber (Fig. 6). At this point in our search, we felt more confident that the object in question was one of the 500,000 products W.R. Crumb had peddled by 1886.

Although we couldn’t use the inhaler in our childbirth exhibit, we reunited this object with its story and made our archivist, and future researchers, very happy.


[1] Mattison, Richard V., ed. 1881. The Monthly Review of Pharmacy and Medicine 9(6): 180.
[2] Crumb, W.R. Improvement in Inhalers. U.S. Patent 134858. January 14, 1873.
[3] United States Patent Office. 1874. Official Gazette of the United States Patent Office, Vol. 5. p. 665.
[4] Crumbs Pocket Inhaler. Haviland, C. A. and Mrs. C. A. Haviland, eds. 1873. Gem of the West and Soldier’s Friend 7(12): 522.
[5] Crumb’s Rubber Pocket Inhaler. 1886. Hall’s Journal of Health 33(12): ix.

About the Authors:

Catherine Osborn, MA is a Research Assistant at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History and the Editorial Associate of Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry. She enjoys pursuing historical tangents and proving she can find any source online.

Anna Claspy is a summer intern at the Dittrick Museum and a student of history at the College of Wooster. She enjoys causing trouble on social media.

One Lump or Two? Phrenology Diagnosed by the Bump

L0057592 Fowler's phrenological head, Staffordshire, England, 1879-18 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images Lorenzo Niles Fowler’s (1811-96) detailed system of phrenology is shown on this phrenological head. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. For instance, the area under the right eye relates to language and verbal memory; the desire for foods and liquids was thought to be located in front of the right ear.  Fowler’s system, based on his thirty years of research throughout the world, was just one of many. He was an American phrenologist who led a revival in phrenology after its decline in the 1850s. In 1860, Fowler emigrated with his family to the United Kingdom and set upon an ambitious lecture tour. In 1887, Fowler set up the British Phrenological Society, which finally disbanded in 1967. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Staffordshire, England, United Kingdom made: 1879-1896 Published:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0

Diagnosing by the Bump

Franz-Joseph Gall (1758-1828), proposed that different functions, such as memory, language, emotion, and ability, were situated in specific “organs” of the brain. These portions of the brain would grow or shrink with use, and the changes would appear as bumps or depressions on the skull. Called Phrenology, the practice of “reading” the bumps supposedly allowed a practitioner to assess different abilities and personality traits. It’s a curious idea: what might our own phrenological assessment look like?

Phrenology and the American Dream

Sometimes, we see what we want to see… Americans were very receptive to phrenology when it arrived stateside in 1832. Johann Kaspar Spurzheim (1776-1832) begin a speaking tour, and found a very willing audience. Why? Partly because it fit the “American Dream,” emphasizing the ability to train the mind and rise in society. In other words, despite the bumps you were born with, we could all get better, a kind of rags-to-riches idea very popular even today.

Having Your Head Examined

What does it take to be a phrenology expert? American brothers Lorenzo Niles Fowler (1811-1896) and Orson S. Fowler (1809-1887) made and marketed phrenology busts with the important “organs” of the brain mapped out. The Fowlers took the heads on the road in 1834, lecturing for free and examining heads for a fee. They even provided their “patients” with a 175 page manual for improving the brain!

“For thirty years I have studied the Crania and living heads from all parts of the world, and have found in every instance that there is a perfect correspondence between the conformation of the healthy skull of an individual and his known characteristics. To make my observations available I have prepared a Bust of superior form and marked the divisions of the Organs in accordance with my researches and varied experience.” L. N. Fowler.

