Subject: 26-D-4’s Box 92 Discoveries

 From the collections, Interns  Comments Off on Subject: 26-D-4’s Box 92 Discoveries
Oct 242019

-guest post from summer intern Whimsy Mark-Ockerbloom

Identifying objects in the Archives can be a struggle. I see it as solving a mystery, piecing together a puzzle, and falling down a rabbit hole of medical devices, professionals, and treatments. In the time I’ve worked on this project, I’ve opened old tomes, unclasped bags of suspicious pills, unexpectedly come upon lots of sharp objects, been excited, disappointed, and most often, been really glad I wear gloves. There’s nothing like the excitement of opening a box identified as a ‘bone saw’, then the letdown of holding a rib spreader, then the uncomfortable realization that at some point this was holding someone’s chest cavity open. Again, I’m often reminded what a good thing it is that I wear gloves.

When I first opened the box labeled “Hottenstein M.D.”, my target was an object listed only as “Unidentified Medical Instrument”. I idly noted the listing for “2 wooden boxes with medical instruments” that was equally as vague. One part of identifying a specific object is figuring out which object you’re supposed to be identifying, and sorting the nasal speculums from the obstetric forceps from the ‘unidentified medical instrument with screw on one end’. So I sort out the items that are already identified by noting the contents of boxes and consulting Google for the more complicated medical words. I separate the vague wooden boxes from the rest, one of which contains a small operating kit and the other, more of a drawer, containing parts of a balance scale. The strange hole on the top of the drawer catches my interest.

Image of two boxes though to contain medical instruments.

Two wooden boxes thought to contain medical instruments.


Medical instrument??

With all the other objects sorted out, I find the “Unidentified Medical Instrument”. From a cursory glance, I have no idea what this thing is. It’s a cylindrical metal object, with a strangely shaped tip. A lever at the bottom raises and lowers the stick supporting said tip, and I cannot for the life of me figure out what medical purpose this thing could serve. Unable to think of any keywords for a google search, (weird cylinder medical thing doesn’t provide any useful results for some reason), I flip through my book of surgical instruments in the hopes of stumbling upon something of similar appearance. Nothing matches up. Is this thing even a medical instrument?

Frustrated, I turn my attention to the wooden boxes, adding their clarifying information to their original inventory. It’s then that the strange hole pulls my attention again. On a whim, I pick up the ‘unidentified medical instrument’ and position it in the hole. It’s a perfect fit. The non-circular shape of the hole allows for the lever to be adjusted, in turn adjusting the height of the instrument. Finally putting two and two together, I empty the drawer again, and begin constructing what is now, clearly, a balance scale.

But what does a balance scale have to do with medicine? In an extremely professional fashion, I started playing with the weights in the drawer, measuring them against each other. Searching for more things to weigh, I opened the small box of “Aluminum Weights” and found what looked like small, foreign coins in varying sizes, labeled “drachms”. Chasing down this new, draconian-sounding lead brought me into the history and practices of the apothecaries.

Picture of drachms and grains, related to text.The ‘Drachma’ originated in Greece as both a currency and a unit of measurement. The value of money was represented by the value of the coin itself, so the weight of the silver that made up the coin corresponded to how much the coin was worth. Over time, the drachma persisted as a unit of measurement in apothecaries, although its name changed, sometimes the classic ‘drachma’, sometimes simply ‘dram’, and in british apothecaries, the “drachm”. The drachm remained a part of british apothecary measurements until 1858, when the British Pharmacopoeia ordered usage of the weight discontinued. Drachms, as a standardized form of measurement, appeared commonly in physician’s recipes. Similarly to how today, one may see recommendations of a teaspoon of salt or a cup of flour, a physician may have read a recommendation of opium, one drachm by weight. I certainly hope no one mixed their recipes and ended up putting opium in their poundcakes. 

Medical recipe using drachm symbol.

Recipe book of Dr. J. G. Schoch, using the symbol ʒ (or ℨ) for fluid drachm.

Page of a notebook showing a recipe using symbol for drachm.

Pharmacy (formula) notebook from Theodore Geiger collection, with recipe illustrating the use of the symbol ʒ (or ℨ) for fluid drachm. Likely dated around 1880.

It’s not every day that I get to find two supposedly unrelated objects and fit them together, completing a puzzle that I didn’t know existed. It’s not every day I get to go down a medical rabbit hole, learning about ancient forms of measurement and reading recipes for concoctions no physician today would attempt to touch. But sometimes, the archives reveal one of their mysteries.



General Medical Council (Great Britain), British pharmacopoeia, 1864.

David Hottenstein collection, Drexel College of Medicine Legacy Center.

