Impermanence

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Aug 082017
 

Guest blogger, intern Adeline Skovronek

From the quiet back room archives to the bustling floor of the Public Library there are stacks of books and papers, recording people real, imagined, and those floating somewhere in between. Everyone wants to be remembered, to have his name carved somewhere into eternity. You always think it’s just a lucky few – presidents, actors, authors. Their stories might seem forever, but what is really captured in such a public recounting of their lives? Digging through boxes retrieved from forgotten corners, I get to see the documents of people whose lives have otherwise been handed over to time, dumped in crates and marked as ordinary, average citizens. With the passing of the next century, their names will be erased, a new roster of appellations penciled in over clumsy eraser marks.

My interest in books and old papers of any origin was well established in grammar school, and by now soars high above the clouds. My first serious venture into the world of Libraries and Archives began in high school, where I volunteered in my school library. I worked almost every day shelving books, manning the circulation desk, or doing inventory. I debated with the biographies, danced with the poetry, and dreamed with the fiction. Then one day I left the main floor of the Library and moved into a small, dimly lit back room full of flat files and ceiling high shelves. There I first discovered the stacks of unopened yearbooks, the crumbling files of meeting minutes, and the undeveloped plans of a 100-year-old institution. It was a whole other world, lacking famous names like Fitzgerald, Marilyn, Kennedy. Instead the space was filled with personal details of individuals and struggling organizations. I was no longer an onlooker, holding the four-thousandth copy of a popular publication. I suddenly had in my hands the only existing version of a map from the 1700’s, a poem written on receipt paper, or the student papers of an Austrian girl stamped with the seal of the Third Reich.

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What caught my attention while flipping through a box of rediscovered student records was the bright red seal, complete with raised lettering and toothed edges. The classic image of the eagle, wheat in one talon and arrows in the other, sat encircled by the words American Consulate General Vienna, Germany. My eyes moved instinctively to the two purple and blue seals farther up the page, and I immediately recognized the Nazi eagle gripping its swastika. I spent nearly an hour looking through this young woman’s file, entranced with the paper trial of her life. Granted, the file prompted more questions than answers about her departure from Nazi occupied Austria and subsequent medical career, but I was able to learn a great deal through the administrative and legal documents in the archive’s collection.

One of Dorothee’s documents with the US consulate seal reading ‘Vienna, Germany’

Dorothee Gold was born in 1916 in Stuttgart Germany to an American mother and German father. From 1934 until 1938 she attended the University of Vienna, where she took classes in preparation of a medical career. From her original school transcripts and their English translations, we can see her class lists, final grades, and even the speakers whose lectures she frequented. Lending more detailed information is also a small booklet, in which all of Dorothee’s classes were recorded.

Examination Certificate for General Biology from the University of Vienna – written in German

Examination Certificate for General Biology from the University of Vienna – translated into English

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As Austria transitioned from unofficial to official Nazi governance, Dorothee applied to the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania. Because of the overlapping time period – the day that officially marks the beginning of Nazi occupation in Vienna is March 12th, 1938 – her papers received official stamps before Germany took control, immediately after, and almost a year later. The result is that a wide range of stamps and seals can be found within her files, adding a dimension of intrigue and historical importance.

With her arrival in the United States, Dorothee Americanized her name – revising the spelling to Dorothea. Taking into consideration her eight semesters of medical school in Austria, WMCP admitted her into its second year class, and three years later she graduated in the summer of 1941 with the degree of Doctor of Medicine, under the name Doris Phillips.

 

 

 

 

Dorothee’s notebook from the University of Vienna. It includes lists of her classes and lectures, as well as records of the individual teachers and speakers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Across the top of each page is listed details, including the months, year, and which semester of schooling she is currently attending.

 

 

 

 

 

The Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania frequently sent out alumnae surveys, asking its former students to supply the institution with information on their career and family – if applicable. In Doris’s file are two such documents, from which most of the information regarding her professional career was gathered. According to these papers, Doris completed her residency in child psychiatry at the Cleveland City Hospital in Ohio. After her residency she held various positions, all related to the field of child psychiatry, in several hospitals and schools across the country.

 

 

 

Dorothea’s parents changed their last name from Gold to Phillips, and she did likewise – also changing her first name. This is the notice that was published in the local newspaper as part of the legal process of a name change.

 

 

 

In 1952 she married Dr. David Riddell Wheeler and changed her name one final time to Doris Phillips Wheeler. Practicing under her maiden name, she opened her own practice in Chicago, initially on a part-time basis. Over the next three years she gave birth to two children, while maintaining her practice and taking no considerable time off from work. For Doris the year of 1958 brought much change, seeing both the death of her husband and her graduation from the Institute of Psychoanalysis, Chicago. Over the following decade she raised her two children, while consulting for various institutions, including the Michael Reese hospital, Evanston Family Agency, the Jewish Children’s Bureau, the Jewish Family and Community Service, Chicago State Hospital, and the Illinois Department of Mental Health.