CollyerHow right was the technique? Well, in Cleveland, Collyer did a reading for Jared Pottre Kirtland (a doctor). Collyer, an itinerant phrenologist in the late1830s, lectured in Cincinnati, where Kirtland was a professor at the Medical College of Ohio. Kirtland evidently attended a lecture by Collyer, followed by a private consultation. The results of this “reading” of Kirtland’s skull are found in a “Phrenologic analysis, showing a delineation of character,” pasted in the back of Collyer’s Manual of phrenology. In general, Kirtland felt that the reading gave accurate results, as indicated by his pencil notations throughout the book. For instance, Kirtland scored high on his ability to remember events (16+: “I recollect events that occurred at four years of age — every battle that Bonaparte fought after his Italian campaign”), but his retention of proper names was poor (6: “Remember the person but soon forget the name”). Of greater importance, Collyer rated Kirtland extremely high in his “love of approbation,” in his sense of “caution,” or carefulness, and in his degree of “conscientiousness.”

Democratic Medicine?

Phrenology was later labeled a “pseudoscience” and its practitioners were attacked as charlatans and fakes. Even so, phrenology helped to move psychological understanding forward in two important ways: 1. it suggested that different parts of the brain did different things and 2. It demonstrated that individual effort could be just as, if not more, important than biological inheritance. On one hand, such ideas had positive consequences: we have learned that different parts of the brain *do* have different tasks (though not the ones the phrenologists expected!) Separating ideas about nature and nurture as is pertained to education also had positive effects. However, phrenology, like physiognomy, frequently reinforced racial and gender stereotypes, privileging white men as superior.

How seriously did people take the “readings”? It has been compared to astrology–sometimes the pronouncements  made sense, sometimes they didn’t. Dr. Kirtland made notes in the margins of his copy of Collyer, suggesting that he, at least, wasn’t entirely sold on the idea!

[1] Collyer, Robert. Manual of phrenology, or, The physiology of the human brain : embracing a full description of the phrenological organs, their exact locations , and the peculiarities of character produced by their various degrees of development and combination. 1838.


Livers and Freckles — 19th Century Humoral Theories about the Summer Sun

“Of all the results that exposure of the skin to the sun or air produces, the most disagreeable is that known by the name of tan, or freckles. The finest and fairest skin is most liable to this affection, and such is the consolation usually offered to females who suffer — the state is nevertheless a disease when numerous.” 1
–Dr. William Kittoe, 1845

Victorian Tradecard from the Dittrick Collections.

Fig. 1 Victorian trade card from the Dittrick Collections for Faricum Almandine.

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Contraception or Bust: Marketing Around the Comstock Laws

Blog by Diana Suciu, student at Case Western Reserve University
Essay winner, USNA 287Q Gothic Science, SAGES 2015
Instructor: Dr. Brandy Schillace


Comic depicting Comstock: woman gave birth to a naked infant!

From the late 1800’s until the 1960’s, the distribution and acquisition of contraceptives was banned in many American States. It was a popular belief, upheld by the enactment of the Comstock Law, that contraception would lead to promiscuous behavior. Passed in 1873, the Comstock Law enforced a heavy ban on all paraphernalia or literature associated with the topics of pornography, erotica, and contraception (Sex in the City, 1840’s, Dittrick Museum). The law was named after Anthony Comstock, a man who crusaded against the ‘obscene’ and ‘immoral behaviors’ that were rampant in the streets of large American cities (People & Events: Anthony Comstock’s “Chastity). Comstock embraced Victorian ideals, believing that contraception would cause men and women to act indecently and would erode the standards of morality that prevailed during the turn of the 19th century (Sex in the City, 1840’s). He was instrumental in enforcing a law in which men and women were denied legal access to contraceptives. The United States of America became the only western nation in this time period to convict citizens for the advertisement, distribution, or use of birth control (People & Events: Anthony Comstock’s “Chastity” Laws).

In 1875 a woman named Lydia Pinkham made it possible to obtain abortive agents despite the ever-present contraceptives ban. Under very careful advertising, she marketed a vegetable compound for ‘the worst female complaints’ (Lydia Pinkham Vegetable Compound). Her home brewed herbal elixir was a nationwide success; women bought her product to prevent ‘uterine tumors’ or the ‘changes of life’ from causing pain to their spine or abdomen.’ Lydia Pinkham put her picture on every bottle of her product; her motherly face became a household emblem for women all across the country. She became a marketing pioneer who was widely successful in established her product, and made her name as recognizable as Coke or Heinz (Schulman, 24). Many women came to think of Lydia as a confidant who would answer their letters and would provide personal and sexual advice. Even after her death, staff members from her company would answer letters from her faithful customers (Lydia E. Pinkham: Life and Legacy).

