Friday, October 06, 2006

School year reminiscences

To answer a patron reference question, I had the great good fortune this morning to be required to read through alumna Dr. Esther Pohl Lovejoy's unpublished memoir "My Medical School (1890-1894): As I Remember," which is contained in one of our two Lovejoy collections (Archives 2001-004). Vivid, hilarious, revealing, almost certainly true--the 21-page essay is a fascinating peek into medical education, and life in Portland, in the closing years of the 19th century.

Choice tidbits that caught my attention:

"Homeopathy, the 'new' school of medicine, was popular in 1890 and I might have gone wrong if I had had the price. That school, I understood, attracted women not only because of its principles, but because they couldn't get into the old schools along the Atlantic Coast. This seemed strange, for on the Northwest Pacific Coast medicine had always been coeducational. The old Willamette School, a Methodist institution, had been open to women from the start in the sixties, and everybody knew that they were better doctors than men." [emphasis added]

"While I had no papers to prove my fitness for the study of medicine I had learned a good deal in the way of diagnosis and prognosis before I had ever heard those words, and I knew from the objective symptoms of the Dean that my case was not hopeless. What I didn't know was that the school was in desperate need of students and funds, and that sixty dollars [half the required tuition] looked as good to him as it did to me."

"Among the twenty students in the three classes attending the session of 1890-91 there were three of us women and we were certainly well treated. None of the boys threw eggs at us. Hen-medic was a term we never heard except in fun, to which the natural response was, man-midwife." [emphasis in original]

"Midwifery in our school was taught mostly on a leather manikin, a saving substitute for sentient flesh. All kinds of cases were demonstrated, and only a leather mother and child could have survived the instrumental deliveries of the athletes in our class."

Sometimes it seems like the Lovejoy Show around here: all Esther, all the time. But it's easy to see why this is the case--we had the staff time and resources to devote to what's called "item-level description" of the collection. That means the inventory lists every single thing contained in the boxes, and not just types of things or categories of material or folder headings. When you create an item-level list, people know exactly what's there and whether it would be useful to their research. And if you go ahead and put that on the web, then researchers around the world can email you and ask you to check one specific thing. If no one knows exactly what's in a collection, researchers won't find it, we won't know to recommend it to them, and so no one will use it. Simple cause and effect.

So, I plan to add some notes to the Hilda E. Drum Collection inventory (Archives 1999-013) to indicate to users that there are many, many photographs of Charles Dotter included in that collection. Young Charlie, older Charlie, always smiling. Plus, photographs of Hilda and Rosie the Elephant (she'd broken her foot--Rosie, not Hilda--and needed x-rays), and Hilda with the emperor penguins (they had aspergillosis, but before being diagnosed, treated, and released, they did get out and terrorize patients on one of the hospital wards. Hear the story from Joe Adams in his oral history interview). I didn't know these photos were there until someone asked to see the collection for a completely different reason. Learn something new everyday!

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