“We called them our boys”: Primary Sources on WWI Caregiving

 Education and outreach, From the collections  Comments Off on “We called them our boys”: Primary Sources on WWI Caregiving
Nov 292016
 

The upcoming centennial of America’s entry into World War I  – April 6, 2017 – is yet another reminder that the Legacy Center’s collections on women in medicine document the broader themes in American history as seen through the eyes of women.

Last fall I participated in a colloquium at the University of Edinburgh titled The Hidden History of Caregiving in World War I, which took place during what is known in the UK as “Remembrance Week” and includes the annual commemoration of the Armistice on November 11. I might have chosen to talk about some of the lesser known stories of the American Women’s Hospitals (AWH), an organization born in reaction to World War I, and whose large and significant collection is here at the Legacy Center. There is a great deal of mining to do in that collection, revealing more about the AWH’s efforts to serve the wartime refugee population “over there” and to serve equally with male physicians – and other stories.

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Nurse Diana Lewis, circa 1917.

But a single photo album from another source, acquired in recent years, was calling out to me. It holds a rich collection of photographs and a few items of ephemera. The album belonged to a nurse, Diana Lewis, who graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania’s Nurse’s Training School in 1912. She served with the American Expeditionary Forces as a Base Hospital nurse in France. Along with the uniform jacket worn by its owner, the album was displayed in a university-wide “Highlights of the Collections” exhibition. The pages were scanned to document its original state and for easy sharing. But I still had not explored it fully and hoped there might be stories waiting to be told there, so I took a closer look.

Scattered throughout the album are three photographs of temporary grave sites – and I wanted to know why these images had been taken and preserved there.

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One of the three gravesite photos in the Lewis album: Lt. Jefferson Healy was wounded at Chateau de Thierry and died three weeks later at Base Hospital 34.

Simultaneously, as I was poking around among the Center’s World War I material, I began thinking about the very few American women physicians who served as such in Europe. Fifty-six women physicians served in the American military, but were not permitted to serve as commissioned officers like their male counterparts. Instead, they were non-commissioned contract surgeons, and only eleven served at the front. Our collections are extremely thin on these women, but serendipitously, I stumbled upon an ebay auction that resulted in the acquisition of letters and some other materials by and to Dr. Elizabeth Hocker, one of the eleven, written during her tour of duty. There are only sixteen letters, but they cover a great deal – including death, dying, and what eventually became my project topic, supported by the photos in the Lewis album: emotional surrogacy for American soldiers in WWI.

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Hocker correspondence: The grateful letter at the top is from the mother of Pvt. Paul Farnum to Dr. Hocker, who had sent Mrs. Farnum flowers from his gravesite.

The album and the letters inspired my exploration of end-of-life care during the war. The requirements of so many and with so few to serve, coupled with the concerns of distant families, created a new level of emphasis on emotional and logistical support. With an ocean between “our boys” and home, medical personnel began unexpectedly playing a significant role as surrogate family members and communicators. This type of caregiving was expanded for Americans because of distance – and because of an important related factor: Americans’ beliefs and rituals surrounding death and the ways in which those ideas, centering on “the good death”, had been affected by the American Civil War about fifty years earlier. The socially and politically charged history of care for the dying and dead in that conflict had a significant impact on the work of American caregivers in the first world war.

It was not easy to stay focused as I perused the photo album and correspondence collection. The images and letters document a wide variety of subjects, some more fully than others, including transportation, base hospital facilities, care of the wounded, camaraderie, attitudes toward “the Hun” and “our boys”, danger levels, wartime medicine, trenches, military exercises, holidays, French soldiers and civilians, valor, family, influenza, women, African-American troops, and of course, my particular interest: death, dying and emotional surrogacy.

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Elizabeth Hocker, MD circa 1917.

I’ve developed a personal attachment to these materials, as archivists and historians do, and I’m eager to promote their use – especially now as opportunities arise to further examine the history of World War I and women’s roles in that conflict. As we commemorate the centennial of America’s entry into World War I, I think of Elizabeth Hocker’s words: “Our boys will have their praises sung for the next century.”

And we will, of course, remember what “our boys” did a hundred years ago. But it is also important to remember our caregivers, many of whom were women – those who worked ceaselessly to counterbalance acts of war and retain our humanity. The personal stories found in the Lewis and Hocker collections are waiting to be explored further and add to the body of knowledge on World War I – from the perspective of women in medicine.