Lydia Pinkham's Tablets

Lydia Pinkham’s Tablets

Her advertisements claimed “it will dissolve and expel tumors from the uterus in an early stage of development. The tendency to cancerous humors there is checked very speedily by its use. It removes faintness, flatulency, destroys all cravings for stimulants, and relieves weakness of the stomach” (Ad from 1881 for Lydia Pinkham’s Compound at the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.). To a modern casual observer this type of advertisement seems to be directed towards women whom experienced menstrual discomforts and similar ailments. To the Victorian reader the advertisement reads differently: the vegetable compound would cure nausea, strange cravings, and flatulence plausibly caused by unwanted growths in the uterus, and it worked particularly well if the ‘growths’ were in the early stages of development (Ad from 1881 for Lydia Pinkham’s Compound at the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.”). It was an open, but cryptic advertisement for contraceptives aimed directly at the user and was prescribed to be taken daily as a drink or a pill to give strength to a ‘woman’s system’.

Pinkham’s over the counter contraceptive made it possible for women to receive abortive agents without getting prosecuted by the Comstock Law. This made the vegetable compound a common item to be found on many women’s nightstand. Ambiguous advertising of contraceptive products became common place throughout the enforcement of the Comstock Law (Chesler, 70). Because she was hailed as a public icon, no product sold as well as Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound. The company still exists under a different ownership, still branded under “Lydia Pinkham” and the compound’s main ingredients have not been altered from the traditional formula. Currently, the vegetable compound is marketed towards post-menopausal women, and “Lydia Pinkham” does not acknowledge the historical usages of the herbal elixir (Dietary Supplements and Pharmaceutical Products for Birth Control, PMS and Menopause). The company advertises that Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was formerly used for treatment of PMS and other hormone imbalances, which could be probable, considering the vague wording of the early advertisements, yet given the true historical comprehension of the advertisement, unlikely (Dietary Supplements and Pharmaceutical Products for Birth Control, PMS and Menopause). Looking at the historical usages of the herbs versus their modern medical uses, we understand why the formula is now being used for post-menopausal symptoms and not for treating PMS. There are five main ingredients of the vegetable compound that are still the active ingredients in the current formula: Pleurisy root, Life root, fenugreek, unicorn root, and black cohosh (Dietary Supplements and Pharmaceutical Products for Birth Control, PMS and Menopause).


Another of the ‘female pills’ on display at Dittrick Museum–Dr. Bronson, for “obstruction”

Pleurisy root, also known as common milkweed, was historically used in the Americas as an oral contraceptive, as well as an anti-inflammatory agent. Modern medicine regards the herb as a mild anti-inflammatory, a reliever of coughs and mucus build up, and an estrogenic (Pleurisy Root – Herbal Encyclopedia). This root should not be consumed by pregnant women as it is dangerous for the health of a developing fetus and taken in high enough and repeated dosages can induce miscarriage. Still, the estrogenic and anti-inflammatory properties of the root make it appropriate for women going through the stresses of menopause (Pleurisy Root – Herbal Encyclopedia). Here we notice that while the compound’s main ingredients have been preserved, “Lydia Pinkham” is targeting a different market segment effectively avoiding direct competition with the latest contraceptive products. Life root, commonly known as yellow ragweed, has many medical uses. The roots have been used as an anti-inflammatory as well as a blood stimulant to help regulate the menstruation cycle and decrease menstrual pain in women. Life root root is known as an emmenagogues, a plant that stimulates blood flow to the uterus, which can stimulate menstruation or prevent pregnancy (Ragwort – Herbal Encyclopedia). Fenugreek, Unicorn Root, and Black cohosh are all forms of emmenagogues that are currently not recommended to be consumed by pregnant women, and have historically been used as abortive agents. Emmenagogues also have strong estrogenic properties and can be used as an alternative for women who cannot take hormone replacement therapy for menopause (Black Cohosh). Just like Coke & Heinz, Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound survived the passage of time and successfully redefined itself to a new consumer group without exposing its weakness by competing head-to-head with a modernly engineered contraceptive drug. The compound was the right medicine for the time when the Comstock Law blocked legal access to contraceptives.

Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound was sold by all druggists and apothecaries throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Ad from 1881 for Lydia Pinkham’s Compound at the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.”). Her product sold millions of bottles, and Mrs. Pinkham became a strong public figure. She was able to give advice to women on sexuality and personal care. Also, she drew attention to serious female medical issues that were being ignored by standard medical practice. Without the Comstock Law men would have had access to condoms and women to diaphragms, and her medicine may have not been so successful. In an ironic manor, what should have stopped her, created a need in the market. As much as a progressive woman like Lydia Pinkham had to despair at the Comstock Law, it also created new possibilities for women to find social progress despite political oppression.

Works Cited

“Ad from 1881 for Lydia Pinkham’s Compound at the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health.” Ad from 1881 for Lydia Pinkham’s Compound at the Museum of Menstruation and Women’s Health. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. <;.

“Black Cohosh.” University of Maryland Medical Center. Web. 7 Feb. 2015. <;.

Chesler, Ellen. Woman of Valor: Margaret Sanger and the Birth Control Movement in America. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1992. 70-75. Print.

“Dietary Supplements and Pharmaceutical Products for Birth Control, PMS and Menopause.” Web. 3 Feb. 2015. <;.

Dittrick Museum. “Lydia Pinkham Vegetable Compound”. Case Western Reserve university: Dittrick Museum,2015. Placard

Dittrick Museum. “Sex in the City, 1840’s”. Case Western Reserve university: Dittrick Museum,2015. Placard

“Lydia E. Pinkham: Life and Legacy.” Museum of Health Care Blog. 19 June 2014. Web. 2 Feb. 2015. <;.

“People & Events: Anthony Comstock’s “Chastity” Laws.” PBS. PBS. Web. 1 Feb. 2015. <;.

“Pleurisy Root – Herbal Encyclopedia.” Herbal Encyclopedia. 28 Dec. 2010. Web. 1 Feb. 2015. <;.

“Ragwort – Herbal Encyclopedia.” Herbal Encyclopedia. 28 Dec. 2010. Web. 1 Feb. 2015. <;.

Schulman, Bruce J. Making the American Century: Essays on the Political Culture of Twentieth Century America. Oxford: Oxford UP, USA, 2014.20-24 Print.

Rediscovering the Birthing Chair: Delivering Life While Sitting Up

Blog by Anneliese Braunegg, student at Case Western Reserve University
Essay winner, USNA 287Q Gothic Science, SAGES 2015
Instructor: Dr. Brandy Schillace

Birth Chair, Dittrick Museum

Birth Chair, Dittrick Museum

Envision two women. Each is in labor, each is in pain, and each is accompanied by a professional caretaker who is assisting her in giving birth. Here the similarities end. The first woman lies on a hospital bed with her hair strewn across the pillows; she is accompanied by a doctor, and she is simultaneously pushing her baby into the world as he pulls on it with forceps. The second woman sits on a birthing chair that was brought to and assembled in her bedroom; her hair is strewn across the chair back, she is accompanied by a midwife, and she is pushing her baby into the world as the midwife guides her through the process (“Midwifery Chair, c. 1850”).

The first woman is giving birth in 2015. The second woman is giving birth in 1850 (“Midwifery Chair, c. 1850”). In the generations between the second woman’s labor and the labor of her great-great granddaughter in this hospital room in 2015, now the present day, many changes will take place in the medical world. In an “‘unexplained revolution,’” typical birthing practice will “shift from female to male midwifery practice,” and “the female midwife… castigated as a rustic or vilified as a witch,” will come to “serve,” at most, “at the pleasure of the [male] surgeon” (Schillace). Pregnancy and labor will come to be “treated [not] as a natural process [but as] a medical condition” requiring a doctor’s intervention. (“Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine”).

