Knitting Clio Stands with #Ravelry

via Time

The fiber arts social media site Ravelry has just announced they banning support of President Trump and his administration on the site.  According to the announcement,

“We cannot provide a space that is inclusive of all and also allow support for open white supremacy. Support of the Trump administration is unambiguously support for white supremacy. For more details, read this document.”

According to a post in one of the forums, here’s what prompted the decision:

“It’s been building up for some time but there was a particular pattern ‘designer’ who had patterns removed for racist/hate reasons, who had a bit of a rabid following here and elsewhere such as Instagram. With the arrival of Pride month, she produced a pattern which was essentially anti LBGTQ etc and all here followers jumped in with their drooling and fawning comments some of which were barely veiled homophobic.She came up with yet another pattern and someone used the report function on the pattern not realising then that the report would be public on the pattern page. . . . This led to said designer posting screenshots of the report comments on Instagram, and either revealed of barely concealed the ID of the Raveler who did the reporting – resulting in that poor person being on the receiving end of hate and threat PMs.”

Unlike other social media outlets, Ravelry put an end to this by banning this kind of behavior. I have a Ravelry account but just use it for storing patterns, not forum discussions.  I may be spending more time there now!

My Presentation on Talking about Abortion in the Age of Trump for Sigerist Circle Special Session #AAHM2019

Last week I gave a presentation on “Talking about Abortion in the Age of Trump” for a panel for the Sigerist Circle at the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine.

I discussed a public history project I did for the Isham-Terry House, a historic house museum in Hartford administered by Connecticut Landmarks. I started by explaining,

What is Public History?”

 The National Council on Public History (NCPH) “public history describes the many and diverse ways in which history is put to work in the world.” The NCPH mission is to “inspire public engagement with the past and serve the needs of practitioners in putting history to work in the world by building community among historians, expanding professional skills and tools, fostering critical reflection on historical practice, and publicly advocating for history and historians.”

The NCPH blog, “History@Work” provides “an online venue where people from around the field of public history could share ideas and news. Like the field itself, the blog aims to blend scholarly, professional, and civic discussion arising from the practice of presenting history in public.”

The theme for this year’s NCPH annual meeting in Hartford was “repair work.” This theme invited us to consider the various ways in which public historians labor to mend, to rebuild and reclaim, and to heal.

International Coalition of Sites of Conscience

One of the highlights of the meeting was the plenary session on Coltsville National Historical Park in Hartford. Coltsville preserves and interprets the factory, worker housing, and owner residences associate with Samuel Colt, known for his innovations in precision manufacturin and production of firearms

The plenary was led by Sarah Pharaon from the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, which is a global network of historic sites, museums, and memory sites that connect past struggles with today’s movements for human rights.

A Site of Conscience is a place of memory – such as a historic site, place-based museum or memorial – that prevents the erasure of a historic event in order to ensure a more just and humane future.

Not only do Sites of Conscience provide safe spaces to remember and preserve even the most traumatic memories, but they enable their visitors to make connections between the past and related contemporary human rights issues.

Coltsville commemorates a time when manufacturing provided jobs for Hartford residents, but it’s also located in a city with a long history of gun violence and an hour’s drive from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

Women’s history sites of conscience include the Jane Addams-Hull House Museum and the Women’s Rights National Historic Park

The ICSOC website offers resources for historic sites to engage in community dialogues. Front Page Dialogues are designed to serve as models to help our members generate conversations about relevant issues as they emerge. As rapid response tools, they are intended to help Sites of Conscience respond to community needs in a timely manner, providing a guide for engaging visitors in dialogue and action on pressing events in real time. Their newest dialogue model offers thoughts on how to engage visitors in discussions surrounding the recent Women’s March on Washington and women’s rights more generally.

The Isham-Terry House and the Hartford Heritage Project

The Isham-Terry House is a historic house museum in Hartford administered by Connecticut Landmarks, described as “The lone survivor of a once vibrant Hartford neighborhood, the Isham-Terry House is a time capsule of the genteel lifestyle of turn-of-the century Hartford.” In 1896, Dr. Oliver Isham purchased the 1854 Italianate house for his medical practice and as a home for himself, his parents and his three younger sisters.

Two of his sisters, Julia and Charlotte, lived in the house until their deaths in the 1970s and fiercely resisted the “urban renewal” that destroyed the rest of the neighborhood to build interstate 84 through the city.  Their interest in historic preservation led them to donate their family home to Connecticut Landmarks. The sisters also carefully preserved Dr. Isham’s medical office, with surgical instruments and medicines. Connecticut Landmarks has adopted the International Sites of Conscience dialogues as a platform for community outreach.

