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Sexual Health Week

This week is in the UK, an awareness event promoted by FPA, a charity for promoting sexual health and open discussion. Here at the Dittrick Museum of Medical History, we house the Percy Skuy collection of historical contraception devices, and seek to tell the story not only of contraception in America, but also the long-standing fight for birth control (and continued issues of access).

James Ashton, The Book of Nature, Dittrick Museum Skuy Gallery

At the front of the gallery, we take a look at the reproductive and sexual body, from Aristotle’s Masterpiece to books by James Ashton and Charles Knowlton. Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy (1832), deemed “obscene” for its frank discussion of sex for pleasure and birth control, landed him in hot water. He was arrested twice, but the book lived on, and helped to change the conversation around a “taboo” topic.

Other sections of the museum describe the notorious Comstock Act of 1873 (Act of the Suppression of Trade in, and Circulation of, Obscene Literature and Articles of Immoral Use), made contraception illegal in the USA, and which led to harrowing health

Diverse formulations and packaging of birth control pill products.

consequences from unwanted pregnancy to venereal diseases. Black market devices and pills offered unreliable and sometimes dangerous alternatives, and Comstock’s definition of  obscenity and pornography meant books were burned and useful, frank conversation repressed. Thought the act was at last repealed, vestiges of the law remained into the 1990s. [1]

Arguments about who had a right to control women’s reproduction, and what sexuality was for (that is, pleasure or merely procreation) continue today. Through the Skuy Gallery, we at the Dittrick hope to do our own small part in encouraging open discussion of healthy sexual practice. Come and see up–or visit out online exhibits here.

[1] Comstock Act, The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica, <;

Cleveland’s Toxicologist

spenzer-cane-5x75jpg-577c5dae0259347bThis summer, the Cleveland Plain Dealer invited Senior Research Associate Brandy Schillace to speak about the archive of John George Spenzer, a toxicologist with an eye for detail and an interest in crime:

Juno, the Transparent Woman, and #WomensHistoryMonth

In thanks to Linda Shusterman for donating Juno’s “pussy-hat”!

Juno is sporting her “pussy-hat” in celebration of #WomensHistoryMonth!

We have written before about our wonderful “greeter,” Juno, the transparent anatomical model. She has become a mainstay here, but Juno is a well-traveled woman! In the 1920s, the Deutsches-Hygiene-Museum in Dresden, Germany, created a fully operable model of the human body, depicting “the human body as a machine.” Despite becoming part of East Germany after WWII, the museum continued to make these models and some of the employees managed to leave East for West, helping to create the Köln Krankenhaus Museum. It was here that Juno was “born”; Franz Tschaikart of Cologne, Germany, crafted her on commission from the original German Hygiene Museum.

Jim Edmonson, curator, inspecting Juno

In 1950, a friend of the Cleveland Health Education Museum paid $15,000 to bring Juno to Cleveland. She first appeared in public on November 13, 1950, and a contest was held to name her. ‘Juno’ took her name from the Roman queen goddess of women–and dutifully helped explain the female body to museum goers until the health museum closed in 2007. In 2011, Juno moved to her present home in the Dittrick’s museum collection after being long entombed in her original packing crate. As the first transparent woman made in West Germany after the war, she has been–and remains–a kind of ambassador.

Sadly, CHEM (later known as HealthSpace Cleveland) closed in 2006 and a vestige of its exhibits and staff came over to the Cleveland Museum of Natural History in 2007. There they now now offer programming and exhibits to help understand the physiology and frailty of the human body, the sources of disease and the grounding of wellness.

Our Juno greets visitors as they enter, standing as a testament to transparent pedagogy–and, in her new hat, proving that being partly “invisible” can’t keep her from making a statement. This hat was worn by a friend of the museum at the #WomensMarch in DC, and donated here as an artifact of a profoundly historic moment in US history.

Interested in Juno and her male counterparts? Take a look at the Wellcome’s Object of the Month. You might also enjoy Klaus Vogel’s article: “The Transparent Man – Some comments on the history of a symbol,” in Robert Bud, et al, Manifesting Medicine: Bodies and Machines [Artefacts, Studies in the History of Science and Technology , Vol 1], Amsterdam, the Netherlands : Harwood Academic, 1999.

[1]–accessed 11 December 2013

[2] – accessed 30 August 2013.