Birth chair, Dittrick Museum

Birth chair, Dittrick Museum, circa 1920

The primary birthing method shifted from use of the birthing chair to use of the birthing bed, “not necessarily because [lying on the birthing bed] is the best position for birth but… [because] it is the most convenient position for [the] doctor,” as it allows him to view the baby more easily and use a device that midwives have not used, the forceps (“Effective Birthing Positions”). Thus modern birthing culture will be born, and while women would, over time, become doctors, and pregnancy would come, once again, to be viewed as a natural state, the main method of delivery remained the birthing bed–the birthing chair largely forgotten. This is the way the world is today; however, hospitals of the present should not dismiss the method of the birthing chair too quickly. Giving birth on a bed, though it is the modern norm, is neither the only viable birthing option nor always the best one, and the expansion of birthing options would benefit the large number of modern women who go to hospitals to give birth to their babies.

Today, when most people picture a woman giving birth, they picture the woman lying on the hospital bed; less often do people picture the woman sitting on the birthing chair. The birthing chair birthing method is still used, but is much less common. This imbalance seems to imply that giving birth on a bed is somehow safer or more efficient than giving birth on a chair; however, studies evaluating the effectiveness of birthing chairs have shown that the birthing chair is a satisfactory birthing method for most patients who use it (Liddell, H. S., and P. R. Fisher) and that the use of a birthing chair does not increase the health risk to either the mother or the baby and is therefore a safe alternative to the use of a birthing bed (Kafka, M., et al.). Additionally, studies contrasting the birthing chair and the birthing bed have found there to be “less transient cord compression in upright positions” (Cottrell, B. H., and M. K. Shannahan) such as that taken while seated in a birthing chair and have found that “patients who delivered in the [birthing] chair [have] significantly lower rates of episiotomy [surgical cutting below the vagina performed to aid delivery] and manual separation of the placenta” in comparison to patients who delivered in a birthing bed (Scholz, H. S., et al.).

Birth chair, Dittrick Museum

Birth chair, Dittrick Museum,

While the birthing chair presents “minor disadvantages such as increased soiling of the chair” and, depending on the chair’s structure, “impedes operative deliveries from the perineal floor,” the advantages were determined to outweigh the minor disadvantages, and the suggested solution to the operative delivery impediment was not the use of a bed instead of a chair but instead a combination of the two into a birthing bed that can be shifted to accommodate all positions from sitting to recumbent (Schurz, A. R., H. Concin, and M. Kobermann). The results of these five studies indicate that while the birthing chair can safely be used as an effective alternative birthing method the birthing bed. In addition, because the less conventional birthing chair birthing method has been found to be a viable, potentially advantageous alternative to the birthing bed method, it would be beneficial to explore further the advantages of other less conventional birthing methods that exist.

The most effective of these other less conventional birthing methods include the birthing bar that attaches to a bed, the birthing stool, the upright sitting position, the kneeling position, and the curled side position, and each of these methods and positions presents certain advantages for the woman in labor (“Effective Birthing Positions”). These advantages include expanding the size of the woman’s pelvis (birthing bar and birthing stool), taking advantage of gravity to help push the baby (bar, stool, and upright sitting position), providing physical support for relaxation between contractions (bar, upright sitting position, kneeling position, and curled side position), and protection from back pain and vaginal tearing (kneeling position for the former and curled side position for the latter) (“Effective Birthing Positions”). Evidently, a variety of valid birthing methods exist. However, even though these methods present certain advantages to a woman in labor and even though, in the case of the birthing chair, research was performed as many twenty years ago indicating that the method is a positive one, the bed birthing method remains the primary birthing method made available to and used by laboring women. It is time that these studies’ suggestions be effected and that hospitals make information about and access to birthing chairs available to pregnant women, and it is time that other alternative birthing methods be scientifically examined and, if also found to be valid, also be publicized and made available.


