On the Evolution of Meeting Minutes: Formality and Degrees of Richness

 From the collections  Comments Off on On the Evolution of Meeting Minutes: Formality and Degrees of Richness
Jan 192017
 

-by guest blogger, intern Jessica Walker

Though to some meeting minutes may seem routine, and perhaps even mundane, that is precisely why they are so fascinating.  Minutes are found within most organized groups, allowing for a common format to compare across time, distance, and even topic.

The Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia was founded in 1868 as an educational organization for those who were interested in “the diseases and problems particular to women.”[1]  Of particular interest within this collection is the minutes of the Society, which contain a range of detailed descriptions of meetings as well as parliamentary procedure followed by the organization.  As all things do over time, the Society evolved, and the changes in the structure and leadership of meetings are reflected within the meeting minutes of the Society.

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Bound volumes of meeting minutes

Physically and intellectually, the meeting minutes and documents undergo a significant transition from the founding of the Society to present.  The early minutes, ranging from 1879 to 1923, were hand written in bound (unpublished) volumes.  They contain detailed dialogues, recording a paraphrase of who said what and on what topic.  Dialogues and discourses taking place during the meetings included topics such as a woman who gave birth to five children in one year around 1880 or a case where the umbilical cord was wrapped around the neck of an infant and the results of such.

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Minutes from a meeting dated December 1879

From the minutes, we can tell that each meeting dedicated significant time to case studies, autopsy specimens, and discussion, which reveal fascinating insights into the minds of medical professionals of the day.  It is because the minutes are so detailed that we are better able to interpret what a doctor may have meant when they used a particular phrase, or why a certain topic may have come up.  The observations provided by these minutes allow for valuable examination of changing medical thought, interests, and priorities up to the 1920s.

The minutes from the 1920s to 2009 thoroughly cover what happened during the meetings, but do not contain the depth of discussion as the early minute books.  Later meeting papers offer more formal, parliamentary procedure style minutes, as many meeting records seem to do.  Although these types of minutes are still extremely useful in tracking what organizations were talking about at any given point in time, the uniqueness of an organization seems to be lost when parliamentary style minutes take over.  Per usual, the meeting was opened with the reading of previous meeting minutes, which then flowed into the “scientific program” portion of the meeting, followed by “private business” (consisting of reports on membership and committees), and closed with new and/or unfinished business.

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122 years later, meeting minutes from May 2001

Of particular interest in this portion of the meeting minutes is the detailed topics covered during these scientific programs.  Speakers presented papers on topics such as laparoscopic surgery or pregnancy following the amputation of the cervix, as well as hosting events where several speakers discussed broader topics, such as sexual education.  As interesting as the topics are, often what we learn from the minutes is that they happened, but not what the response was.  Fortunately, the Obstetrical Society did record some of these scientific sessions, and some of the recordings are preserved at the Legacy Center Archives.

From founding to present, the meeting minutes of the Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia have had some aspect of parliamentary procedure woven into the meetings.  However, it is when procedure begins to take precedence over content that the individual voices of an organization can become muffled in the meeting minutes.  Though the minutes of the Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia vary in depth and detail over time, they allow for a comprehensive look into the functioning of a medical society.  Minutes describe what is going on in an organization at any given time in varying degrees of detail, and often reflect the changing nature, order, and leadership of an organization.  This particular society is an excellent example.

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[1] “Constitution and bylaws.” (1998) Box 1, Folder 5, The Obstetrical Society of Philadelphia records, 1868-2015, Drexel University College of Medicine Legacy Center Archives.

 Posted by on January 19, 2017

“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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Picture Perfect: Teaching Analysis Skills with Fundraising Photography

 Uncategorized  Comments Off on Picture Perfect: Teaching Analysis Skills with Fundraising Photography
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.