 Posted by on October 24, 2019

We Are Not Coexisting but Existing Together: 100 Years of Medical Women’s International Association

 From the collections  Comments Off on We Are Not Coexisting but Existing Together: 100 Years of Medical Women’s International Association
Oct 092019

– by Kyah Hawkins, Archives Assistant  

Before MWIA

This year marks the centennial anniversary of the Medical Women’s International Association (MWIA). The organization was started for women doctors all over the world to have the opportunity to discuss medical issues that affected them and their international counterparts and hopefully find a medical solution to right the problems. MWIA was the first organization that united medical women internationally. In fact, at the time there only existed two national women physician societies, American Medical Women’s Association and Medical Women’s Federation, Great Britain. Both were still in their early stages as well, 1915 and 1917, respectively.

After the Great War ended and everyone tried to return to their normal lives, it was brought to the attention of women physicians that their countries had problems that could be solved by uniting forces and trading ideas. The International Conference of Women Physicians was held in New York City by the Social Morality Committee of the War Council that was under the Young Women’s Christian Association (YMCA). The American Woman’s Medical Association (AMWA) saw this as a perfect opportunity to host a dinner honoring all the women who worked in France in the War Zone, at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in the city to celebrate accomplishments during the war. So, on October 21, 1919, Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy acted as toastmistress to women of sixteen different nationalities, while Dr. Martha Welpton wrote notes that would be the official start of MWIA

As the many women physicians talked and listened to each other throughout the night about the various topics that ailed their countries and the idea that there should be constant communication to bring this unique community together, blossomed. As the doctors gave their speeches about the state of health in their nations, Dr. Kristin Munch of Norway was the first to express the need for an international organization of women doctors to begin work for the better of mankind

Actions Not Words: Building MWIA

By the end of the night it was decided that Dr. Lovejoy was to be temporary chairman and Dr. Welpton acting secretary. Lovejoy originally chose a committee of international doctors to hold the power of creating the constitution and appointing the Executive committee. But as the women met again on October 24th, many of the foreign doctors objected to the appointment of such an important committee by a temporary chairperson.  Therefore, the women held a secret ballot to appoint the new Committee of Twelve. The new ballot added one more member than Lovejoy did and only changed two people. One could wonder why this was maybe the doctors did not agree or like one of the people chosen to be on the committee or they truly wanted the organization to be democratic. By holding a vote, everyone’s opinion was heard. 

On October 25, 1919, for the first time the Medical Women’s International Association met to construct a constitution for the first ever international medical association and appoint the officers, executive board and country representatives. Welpton is credited as the one who chose of the name, Medical Women’s International AssociationLovejoy was named president, Christine Murrel, England, first vice president L. Thuillier-LandryFrance, second vice president, Munch, third vice president, Marie Feyler, Switzerland, recording secretary,  Welpton, corresponding secretary and Ellen Potter, USA, treasurer.  

The Constitution 

The preamble to their newly formed constitution (that later will be revised at the 1922 Geneva Congress) read: “best conserve the high ideals actuating women physicians in their efforts to help raise the standard of life in different parts of the world…”. The idea of women physicians coming together to solve these issues was so significant because no other international medical organization existed that pertained to the unique view of women physicians. The organization allowed the women to strengthen their right to practice medicine because they discussed issues that they cared about such as the health problems with prostitution, the white slave trade (human trafficking) and home hygiene.  

The women meeting in 1919 wanted MWIA to be for every women physician no matter how long they had been practicing medicine. MWIA’s purpose was to keep a strong bond between women doctors across the world and hopefully develop lasting friendships in their professional and personal lives. In Article III of MWIA’s constitution, it is written that there will be no talk of political, religious or countervails topics that effect the inter-relationships of two or more countries.” They wanted a truly international organization that did not ostracize medical women during anytime. Everyone was welcomed and encouraged to join. MWIA made it clear that they are not bound by any government and the only laws that should affect the inner workings of the organization was those placed in their constitution. This is important when conflicts that started World War II arose, especially from Germany and Italy. In fact, the governments of each country dissolved their national societies of women physicians but MWIA still allowed for individual members to join. 

MWIA survived for 100 years because of the strong dedication of women doctors who saw problems everywhere that they wanted to solve. Instead of just sitting back and relaxing after many of these women healed those affected by a terrible war, MWIA members sprang into action. The women believed that, “More and more are we coming to a realization that no people and no nation can stand alone. We cannot afford to occupy an isolated position…” The only way anything could change was to leave nationalism behind, stopping wars and to realize that we are not coexisting but existing together.  

Members of the Medical Women’s International Association attending the 1922 Geneva Conference, the first after the inception of the association. 80 medical women from 12 different countries were in attendance at the meeting.

 Posted by on October 9, 2019