Examination chair, circa 1875, Dittrick Museum

Some birthing centers do, in fact, offer some of these alternative birthing methods, and it is noteworthy that these methods are available not only at birthing centers specifically designated as alternative but also at some mainstream hospitals. A well-regarded example of such a hospital is MIT Medical, of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In addition to offering the traditional option of giving birth on a bed, the hospital states on its website that it “alternative birth experiences are also available, including birthing chairs, birthing balls, hypnobirthing, doulas, and water births” (Patient Services: Obstetrics and Gynecology”). The fact that MIT Medical presents these options on its website is important; in order for effective birthing methods currently considered alternative to become accepted as mainstream, it is vital that established, well-respected hospitals embrace these methods and clearly state their availability. In doing so, hospitals make the labors of more women safer and easier, as they become better able to accommodate the needs of all the women who come to the hospital to deliver a child.

No two births are exactly alike. The uniqueness of each birth makes it vital that hospitals pay attention to the fact that giving birth in a bed, while the most common method of birthing, is not the only viable option and not always the best one. Hospitals like MIT Medical have taken a positive step toward addressing non-bed birthing methods, but even at MIT Medical, such methods are still presented as “alternative,” misleadingly implying that they may be less reliable than the bed birthing method (“Patient Services: Obstetrics and Gynecology”). Doctors and midwives should therefore continue to expand their knowledge and provision of different birthing practices and, just as importantly, make available to pregnant women and their partners information about the variety of safe, effective birthing options that exist. In doing so, they will ensure that both the woman in the bed and the woman in the chair will be in those places because they have chosen to give birth there and that they have chosen those places because they made the informed choice that those birthing methods are the best birthing methods for them.

Works Cited

“Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine.” University Press of Mississippi. UP of Mississippi, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

Cottrell, B. H., and M. K. Shannahan. A Comparison of Fetal Outcome in Birth Chair and Delivery Table Births. N.p.: n.p., 1987. PubMed. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

“Effective Birthing Positions.” Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing. U of Minnesota, Aug. 2009. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

Kafka, M., et al. The Birthing Stool–An Obstetrical Risk? N.p.: n.p., 1994. PubMed. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

Liddell, H. S., and P. R. Fisher. The Birthing Chair in the Second Stage of Labour. N.p.: n.p., 1985. PubMed. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

“Midwifery Chair, c. 1850.” Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum. Allen Memorial Medical Library. 11000 Euclid Ave, Cleveland, OH 44106-1714. 27 January 2015.

“Patient Services: Obstetrics and Gynecology.” MIT Medical. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, n.d. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

Schillace, Brandy. “On the Trail of the Machine: William Smellie’s ‘Celebrated Apparatus.'” Dittrick Museum Blog. Case Western Reserve University, 4 Apr. 2013. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

Scholz, H. S., et al. Spontaneous Vaginal Delivery in the Birth-Chair versus in the Conventional Dorsal Position: A Matched Controlled Comparison. N.p.: n.p., 2001. PubMed. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

Schurz, A. R., H. Concin, and M. Kobermann. Experience with EK-Birthing Chair (Author’s Transl). N.p.: n.p., 1981. PubMed. Web. 6 Feb. 2015. <;.

Check that Temperature! Rhythm Method, Thermometers, and the Gynodate

unnamedSex, contraception, and reproduction: if you think those are topics best avoided in a museum, think again! Next week, the Dittrick hosts its annual Percy Skuy Lecture on the History of Contraception, and this time, it’s all about temperature. Hot under the collar? It might be your cycle! Leo J. Latz, a Chicago doctor, first championed the Rhythm Method (based on work by Ogino-Knaus) in the United States. In 1932 Latz published The Rhythm of Sterility and Fertility in Women, which sold over 200,000 copies by 1942; he contended that the “findings of modern science disclose a rational, natural, and ethical means to space births and to regulate intelligently the number of children.” This coming Thursday, April 9th, come hear about the use of thermometers and the rhythm method to control fertility–lecture by Dianna Day, followed by a reception upstairs in the contraception gallery The event is FREE, but please do RSVP to ensure a seat: Want to learn more about contraception’s contested history? Here are some tidbits from our archive–and we hope to see you next week!