Under the Lid with #BrainAwarenessWeek

For #BrainAwarenessWeek, we go to Georg Bartisch, 16th century surgeon and inventor, and his  Ophthamoduleia (”eye-service”), published in 1583. But in looking so closely at disorders of the eye, Bartisch necessarily became incredibly interested in the brain. The incredible wood cut prints show the delicate internal parts through the use of book-flaps. Layers of paper could be lifted away to reveal more detailed anatomy!

Many books contained such flaps, including the work of Vesalius, often considered the father of anatomy. (An excellent point about flap books may be found here, from the Bodleian). Bartisch performed surgeries on the eyes, and even advised his students on how best to hold patients down for the procedure. (Eye surgery would continue to be a horribly painful affair until 1884, when Austrian ophthalmologist Carl Koller realized that a few drops of topical cocaine solution rendered the eye immobile and numb).

While Bartisch does not focus on brain surgery, he nevertheless saw anatomy of the brain cavity as crucial for understanding disorders of sigh. One of the more interesting features of Bartisch’ text involves the beautifully rendered brain flaps. They could be colorized for greater effect, but the Dittrick’s copy appears as they might have hot of the block press. Stunning detail, rendered plain through innovative “paper” anatomy, Bartisch provided a glimpse “under the lid.”

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Bartisch, George. Ophthalmodouleia, das ist, Augendienst. Newer und wolgegründter Bericht von Ursachen und Erkentnüs aller Gebrechen, Schäden und Mängel der Augen und des Gesichtes. [Dreszden, Matthes Stöckel] 1583

The Dittrick Museum and #ColorOurCollections!

Once again the New York Academy of Medicine has brought us the #ColorOurCollections! From February 6th though 10th, libraries, special collections, archives, and other cultural institutions are sharing coloring content based on collection items. You can view a list of participating institutions here, but for a taste of medical history, including anatomy, dissection, flora, and even early smelting techniques (hey, you have to make medical tools somehow), download the Dittrick Coloring Book!

Better yet, post your creations to Instagram and show off your skill! We may just feature your work on the blog!



A Change of Heart: Cardiology in Cleveland

newspaper-clipping-webAmerica’s Number One Killer?

Heart attack, or cardiac arrest, became a leading cause of death after the turn of the century. People had always suffered from cardiac problems, but they usually died from other causes, especially infectious diseases, long before reaching the age when heart problems threatened their well being. As medicine advanced and people lived longer, heart disease became a serious health issue. Today, of course, we think of it as one of the United States’ top “killers”–and most are familiar with defibrillation “paddles” and the command “Clear!” But did you know that the defibrillator began here in Cleveland? Claude Beck (1894-1971) pioneered heart surgery, especially operations to improve circulation in damaged heart muscles. He also devised ways to revive heart attack victims with the use of carefully controlled electricity, or “defibrillation.

Claude Beck: Developer of the first heart defibrillator in Cleveland, Ohio.

Beck trained at Johns Hopkins and joined University Hospitals Case Medical Center in 1924 as resident and Crile Research Fellow in Surgery. While performing cardiac surgery in Cleveland, Beck noted that the heart sometimes went into “ventricular fibrillation.” This means the heart muscles twitched and contracted rapidly, disrupting the normal rhythmic heartbeat. Beck could massage the heart, but this did not always stop the fibrillation and the patient would die on the operating table. Desperate for a remedy, he learned that a colleague at Western Reserve, the physiologist Carl J. Wiggers, had maintained circulation in laboratory animals by manual massage followed by electrical shock. Excited by this idea, Beck went to work–and in 1947 he successfully revived a patient for the first time with his “defibrillator.” His device saved many lives, and Beck had more to offer. He spent his life working under Dr. Harvey Cushing and with other cardiovascular “greats” like Elliott Cutler and Donald Eiffler to change the future for heart patients.

Did You Know that CPR is CLEVELAND PROUD?
The defibrillator isn’t Cleveland’s only cardiac first. With the help of the Cleveland Heart Society, Beck and colleagues developed cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) techniques. In less than twenty years, they trained more than 3,000 doctors and nurses. Dr. Beck later created a short teaching film in which he introduced a group of 11 patients who were successfully resuscitated, and in 1963, he and colleagues added a course in closed-chest cardiopulmonary resuscitation for lay persons. Beck created 16mm films to aid in training new CPR practitioners; these films provided images, diagrams, demonstrations, and even interviews with survivors!

