Invigorated and Exhausted from American Association for the History of Medicine meeting

I got back from the annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine meeting yesterday as as usual am bursting with ideas and buried in work.  So, this will be quickie overview with more reflection and analysis at a later date.

First, I’d like to report that my forthcoming book  (cover photo at left) is moving much closer to actually being out.  I received the page proofs about a week ago and am working on getting them back ASAP.  Unfortunately the editor decided not to have them available at the meeting because they aren’t corrected — but there’s always next year.  Hopefully they will be available at the Berkshire Conference of Women Historians next month.

Meanwhile, I got an opportunity to plug my book and establish myself as an authority on the “morning after pill” in an interview for a documentary by Caryn Hunt, President of the Philadelphia chapter of the National Organization for Women.  It was a lot of fun and I wasn’t as nervous as I expected.  Also, I got a new suggestion for a doppelganger. Thanks,  I agree!

My presentation on The Pill at 50: Scientific Commemoration and the Politics of American Memory went very well and I had a substantial audience (at least 30) despite it being on first thing on the last day of the conference.  The reaction was enthusiastic (especially from this leading authority on the history of the Pill) so I’m planning to expand this and submit it to the Bulletin of the History of Medicine.

Since I’m teaching in a public history graduate program, and living in Connecticut, my “commemorative mania” will continue with some kind of commemorative event celebrating the 50th anniversary of Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 (which follows soon after my own half-century mark).  Not sure what this will be but the folks at Yale and Planned Parenthood are keen so looks like it will happen.  I also told the editor at Rutgers that I’m interested in doing a narrative history (as opposed to a legal history that uses Griswold as a lead-up to Roe v. Wade rather than an event in it’s own right).  As it turns out, a very distinguished senior historian of medicine and public health was one of the witnesses who testified.  It seems that the New Haven police was willing to shut down the clinic so that birth control advocates in the state could use this as a test case, but they needed evidence that the clinic was dispensing birth control.  This historian was a graduate student at Yale and was one of Dr. Buxton’s patients.  She volunteered to get the evidence (a tube of contraceptive jelly) and then went straight to the police department to turn in the incriminating evidence and give a statement.  When she blurted out that contraception was “women’s right”, the Irish cop asked her, “don’t you mean a married woman’s right?” What a story!

I heard lots a great papers and connect with all my history of medicine buddies.  However, work awaits so I’ll have to continue these conference report later (most likely much later since research papers and finals will be landing on my desk shortly).

My blogging gets me on a conference program

Hey folks,

I turned my ramblings on the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill into a paper proposal for the 2011 annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine.  Yay!   The title of my paper is “The Pill at 50: Scientific Commemoration and the Politics of American Memory.”  I’ll write more later but just thought I’d share this exciting news!

Added later:  here’s the abstract:

This paper will use coverage of the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill as a case study of collective memory and commemorative practice in the history of science and medicine. As Pnina Abir-Am observes in her introduction to Commemorative Practices in the Sciences, a “commemorative mania” has swept the world in the past several decades and relationship between memory and historical writing has become “a major element of both scholarly and public discourse in the twenty-first century.” I will show that like the Clemence Royer centennial celebration described by Joy Harvey in the same volume, celebration of the Pill’s 50th anniversary was a “focal point for feminism, politics, and science” in the United States. For the scientists who developed and tested the first contraceptive pills, the anniversary of the Pill was a way to affirm their collective professional past as well as reassert their professional authority in the present. The celebrations also illustrated culture wars over reproductive rights and the meaning of controversial events in the history of science and medicine in the United States. Finally, I will show that feminist analysis of this historical event was not monolithic, but reflects the complicated history of women’s relationship to contraceptive technology and medical experimentation since the 1960s.

Learning Objectives:

  1. Explain the ways in which different political, scientific, and social groups commemorated the 50th anniversary of the contraceptive pill.
  2. Understand how memory studies can be used as an analytical tool in the history of medicine.
  3. Explore the difficulties historians face in interpreting a politically controversial subject for the public.

Belated Blogging Against Disablism

Please forgive this late post, but I just returned from the American Association for the History of Medicine meeting at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN.  Even though I had my brand new Netbook with me, I completely forgot about Blogging Against Disabilism Day which was Saturday, May 1.  While the AAHM meeting was fabulous, the conference organizers, or perhaps the conference hotel, or both, forgot about accessibility issues when setting up for the presentations.   The speaker podiums were mounted on platforms that were over two feet high, with no stairs.  It was hard for even a long-legged temporarily able-bodied gal like myself to climb up and down from the platform.  One presenter who has a physical disability had to make her own arrangements (music stand, hand-held microphone) so that she could present without injuring herself.

So, word to the local arrangement folks for the AAHM’s  future meetings — make sure that the set-up accommodates the needs of  persons with disabilities.

More on the History of the Pill

via –  This is an editorial by University of Minnesota Professor Elaine Tyler May, whose new book America and the Pill: A History of Promise, Peril, and Liberation (pictured at left) was just released.   I’m glad to see that May deflates the truism that the Pill caused the sexual revolution — as Kinsey observed, the sexual revolution was well underway before 1960.  Furthermore, as said in my previous post, the Pill wasn’t available to many women when first released.  Even married women in the state of Connecticut could not legally obtain the Pill until 1965 and it took another seven years for the “right to privacy” to be extended to unmarried women as well.