The Isham-Terry House is one of the sites used by the Hartford Heritage Project for its place-based education (PBE) initiative. PBE takes the place where a school is located and incorporates it into the curriculum. Thus, museums, historical societies, parks, community centers, care facilities, local businesses, government agencies, and other valuable community resources become extensions of the classroom. This gives students a practical and local context for knowledge learned in their courses, and it makes the school a vital part of the life of the community.

The nursing faculty at Capital Community College uses the Isham-Terry house as part of their clinical experience. The purpose of this experience is to:

  1. Highlight medical/nursing care in the late 19thcentury/early 20thcentury and compare to modern day care.
  2. Discuss early 20th Century bioethics and medical law and relate to contemporary health care.
  3. Explore the implements, archives and treatments of late 19th century/early 20th century medical practice.
  4. Experience the history involved in the Isham Terry House.
  5. Participate in Capital Community College’s Hartford Heritage Project

At the end of the experience the students are asked to write a reflection discussing

  1. the evolution of medical/nursing care from 19th century nursing practice to modern day medical/nursing practice in relation to the concepts of wellness, prevention and infection protection.
  2. The ethics and morals as relating to ethical dilemmas in medical/nursing practice.

About a year ago, the director of the Hartford Heritage Project, the CCC nursing faculty, and the museum educator from Connecticut Landmarks asked me to do research into criminal charges against Dr. Isham for performing abortion. The museum educator told me that despite the adoption of Sites of Conscience dialogues, the executive director at Connecticut Landmarks was “not ready for us to touch the abortion issue” and instructed staff not to mention it on tours. The nursing faculty were already aware of the abortion issue because they had found newspaper articles and brought it up with the staff at Isham-Terry House. The house did not have any interpretive materials pertaining to the abortion issue so they asked me to do research into this and provide some guidance for the nursing faculty on how to present the topic in an accurate and sensitive fashion.

I wrote this report for the nursing faculty and suggested they could use this to open up a conversation about abortion with nursing students.

Doctor Oliver Isham and Abortion in Early Twentieth-Century Hartford

The charges against Dr. Isham occurred at a time when abortion was illegal in the United States. Prior to the mid nineteenth century, abortion was legal until “quickening,” or the period when the mother could feel the fetus moving inside her. By the 1880s, all states, including Connecticut, had passed laws outlawing abortion entirely. The only exception was a “therapeutic abortion” was deemed necessary to save the life of the mother. Nevertheless, women continued to seek abortions, and these procedures were regularly performed in by midwives, physicians, and lay women. The domestic location of medical care, as evidenced by Dr. Isham’s practice, helped keep abortion an “open secret” in the early twentieth century.

During the Fall of 1904, the Hartford Medical Society Board of Censors received a complaint from one of their “most respected members” that Dr. Isham “was indulging in improper and criminal practices.”  The Board let the matter drop after Dr. Isham submitted a written statement that “he was not guilty, nor would he ever be guilty as long as he was a member of this Society.”

A year later the Board received more complaints and became “convinced beyond any possibility of a doubt” that Isham had “engaged extensively in criminal abortions for the past several years, and that by so doing he has been an embarrassing disappointment to those who helped him in his early life; a blot upon the reputation of the Alumni of the Hartford Hospital; a disgrace to the medical profession and the Medical Society of this city, and source of dangerous menace to the moral welfare of this community.”

The Board added, “It would not be proper, in fact we have no right, to bring to you the names of his victims or the names of their relatives, or those who have informed us of his acts. It would incriminate those whom we have no desire to injure.”  Based on this report, the HMS voted to expel Dr. Isham from the organization.

In 1910, Dr. Isham was charged with performing a “criminal operation” on Hope R. Buck, a twenty-year old stenographer who had recently been fired by the Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Company for embezzlement. Miss Buck’s testimony suggests she may have tried to use some kind of drug or poison to induce a miscarriage and/or had an incomplete or botched abortion from another provider. In his defense, Dr. Isham claimed that he did what any other physician would have done under the circumstances to save the girl’s life. This trial ended in a hung jury, possibly because Ms. Buck admitted to lying during her initial police report. Her social position may also have been a factor: she had been a foster child and an inmate at the Home of the Good Shepherd for Delinquent Girls in the city.

Seventeen years later, in 1927, Dr. Isham was again charged with performing an abortion on twenty-year-old Marjorie Cipley Saunders, who had become pregnant after running away from her foster home. The girl’s foster mother had brought her to Dr. Isham and the operation was performed in the home of Dr. Isham’s nurse.  This time, Dr. Isham was found guilty and received a fine of $300 and ordered to serve four months in jail. The foster mother and nurse were also arrested for the crime of abortion but the charges were dropped. The State revoked Dr. Isham’s license to practice medicine. Two years later state legislature passed a special act to restore Dr. Ishams’ medical license.  He then continued to practice medicine in the state until his death in 1949.  His obituary makes no mention of his criminal conviction.