Big Risks and Big Pay-offs

Sometimes medicine really is “practice.” With the first heart surgeries, the future was uncertain. How far could we meddle with this delicate organ? The “Beck I” surgery involved a technique for increasing circulation of blood to the myocardium by inducing adhesions between the heart and the pericardium through various methods including sutures. While seemingly damaging to the heart, the adhesions resulted in more muscle contact, so more blood could be available to the heart. “The Beck II” surgery went further by creating a vein graft between the Aorta and Coronary Sinus, pioneering revascularization of the heart. The first Beck I surgery on a human being took place in 1935, and the Beck II in the late 1940s. But the introduction of  machines like the Kay-Cross Oxygenator pushed surgery even further by circulating blood for the patient even when the heart was stopped!

A team of cardiac physicians and specialists (including Kolff, Effler, and Sones) performed the first stopped-heart surgery in Cleveland for bypass surgery. Another Cleveland doctor, Rene Favaloro, would establish the standard technique for the procedure at Cleveland Clinic, and it would soon be repeated successfully in other hospitals across the United States. With the introduction of coronary arteriography (where the doctor could see live moving images of the heart) by Mason Sones in 1958, doctors could directly treat coronary blockage. Then, in 1968, Dr. Effler and his colleagues performed the first cardiac transplant in the Midwest!

These doctors took great risks, and not every surgery could be successful. Even so, great strides were made, and Cleveland remains a center for heart disease treatment—much of it made possible by the introduction of the Beck defibrillator for restarting a stopped heart.


Seeing Small: How the Microscope Changed Everything

microgaphia-flea-webWhen Dutch spectacle-makers first crafted the microscope around 1600, they revealed a hidden world of tiny organisms! Who could imagine such monsters lived out of sight? But the early microscope only offered low magnification and blurry images; it would take improvements by Robert Hook to turn a novelty enjoyed for its curious revelations into a serious scientific tool.

Who Was Robert Hooke?
English philosopher Robert Hooke’ published Micrographia: in 1665 and brought microscopy into public view in sensational fashion.  The profusely illustrated book ranged widely from the construction of microscopes themselves, to the spectrum of color, the crystal structure of objects, and the anatomy of insects. Here Hooke described and illustrated a thin cutting of cork that he said was “all perforated and porous, much like a Honey-comb.” Its porous structure reminded him of small monastic rooms, or cella (in Latin), so he called them “cells,” the basic unit of life. Despite some early observations of bacteria and cells, the microscope impacted other sciences, notably botany and zoology, more than medicine. Important technical improvements in the 1830s and later corrected poor optics, transforming the microscope into a powerful instrument for seeing disease-causing micro-organisms.

Lister and the Achromatic Microscope
In 1830 wine-merchant and amateur scientist Joseph Jackson Lister* introduced microscope lenses that eliminated blurring and color distortion afflicting higher power microscopes. Lister’s breakthrough, the ‘achromatic’ lens, transformed the microscope into a powerful tool capable of much higher magnification. It just so happens that the Dittrick has the same time of microscope on display! The enormous improvements converged with the emergence of bacteriology driven by the work of Pasteur and Koch, and by the 1880s, the microscope became an essential tool of doctors in the daily practice of identifying pathogens. This pioneering work allowed for easy identification of epidemic and endemic diseases; once doctors understood what caused illness, they could combat its spread through quarantine, disinfection, vaccines, and antibiotics. Public health was born!

The Cleveland Connection
Dudley Peter Allen (for whom the Allen Memorial Medical Library is named) acquired an Edmund Hartnack type of microscope (c1881) in Berlin during his medical ‘grand tour’ of Europe (1880-82). Allen learned first-hand of exciting advances in antiseptic surgery and the medical sciences, including landmark work in bacteriology by Robert Koch (who also owned a Hartnack microscope). Allen used this microscope to study prepared pathology specimens, particularly at the laboratory of Clemens von Kahlden, a pathologist and expert in microtechnique in Freiburg, Germany. Better yet, he traced the specimens and returned to Cleveland with full color notebooks illustrating various disease specimens, ranging from infectious diseases like tuberculosis to various neoplasms or cancers.

Imagine a world where we could not identity disease-causing bacteria or cancerous cells? Pathology, bacteriology, even forensics and genetics, all owe a deep debt to the humble microscope. What began as a bead of glass for magnifying became the complex scopes that allow us to see even the smallest particles of our world!