Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Early controversy

Controversy over fertility treatments and their by-products is a feature of contemporary society; certainly, the OHSU Fertility Clinic has been much in the local news of late. Medical topics in reproductive health and sexuality are often touchy subjects, and few treatments are as emotionally and culturally charged as sex change operations. One of the earliest recorded instances of a sex change operation in America was actually performed here at the University of Oregon Medical School.

Alberta Lucille Hart, UOMS graduate of the class of 1917, was reared as a girl but always considered himself a male. The year s/he graduated, Hart persuaded Dr. J. Allen Gilbert, then Assistant Professor of Medicine, to recommend a total hysterectomy. Gilbert was leery of such a radical surgery, and Hart supplied the reasons to convince him: relief of painful menstruation and the argument from eugenics (a person with "abnormal inversion" should be sterilized). Gilbert finally agreed; the surgery was performed; and Alan Lucille Hart is listed as an alum in the 1951 Alumni Directory.

Gilbert later wrote up the case study and published it in the Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease (52:4; Oct.1920). He only referred to Hart as "H"; it was up to later researchers to uncover the patient's true identity. You can read the original article by paging the issue from Storage (click on the Request button in the catalog record and select v.52, 1920).

This story, and the rest of the early history of transsexualism in America, can be found in Joanne Meyerowitz's book How Sex Changed (available in the Main Library).

More information on Gilbert and Hart might be available in our collections here at HC&A, but no one has yet asked us to look...

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