The-Rhythm-1934-coverRHYTHM METHOD
How did it work? Latz advised avoiding intercourse for eight days: for women with a regular menstrual cycle, this began five days before ovulation, with an extra three days tacked on for safety’s sake. As a devout Roman Catholic, Latz advanced this method of fertility control as more in line with Church teachings. He published pamphlets on rhythm for priests to distribute to couples, and parish bingo games gave out his book as a prize. Many shared Leo Latz’s faith in the science behind the Ogino-Knaus findings. But applying them to birth control proved not so simple, nor straightforward. Calculating the time of ovulation can still be tricky. It varies from woman to woman, and a woman can ovulate at a different time each month. Stress, illness, or interruptions in normal routine can also alter a woman’s cycle. Despite these uncertainties, the Ogino-Knaus method caught on, as evidenced by the proliferation of rhythm method calculators after 1930. Companies produced graphs, wheels, calendars, and slide rules, which cost from 10¢ to $5. In 1955 over 65% of Catholic women surveyed said they used Rhythm… And of course, given that is was a private means of controlling fertility, many more likely took advantage.

Ironically, Leo Latz felt biting backlash for all his efforts to bring an acceptable form of contraception to Catholics. Some felt he went too far. When Latz published The Rhythm in 1932 he served on the medical faculty of Loyola University. According to Leslie Tentler, writing in Catholics and Contraception: An American History (2004), Latz “was abruptly fired from that position in August of 1934,” and this action “was almost certainly a direct result of Latz’s prominent association with the cause of rhythm.” In 1935 Latz confessed to his friend Father Joseph Reiner, S.J., that no one “knew the anguish and dishonor I …suffered, when people said: ‘I heard you were thrown out of the University.” –Jim Edmonson (see original post here)

gynodate 2009-004-frontGYNODATE
A later variant of rhythm calculator was known as the “Gynodate.” Swiss clockmaker Jaquet introduced the “Gynodate” in 1958. It combined a regular alarm clock and a gauge to calculate the “safe period” as directed by Hermann Knaus. Jaquet claimed it “indispensable for every woman for natural birth control.” The Museum of contraception and abortion in Vienna, Austria, had the associated ephemera (pictured here). The thing that we like best about the “gynodate” is its stylish concealment of its function. Looks like a nice, if simple, alarm clock when the Gynodate 2 high resdecorative bezel is closed. But lift the hinged cover and you reveal adjustable dials to set for the onset and end of the monthly period, and hence gauge the days of fertility. It’s reminiscent of oral contraceptive dispensers in the form of lipstick containers or dialpak dispensers disguised as facial powder compacts…Certainly not the first, nor the last, time that designers strived to camouflage the purpose of a medical device. Sometimes this was done to conceal an object’s function from unwitting patients (as in the case of medical furniture in the 1880s), while at other times it was done to safeguard personal dignity, as in the concealment of contraceptive purpose of the object at hand, the “gynodate”. –Jim Edmonson (see original post here)

Nancy Talbot Clark and her sisters at Western Reserve in the 1850s: pioneers of medical education of American women

On Monday, March 8, Case Daily hosted a trivia quiz in honor of women’s history month. They asked this question: “In 1876, fifty years after it was established, the first woman graduated from Western Reserve College. Who was she?” While they sought the first female graduate of our undergraduate school, it brought to mind a similar question regarding our medical school and its early women graduates. So, I pose a variant of the question appropriate for women’s history month:“Who was the first female graduate of the medical department of Western Reserve College?” The answer is simple: Nancy Talbot Clark. Going beyond, we find that her experience reveals an intriguing, complex, and instructive story about women entering the ranks of the medical profession. Permit me to elaborate.