Doris died on October 28th, 1968, leaving behind her two adolescent children.

~

Working in an archive, I am frequently left to marvel at the amount of information individuals and institutions leave behind. I often find myself wondering what purpose they serve in the larger machinations of the universe. Sometimes I feel like such detailed records of what usually appear irrelevant materials simply bog us down, but other times I am inspired by the personal glimpses into past events that such chronicles preserve.

For now, I remember such details, as they are, of the life of Doris Phillips Wheeler. Eventually, I will forget. And who’s to say how long it will be until another party opens that box, that file, and takes the time to scrutinize each document. And how many other boxes are there, stuffed and bursting round the edges, containing the minutes of somebody’s life? I like to think that I held in my hands a unique story, unparalleled in its existence. But really, how many countless young women have fled their countries, surrounded by tensions of war, to look elsewhere for brighter horizons? It is the stuff of history.

Picture Perfect: Teaching Analysis Skills with Fundraising Photography

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Jul 272016
 

by Elliott Earle, Educator Content Developer for Doctor or Doctress

Photo of bandaged woman in bed covered in masking marks and cropping instructions

A patient in the American Women’s Hospitals’ Women’s Ward in Istanbul, Turkey.

Primary source analysis is a mine of educational value for social studies teachers.  Working directly with materials from the past allows students to confront the complexities of history head-on and take ownership of their learning. But in this teaching treasure trove, one of the most valuable gems is often overlooked: photography.  In many classrooms, primary source analysis tends to revolve around text-heavy documents.  But with the right tools, pictures can engage many of the students that text sources could potentially push away, while working the same critical thinking muscles.

It’s tempting to let those muscles take a break when looking at an old photograph.  The information found in frame seems more reliable and true than a written account of that same scene.[1]  But just like any other primary source, an image always has an “author” and is rarely ever completely objective.  “Sourcing heuristics”—that toolbox of questions historians and students use to interrogate a source’s context, author, and purpose—are as important as ever when using historical photographs with students.

Established during WWI to provide medical care to the devastated parts of Europe, the American Women’s Hospitals was one organization that left behind a great deal of photographic documentation of both their foreign and domestic work.  Of the three collections on Doctor or Doctress that focus on the work of the AWH, two of them lean heavily on images to tell the story. Like any other non-textual source brought into the classroom, these stories will give some variety to any primary source analysis muscle workout routine.  But what the American Women’s Hospitals in particular can offer is a great opportunity to discuss the reliability of images and the importance of the person behind the camera to what is captured in it.

Bandaged patient appearing in an AWH brochure page

The bandaged patient from above has been masked and cropped to fit on this fundraising brochure page.

The pictures taken by the AWH depicting the refugee crisis in Greece and Turkey following the fire of Smyrna or the conditions of the rural poor in Depression-era Appalachia are important accounts of those situations, but like any written account, they must be analyzed with a critical eye.  Why was this image taken?  What were the photographer’s goals?  For the American Women’s Hospitals, the answer was frequently, if not almost always, fundraising.  Photography was critical to the AWH fundraising efforts stateside.  Dr. Esther P. Lovejoy, president of the AWH, complained in a letter to one of the organization’s doctors that “THIS NATION HAS BECOME ILLITERATE IN THE ORDINARY SENSE.  THEY WILL NOT READ: THEY MUST SEE THINGS IN PICTURE FORM.”[2]  Doctors in the field were often directed to capture scenes (either candid or posed) on camera that would likely prove fruitful in their next brochure.  Dr. Lovejoy sent frequent letters scolding Dr. Etta Gray for not sending back useful photos of AWH work where Dr. Gray was stationed in Serbia.  “It is just as hard for me to raise money on this side… without pictures of the sick,” Dr. Lovejoy wrote, “as it would be for you to run your hospital without money.”[3]

The AWH needed pictures and stories that would tug at the heartstrings of America.  In an exasperated complaint to Dr. Gray at the lack of useful material being sent to headquarters, Dr. Lovejoy explicitly stated the kinds of pictures they should be taking:

All I am able to get is some picture of a woman in uniform doing nothing in which nobody is interested, and what I want is pictures of long lines of wretched looking people and children standing in their dispensaries.  We want pictures of people sick in bed.  We want pictures of people who have been restored to health with a complete story under the picture regarding these people… We want pictures of people who were blind, at the time when they were blind and then pictures of those same people after their sight has been restored by the work done by the medical women of the American Women’s Hospitals.[4]

