Nov 082019

by Caren Teague, Archives Intern

History in its entirety is the essence of all human connection. In my week-long journey as an intern here at Drexel’s Legacy Center Archives, I have explored a multitude of cased medical specimens, criticized a Barbie, and taken a stroll through 50 years of the life of Ruth Wilf, a practicing midwife. My time here has since embarked on a quest to evaluate my findings and explain the connections I have developed with each primary source I have come in contact with. This journey has allowed me to connect with others through history, and realize the deeper significance and impact of research. Let’s start with Barbie.

Dr. Barbies from 1987 and 1993

In July, a group of new employees came down to our department to take a tour of the archives. Directed by myself, Matt Herbison, and Sabrina Bocanegra, the group of young women was able to delve into the evolution of women representation in the medical field. They saw first-hand a senior thesis from Ann Preston at Woman’s Medical College of PA from 1851. We transcribed the memoir of Elizabeth Cisney Smith which explained the double standard and gender roles between her and her husband as physicians. We flipped through a sexualizing anatomy textbook that was banned from the shelves after its release in 1971, and we criticized Mattel Inc. and their sexist portrayal of “Doctor Barbie” in the 20th century. 

Ann Preston’s Medical school thesis, 1851

Throughout our time together, the members of our small group interconnected. We shared personal stories that one would never guess could relate, or have even happened, within our families. As we traveled through the archives we connected through experience, emotions, and opinions, and when we separated, we had formed a bond that would resonate with us forever. Now for Ruth.

Ruth Wilf, CNM, PhD, a birth educator and longtime midwife at Lifecycle WomanCare in Bryn Mawr (aka Bryn Mawr Birth Center), has recently become one of our donors of important archival material. At 88 years old, she has accumulated and provided to us a rich collection of books, training materials, photos, and all of the documentation that reflected her activities as a midwife. Before Ruth, I was not at all familiar with many of the technical or intimate details regarding childbirth. But just by skimming the titles of books, and finding small, but meaningful, notes to her I knew who she was. One thing that stuck with me was a photo album of births that she donated. Though a bit surprised at first, seeing such an intimate and beautiful moment in a photograph enlightened me, and exposed me to a world I had never been in before, I felt as though I knew her patients just as well as she did. Seen here are photos of one of many births captured by Ruth. Faces have been blurred for privacy reasons.

Ms. Wilf is addressed by many in such high regard. I reviewed notes sent to her expressing gratitude and thanking her for inspiration and dedication to her practice, women, and the African-American community. She has worked for different entities throughout her life, and she has dedicated decades to public service and compassion in her field. I have never physically met Ms. Wilf, however, after several hours of cataloging some of the hundreds of books that she donated to us here at the Legacy Center, I feel as though I have known her all her life. While I have never met the honorable Ms. Ruth Wilf, when I do, I know that I will recognize her. Through her history, I have developed a spiritual connection with her. Through my week-long journey, I have been inspired, enlightened, and connected. So thank you Drexel, and thank you, Dr. Wilf. And if you the reader, ever come in contact with her, tell her my name is Caren, and I am an admirer.

 Posted by on November 8, 2019

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