Tag Archives: Medical History

Nellie Bly: Blackwell’s Island And Beyond


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Nellie Bly as a Herald in the 1913 Washington, DC Suffrage Parade

Nellie Bly gained her reputation as a reporter when she exposed poor conditions at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Bly reported on issues of importance to women, producing  an important interview with Susan B. Anthony and covering major events in the suffrage campaign.

A free lecture, Nellie Bly: From Blackwell’s Island to Well Beyond, has been set for Thursday, June 14th at 6:30 pm at the New York Public Library Branch on Roosevelt Island, 525 Main Street. Continue reading

Willard Suitcases Update: A Roosevelt Island Lecture


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Suitcase of Robert Y, courtesy John CrispinA lecture by John Crispin on the famed Willard Psychiatric Center suitcases has been set for Thursday, May 10th at 6:30 pm at the New York Public Library Branch on Roosevelt Island, led .

When Willard Psychiatric Center closed in New York’s Finger Lakes in 1995, an employee discovered a large collection of suitcases in storage in an attic. Many of these pieces of luggage contained the personal belongings of former patients. Continue reading

Ward’s Island Fire And New York’s Charitable Hospitals


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“The Homeopathic Hospital on Ward’s Island,” 1875Readers will recall that one of the most important periods of reform in New York history was spurred by the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March, 1911: in the wake of this horror, protective labor legislation was passed at a frenzied pace, informed by the State Factory Investigating Commission and shepherded through the legislature by Assemblyman Alfred E. Smith and Senator Robert F. Wagner.

It is a tragic, even shameful irony that the Empire State’s major initiative for improving one aspect of its health care infrastructure was to be inspired by another, less well known conflagration. On February 18, 1923, only seven weeks after Al Smith was inaugurated for his second tenure as governor, a fire at a hospital for the mentally ill on Ward’s Island in New York killed twenty-four patients and three state employees. Continue reading

Newburgh: The Lazell-Cathcart Moment


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Lazell, Ladies Home Journal, 1917Sometimes, I think there would be less interest in fiction, if we only knew more local history. Perhaps I have just been spoiled by the stories that keep bubbling up — as if emanating from the floorboards — in one 1868 house in Newburgh, New York.

Prior owners called it The Fullerton Mansion, although it’s somewhat undersized for a mansion and the original owner, the once-famous trial lawyer Judge Fullerton, is long forgotten. (The same goes for his composer son; see “Lost Newburgh Composer Willie Fullerton”, New York History Blog, June 20, 2017.)

Even less known are the Cathcarts, who owned the house from the first decade of the 20th Century until the depths of the Great Depression. Continue reading

Suffrage Series Tackles Reproductive Autonomy, Medical History


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Woman Right, wrongs, privileges 1869To mark the centennial of suffrages in New York State the New York Academy of Medicine Library in partnership with the Museum of the City of New York is presenting a free, three-part talk series that examines key battles over women’s ability to control their bodies, health choices, and fertility. The series is supported by a grant from Humanities New York.

“Who Controls Women’s Health?: A Century of Struggle” will examine the struggles over women’s reproductive rights and health as one facet in larger fights for social reform by and for women. The series provides a humanistic lens on the Academy’s historical and current work around the social determinants of health, disparities in health access and provision, and prevention. Continue reading

New York Academy of Medicine Library Launches Digital Collections


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William P.C. Barton's Vegetable Materia MedicaThe New York Academy of Medicine Library announced the launch of its new digital collections and exhibits website, hosted on the open-source framework Islandora and accessible at http://digitalcollections.nyam.org/.

The new site makes it easy for the public to access and explore highlights of the Library’s historical collections in the history of medicine and public health. Continue reading

Sprucelets: An Original Adirondack Medicine


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Cold and flu season once again has sufferers scrambling for any kind of relief from all sorts of medicines. A little over a century ago, right here on Northern New York store shelves, next to cough drops by national companies like Smith Brothers and Luden’s, was a local product made in Malone.

Sprucelets were created mainly from a raw material harvested in the Adirondacks: spruce gum. Like hops, blueberries, and maple syrup, the seasonal gathering and sale of spruce gum boosted the incomes of thousands of North Country folks seeking to make a dollar any way they could. Much of what they picked was sold to national gum companies, but some was used locally by entrepreneurs who established small factories and created many jobs.

Among these was the Symonds & Allison Company of Malone, founded there in 1897 by Charles Symonds and Aaron Allison when the latter purchased half-interest in Symonds Brothers, a convenience-store operation offering food, coffee, candy, and tobacco products. Continue reading

Playing the Hand You’re Dealt: Billy Richards, ‘the Armless Wonder’


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While researching a pair of books on North Country iron mining, I unexpectedly became privy to tragedies that many families faced. Mining accidents were frequent and involved excessive violence, often resulting in death. Victims were sometimes pancaked — literally — by rock falls, and their remains were recovered with scraping tools. Others were blown to pieces by dynamite explosions, usually as the result of, in mining parlance, “hitting a missed hole.”

The “missed hole” nomenclature refers to unexploded dynamite charges accidentally detonated later by another miner when his drill made contact with the material or caused a spark. The resulting blast was often fatal, but not always. Those who survived were usually blinded, burned badly, or maimed in some fashion.

In 1878, in Crown Point’s iron mines at Hammondville, near Lake Champlain, a young laborer, Billy Richards, was tasked with holding a star drill (basically a hand-held chisel with a star point) against the ore face while his partner — his step-father, Richard George — struck it with a sledge hammer. Through this commonly used teamwork method, a cadence developed whereby the star drill was struck and the holder then turned it slightly before it was struck again. Continue reading

Grave Robbing And The Doctors Riot of 1788


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new york hospitalThe origins of this civil disturbance began in early February of 1788 and broke out in mid April of that year. Actually the City’s doctors did not riot as the name implies. However, it had its origins in the illegal procurement of corpses of free blacks and slaves and poor whites by doctors and medical students at an unaccredited surgical training school in lower Manhattan led by Richard Bailey, a Connecticut-born doctor who had studied in London.

Apparently it was expensive and almost impossible for the school to provide corpses for its teaching purposes and the professors and students resorted to stealing them from nearby Trinity Church yard and other local cemeteries including the one for people of color then known the “Negro Burying Ground” Continue reading