My conclusion for the nursing faculty was that Dr. Isham’s case reminds us of the ethical issues faced by health care providers and their patients in an era when abortion was illegal. I also told them the case was interesting because the sentence was so light. This indicates Dr. Isham’s social position – he had friends in high places as they say – and he quickly recovered his professional reputation.

The curriculum unit for nursing students has gone very well. The Isham-Terry House has yet to incorporate the abortion story into the house interpretation. It could be they just find the topic too controversial.

It’s not impossible to have a Site of Conscience that includes discussions of abortion and reproductive rights. The Matilda Joselyn Gage Center for Dialogue on Social Justice Issues in Fayetteville, New York is a good model for how to do this. The Center uses Gage’s historic home to engage the public in a number of contemporary social issues that can be tied to Gage’s work for social justice.

The Gage Center has a “Who Chooses” project, funded by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience that brings together diverse individuals for structured dialogue on the highly contentious issue of reproductive rights.  This included having historical experts examine Gage’s words alongside those of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony to correct misinformation about suffragists’ position on reproductive rights. This type of historical expertise is important for correcting the historical record since Feminists for Life has appropriated Stanton as “poster child” for pro-life feminism.




Reclaiming the Public Memory of Suffragists and Reproductive Rights

This morning, the blog Nursing Clio published a post on Public Memory and Reproductive Justice in the Trump Era.  The article describes how pro-life groups like Feminists for Life and the Susan B. Anthony List have appropriated the memory of early suffragists by claiming that Anthony and her fellow reformer Elizabeth Cady Stanton were pro-life heroines.  This story has been debunked by historians (for example, see this article from the National Susan B. Anthony House and Museum), yet it continues to thrive on pro-life blogs.

Pro-life activists are not the only ones to argue that suffragist leaders were against abortion and birth control.  In a classic article in the journal Feminist Studies, historian Linda Gordon argued that early suffragists opposed both abortion and artificial forms of birth control. Instead, they endorsed voluntary motherhood through periodic abstinence.[1]

I’m writing an article for a special issue on the Suffrage Centennial for the Journal of the History of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era  that aims to correct this narrative. I look at  the writings of Matilda Joselyn Gage, whose work has been minimized in suffrage history until recently.[2]  In 1878, Gage created a framework for birth control activism by stating “woman must first of all be held as having a right to herself.”[3]

The article will then examine women who were involved in both the suffrage and birth control movements, including Crystal Eastman, Katherine Houghton Hepburn, Mary Ware Dennett, and Margaret Sanger’s colleague Katherine Dexter McCormick. I hope to expand our understanding of the suffrage movement by showing how these women’s birth control activism informed their suffrage work and vice versa.

The article is scheduled for publication in 2020 — better get writing!

[1]Linda Gordon, “Voluntary Motherhood: The Beginnings of Feminist Birth Control Ideas in The United States,” Feminist Studies 1 (1973):5-22.

[2]Lisa Tetrault, The Myth of Seneca Falls: Memory and the Women’s Suffrage Movement, 1848-1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2014).

[3]Matilda Joselyn Gage, “Our Book Table,” The National Citizen and Ballot Box, November 1878, 2.



“We’re Here As Women”: General Hospital, #MeToo, and the Power of Soap Operas

“We’re Here As Women”: General Hospital, #MeToo, and the Power of Soap Operas
— Read on

I guess this is atonement for the hideous Luke and Laura, fall in love with and marry your rapist storyline.

Planned Parenthood’s history is in the archives and I’m going get it out

A few years ago, Jill Lepore wrote an article for the New Yorker in which she observed:

“Planned Parenthood has a long and tangled and controversial history. It stretches back nearly a century. Its history can’t be Googled. . . although there are several terrific histories of the birth-control movement and biographies of some of its leaders, the history of Planned Parenthood hasn’t been written yet: it’s in the archives.”

I’m due for a sabbatical next year so I’ve decided to spend my time in the archives [here and here for starters] and get this history out there.  [I sure hope Jill isn’t planning on doing this — or if she is, maybe she will be up for a collaborative project] The tentative plan is to write a cultural history of Planned Parenthood.  Please send thoughts, good wishes, suggestions my way.  Oh and if you do know of anyone else working on this please do let me know!

The Alienist: Book and Series

I’ve been pretty excited about the coming of TNT’s adaptation of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist since the announcement last summer. I read the book – and hated it – last year with my book club. That discussion was a fun one, because we love to hate a book. Our biggest qualm was that the author…

via Gilded Age Decadence and Decay: A Review of The Alienist — Nursing Clio

I’m going to disagree here:  I really enjoyed the book precisely because of all the name dropping. Carr does a great job of capturing the details of the era.   I’m liking the series so far, but find myself referring back to the book to get more context.