Nancy-Talbot-Clark-BinneyNancy Talbot Clark graduated in 1852, making her the first female medical graduate of Western Reserve College and the second woman graduate of a co-ed regular (non-sectarian or allopathic) medical college in the entire Unites States. This last point is significant, for the medical establishment of 19th century America discounted the value of medical degrees conferred by sectarian (homeopathic, eclectic, &c) or all female schools. Elizabeth Blackwell merits distinction as the first woman in this country to graduate from a regular (or allopathic) co-educational medical school, having graduated from Geneva Medical College in 1849. Clark came next when she matriculated at Western Reserve, and was in turn followed by five more women who graduated before 1856. In that year Dean Delamater, who championed women’s medical education, retired and his successor, and the rest of the all-male faculty, deemed it “inexpedient” to continue admitting women. Decades passed before women again matriculated at Western Reserve.

The rich narrative of Clark’s career shows clearly that the path for women entering medicine was fraught with challenge and frustration. Tragedy, misogyny, and purported moral and social propriety all conspired to thwart what might otherwise have been a promising professional life for Nancy Talbot woman dissectingClark. An early marriage in 1845 to dentist Champion Clark seemingly precluded a career at all, medical or otherwise, for society expected married women to remain at home, not enter the marketplace. At 22 she bore a daughter who died within a year, and then her husband succumbed to typhoid fever in March 1848, leaving her a young widow. How she found her way to Cleveland is unclear, but biographical notes indicate that the wife of Dean Delamater came from nearby Sharon, Massachusetts, Clark’s hometown. Whatever the route, Clark studied for two years, graduating in March 1852. The school took special notice, publishing in the local newspaper that “Among the graduates is Mrs. Nancy E, Clark of Sharon, Mass., a lady who has, during the past two sessions, commanded the respect of Instructors and members of classes by her lady-like deportment and faithful intelligent attention to her duties as a Medical Student.”

pulse-lo-resClark returned to Boston, Massachusetts, where she practiced medicine from April 1852 to August 1854, and tried unsuccessfully to gain admission to the Massachusetts Medical Society. Male members rejected her application, asserting that “their duty requires them to examine male candidates only for membership.” Like Elizabeth Blackwell before her, Clark departed for France with her physician brother. There, she studied and interned at La Maternité the premiere obstetric hospital in the French capital. On the journey over she met the recently-widowed Amos Binney of Boston, whom she later married. A family of six children ensued and predominated until 1874 when Clark opened a free dispensary for women in Boston.

By focusing this cohort of early women graduates of Western Reserve we gain a sense of the diversity of their career trajectories. No single career arc applies to these women. As noted, marriage comprised a career-ending event for Clark, despite her evident skill and talent. Emily Blackwell, younger sister of Elizabeth, followed and went on to found the New York Infirmary for Indigent Women and Children and ended her career at the London School of Medicine for Women. Marie Zakrzewska, trained as a midwife in Berlin, emigrated in hopes of becoming a physician. Prominent women of Cleveland sponsored her through the Female Medical Education Society of Ohio, and she went on to a distinguished career in women’s medical education. Cordelia Greene pursued a career in the so-called “water cure” or hydropathy movement, starting at a spa in Cleveland, and ending in a western New York water cure establishment. Sarah Chadwick’s career included a year of service as a surgeon to Civil War troops, but married afterward, and retired from medicine. Elizabeth Griselle rounded out the group, with perhaps the most conventional private medical practice in Salem, Ohio. So, we at CWRU can justly take pride in the early strides to promote women as medical professionals, but need to go beyond a cursory mention to more fully understand the challenges these pioneering women faced in their struggle to attain equality in the workplace and in society more generally.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: James Edmonson, PhD, chief curator of Dittrick Medical History Center and Museum

For more on our pioneering medical women at Western Reserve, see

Linda Lehmann Goldstein. “Roses Bloomed in Winter: Women Medical Graduates of Western Reserve College, 1852-1856,” Case Western Reserve University, May 1989.

Linda Lehmann Goldstein, “ ‘Without compromising in any particular’: The success of medical coeducation in Cleveland, 1850-1856, Caduceus 10 (1994): 101-116.