These were the principles that guided members of the AWH in their efforts to document the organization’s work.  And the influence of the creator’s motivations to what is shown in an image often extends beyond the actual act of taking the picture.  Many students today have a keen eye for spotting traces of photo editing software in the pictures they see in their daily lives, but it might surprise them to learn that this practice was also in use in the early 20th century.  Whether it was to accentuate certain aspects of the scene or to help fit all of the pictures on a brochure page, the AWH photographs were subjected to editing once they were developed.  The evidence of this editing is still visible: signage and AWH logos drawn over in pen for emphasis, cut-outs, and crop marks can be seen throughout the original copies in the records.

Is photo editing an inherently dishonest practice?  How did the pressure from headquarters impact the scenes that were captured in the field?  What might have been left out?  Does the ultimate mission of the AWH impact how we judge them for these practices?  These are just a few of the complicated questions to be wrestled with in light of this evidence.  It forces the viewer to recognize the layers of intent and bias between themselves and the scene captured in that image, a vital skill to have for a classroom of budding historians.

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[1] Susan Sontag encapsulated the idea in her essay “On Photography” when she wrote that unlike written documents, “[p]hotographed images do not seem to be statements about the world so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can make or acquire.”

[2] Dr. Esther P. Lovejoy to Dr. Etta Gray, 19 February 1921, Records of the American Women’s Hospitals, Box 15, Folder 129.

[3] Lovejoy to Gray, 16 March 1921, Records of the AWH, Box 15, Folder 129.

[4] Lovejoy to Gray, 11 January 1921, Records of the AWH, Box 15, Folder 129.

Hidden Collections 2015

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Apr 132016
 

-by guest blogger, intern Daniel DelViscio

In 2015 I participated as an intern for the HCI-PSAR program hosted by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania’s Hidden Collections Initiative for Pennsylvania Small Archival Repositories (HCI-PSAR). I had processed a few collections before this for HSP, but as I think most archivists would agree each collection is its own animal, which is why we follow guidelines and not strict rules that allow for flexibility when processing. The two collections I worked on for this project were great examples of how collections can be totally different and in response you have to tailor your process in making sense of them for researchers. The Isabel Smith Stein collection on Elizabeth Cisney Smith was a collection of personal papers while the Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown was a collection on a local chapter of a global philanthropic organization.

Elizabeth Cisney Smith in class

The first of these collections I worked on was at the Drexel College of Medicine Legacy Center: Archives and Special Collections. The Elizabeth Cisney Smith collection was one compiled by Dr. Smith’s children and detailed her life as a female doctor in the early 1900s. As you may imagine this collection was rich in content and I often found myself struggling with trying to adhere to MPLP (More Product Less Process) standards and not delve headfirst into each folder for the entire time I was working on it. The collection came in four well-maintained boxes and was already arranged into a semblance of order by Isabel Smith Stein, Dr. Smith’s daughter. The contents served as an account both biographically and autobiographically, of Dr. Smith’s life, and there was a definite narrative to the collection before I ever started working on it. Having this narrative colored my processing of the collection and I wanted researchers to be aware of the reason why the records were arranged that way while still being very usable.

Kiwanis Club charter night

The second collection was the Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown, a collection housed at the Old York Road Historical Society. The Kiwanis Club is a global organization started in 1915 with volunteer labor and community improvement in mind. This collection contained materials for the Jenkintown chapter, which was chartered in 1949. The kinds of records that came with the collection were completely different than the Elizabeth Cisney Smith collection. In it I found an assortment of administrative records, financial records, and even a few plaques and loose photographs. The collection came to me with sparse labeling as to their contents aside from the folders housing the documents. In situations like these the processor needs to discern an order from the collection. This differed from The Elizabeth Cisney Smith collection in that right off the bat there was an attempt by Dr. Smith’s children, primarily Isabel Stein Smith, to arrange the collection in a certain order. This was not the case for the Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown collection. When the collection came to me it was an assortment of records in no particular order, but as I delved into each box I found that an order naturally presented itself in the types of records I was finding. This discovery dictated how I was to order the collection, a task which was difficult, but ultimately very satisfying when I was able to step back and look at the complete set of boxes arranged nicely with their appropriate labels.

Kiwanis Club of Jenkintown unprocessed

In all I found the process of making sense of both the collections to be a wonderfully rewarding experience. Seeing the progression of loose materials in various formats find their way into an order that someone else can use is pretty gratifying. It strikes a similar chord if you’ve ever built something from Legos by looking at a picture of what you’re building.