 
 

If you would like to research any of these topics or items, please get in touch! archives@drexelmed.edu
 

Diana Lewis scrapbook, approximately 1917-1919

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Diana Lewis additional materials, approximately 1917

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Elizabeth Hocker papers, approximately 1917

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Tuberculosis Strikes the Class of 1944

 Education and outreach, From the collections, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Tuberculosis Strikes the Class of 1944
Feb 022015
 

by John Anderies, our marvelous volunteer

Members of the class of 1944 pose with Dr. Kuhlenbeck at Somerton Airport, Philadelphia. Drexel University College of Medicine, Legacy Center: Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine and Homeopathy.

Following their first demanding year at Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania, the women of the class of 1944 were rewarded with a trip to Somerton Airport in northeast Philadelphia. There, Professor of Anatomy Hartwig Kuhlenbeck, himself a licensed pilot, took the young women on flights in his Challenger biplane. A German immigrant who later served in the United States Army Medical Corps during WWII, Kuhlenbeck kept a detailed Tagbuch or Daybook for much of his life:

Donnerstag, Freitag und Sonnabend, den 29., 30., und 31. Mai fliege ich zu Somerton in meinem Challenger zahlreiche kurze Passagierfluge fur meine Studentinnen vom Woman’s Medical College. Ich habe zum Schluss dieses akademischen Jahres die Klasse des ersten Studienjahres – die “freshman class” – zu einem Fluge eingeladen und wir haben diese Klasse von 39 Studentinnen hierzu in drei Gruppen auf drei aufeinanderfolgende Tage verteilt – ich kann bei jedem Fluge je zwei Passagiere im vorderen Cockpit unterbringen. Auch meine Assistentinnen und die Laborantin sind bei dieser Veranstaltung einbegriffen.1

On Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, the 29th, 30th, and 31st of May, I’m flying many short passenger flights in my Challenger at Somerton for my students from the Woman’s Medical College. For the end of this academic year, I invited the first-year class (the “freshman class”) to take a flight, and we’ve divided this class of thirty-nine students into three groups on three successive days. I can accommodate two passengers in the front cockpit on each flight. My assistants and laboratory technician are also included in this event.

The class of 1944 was originally composed of 41 women. During this weekend of sailing through the skies, none would have expected the changes that were to come. According to an oral history interview conducted with one classmate, almost a third of the women had to drop out of medical school because they contracted tuberculosis. Most of these women did not make it back to finish their degrees. Sadly, at least two of the women died of the disease. Continue reading »


  1. Tagenbuchblaetter, 1938-1941. Hartwig Kuhlenbeck papers. Drexel University College of Medicine, Legacy Center: Archives and Special Collections on Women in Medicine and Homeopathy. 

“We give our vote for a lady physician here”:
Welcoming Doctor or Doctress

 Digital history, Education and outreach, Happenings  Comments Off on “We give our vote for a lady physician here”:
Welcoming Doctor or Doctress
Sep 232014
 

Our long-awaited (and worked upon) digital history project is finally what we can call “complete”!

Please welcome Doctor or Doctress: Exploring American history through the eyes of women physicians. Doctor or Doctress is not just a digital collections website or online exhibit; it is both, and something more.

Our original intention for Doctor or Doctress was “to enable students to become history detectives, conducting their own research in American history by exploring the stories of pioneering medical women.” We wanted to create a website that featured our collection material as ‘stories’; as a new way to discover, engage with, and interpret primary source documents. We wanted to create a site that would allow primary source material to reach and be interesting to high school students. High school students are generally underserved by resources like digital collections and online exhibits. Students don’t know to look for them, and if they find them, may not know how valuable and engaging they can be. Such sites don’t often market to high schools students; however, at least in the archives field, outreach to younger people is a hot discussion topic, and one that many repositories are acting upon.  But that’s another blog post.

Our ‘stories’ are created around primary source documents. These materials are put into a larger historical context, giving students a chance to place individual people in events during American history, and allowing them to connect with history in a more meaningful way.  The core documents of each story can be explored in several ways: a digital version of the original, through an excerpted typed transcript, or through an audio file (a huge hit with students!). Discussion questions help guide interpretation and give students a focus when interacting with historical documents.

Our development team customized the out-of-the-box Islandora software, allowing it to support this complex interpretive content and functionality that makes Doctor or Doctress stand out from standard collections management databases.  Islandora’s potential for an innovative collections management database and exhibit showcase had not been fully explored, so our work was new and, of course, quite challenging at times.  However, the end result meets our requirements, is attractive, and functions well, and because Islandora is open-source, others can learn from our project.

It’s hard to believe that the project formerly known as “the digital history toolkit” is now complete, and ready for Phase II development (which will include more content and possibly more interactive features).  From post-it notes to the web, it’s been a challenging, but satisfying, journey to Doctor or Doctress.