Since Knitting Clio never misses an opportunity to plug her own work, I’ll mention that the Pill is the subject of my paper at the upcoming annual meeting of the American Association for the History of Medicine .   The title is “Safer Than Aspirin: The Campaign for Over-the-Counter Oral Contraceptives.” A longer version of the paper will appear in The Prescription in Perspective: Therapeutic Authority in Late 20th Century America. Edited by Jeremy A. Greene and Elizabeth Siegel Watkins, under contract with Johns Hopkins University Press.

Here’s the abstract:

On January 21, 1993 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in the Federal Register that the agency’s Fertility and Maternal Health Drugs Advisory Committee would hold an open public hearing to discuss issues related to providing oral contraceptives without prescription. Philip A. Corfman, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, stated the agency’s reasoning for this hearing:”I think the pill is safer than aspirin and aspirin is available over the counter.”

One week after the posted Federal Register notice of the open hearing, FDA officials canceled the session. The reasons for this abrupt move, and subsequent failures to make oral contraceptives available over-the-counter, are the subject of this paper. I will use the discussion about nonprescription status for oral contraceptives as a case study in the history of the switch from prescription to over-the-counter drugs. This paper will highlight the conflicting positions of the various stakeholders invested in restricting or promoting consumers’ direct access to their medications.

Knitting Clio has been busy blogging elsewhere

This blog has been quiet lately since I maintain two other blogs.  One is the course blog for my graduate digital history seminar. The other is Women Historians of Medicine, where we are having a lively discussion about suggestions for an exhibit honoring the 50th anniversary of the Pill that Suzanne Junod at the FDA History Office is putting together.

Since I’m an expert on the history of college health, no discussion of the history of the Pill would be complete without mentioning that female students’ access to the Pill was recently weakened by changes in Medicaid pricing rules. Prior to 2005, pharmaceutical companies were able to provide Title X clinics and college health centers with birth control pills at a substantial discount.  In 2005, these rules changed, and in 2007 the price of birth control pills for women who came to these clinics skyrocketed, going from $10 to as much as $50 per package. The Feminist Majority Foundation Campus Program worked hard to change this, and in 2009 Congress reversed this and once again made low-cost birth control clinics available to student health centers and clinics for low-income women.  Yet some student health centers still don’t offer discounted pills.  So, to ensure access, please do the following:

  1. Go to your Student Health Center and make sure birth control and emergency contraception is offered and its given a discounted price.
  2. If you can’t access birth control on campus, start a petition, write op-eds in your student newspaper, present resolutions to student government and administration.
  3. Encourage the Health Center to be on your side.
  4. Plug into FMF’s Birth Control Access Campaign action kit to disseminate information on campus.

Blogging the AAHM Part I: Sigerist Circle

This is my first post on this past weekend’s AAHM meeting, and I’m starting with the pre-meeting of the Sigerist Circle.  The topic of this year was the PBS documentary, “Forgotten Ellis Island.” This is a very engaging documentary and I intend to use it when I teach my history of medicine/public health course in the fall.

There were some shortcomings, though.  As panelists Alexandra Stern and Emily Abel pointed out, the film doesn’t discuss the millions of immigrants who arrived through the West coast.  Also, I think that while the documentary is right to stress that hospital personnel were trying to help those who were treated there, it ends up underplaying the racism and cultural elitism that underlay the whole project.

That ’70s Flu, or Knitting Clio’s Memories of the Ford Administration

As one might expect, the hot topic of conversation at this weekend’s meeting of the AAHM was the current swine flu epidemic.  As I watched CNN and read newspaper reports, my mind went back not to the 1918-19 epidemic, but the Ford administration.  At that time, President Ford was ridiculed for  mobilizing a nationwide effort to immunize everyone in the United States against the disease. In a humor article entitled “Swine Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” (May 31, 1976), the New Yorker reported in it’s coverage of the Academy Awards, the Swine Flu virus, ” a relatively unknown virus since 1918,”  swept the awards ceremony.  Will this epidemic also prove to be a case of Ford Administration deja vu?

AAHM continued

I’m slowly getting caught up on all the stuff (i.e. student papers) that accumulated while I was at the conference, so now have a bit of time to write about the AAHM meeting. Today’s entry is on the women historian’s breakfast. We started off with a presenation by John Erlen on the European Union Library/Archives at the Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh. This looks like a pretty neat, albeit immense source. There appears to be loads of materials on health related topics. The only question is — how to get at what you want? There appears to be no collection guide (or really much information on the library website). The contact person is Dr. Phil Wilkin,

Monica Green suggested setting up a mentoring network, similar to those organized by other professional organizations to which she belongs.

We then did our usual round of introductions, celebrations of accomplishments, consoling for trials and tribulations. I wasn’t able to write them all down fast enough, so readers, please send them to this blog! My main accomplishment is of course the book, which you can order at a discount from the publisher:

I couldn’t attach the flyer, so here’s the discount info:

SPECIAL ONLINE DISCOUNT – sign up at before 6/15/08 for your copy at 20% off list price. Enter code prescott08flyer