Archives for category: feminism
Bassett Medical Bag

Doctor’s Bag, 1890-1910, leather, glass bottles, corks, metal, H: 5 x W: 8.75 x D: 2.125 in. Fenimore Art Museum, Cooperstown, New York, Gift of The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital, N0008.2002.

Measuring 5 inches high, 8 ¾ inches wide, and 2 inches thick (only slightly bigger than a women’s wallet) this unassuming leather satchel saved lives. Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett owned this medical bag, currently housed in the Doctor’s Office at The Farmers’ Museum [1]. Working in central New York from the 1890s until her death in 1922, this medical bag gave Dr. Bassett the freedom of a career, the freedom of medical choice, and the freedom of movement.

Dr. Bassett’s medical bag illustrates her independence within the male-dominated medical field. In 1887, Dr. Mary Imogene Bassett graduated from the Woman’s Medical College of Pennsylvania [2]. Six years later, she partnered with her father to work at the family’s general practice in Cooperstown. When her father died in 1905, Dr. Bassett took the initiative and continued the practice alone – she saw a need in her rural surroundings and she filled it, despite the barriers she came across. Between 1890 and 1920, the national average percentage of Women Physicians only grew from 4.4% to 5.0% [3]. At a time when the few female doctors were limited to treating women patients, Dr. Bassett chose to work independently in a rural area where she could serve anyone.

Dr. Bassett’s medical bag could carry up to 36 different vials. With the majority of the bottles measuring around 2 inches tall, there was a limited amount of space. However, the numerous vials let Dr. Bassett to bring a variety of medicines to her patients, giving her the choices and resources needed to attend to a range of diseases.

The medical bag’s compact size also allowed Dr. Bassett to transport the necessary medicine to her patients in central New York. She could make house calls and bring the medical attention to her remote patients, despite the rural setting. Dr. Bassett’s medical bag characterizes her independence because she was free from the physical and institutional constraints of a hospital; it let her go where she was needed.

The legacy of Mary Imogene Bassett and her dedication endures today. Founded in 1922, The Mary Imogene Bassett Hospital picked up where Dr. Bassett left off, and continues caring for patients across rural central New York to this day.

 

Post Written by Elizabeth Kapp

[1] Doctor’s Bag, Fenimore Art Museum Collections, S Museum, N0008.2002, Documentation.

[2] “History,” Bassett Healthcare Network, accessed March 24, 2018. https://www.bassett.org/information/about-us/history/

[3] Mary Roth Walsh, “Doctors Wanted: No Women Need Apply:” Sexual Barriers in the Medical Profession, 1835–1975 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977) 185.

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Above: Front of 1910 Suffragette Madonna, 1910, paper stock, H: 14 x W: 9 cm, Cooperstown Graduate Program, Cooperstown, New York, Teaching Collection, T2015.045f. Photograph by Christian Stegall.

This irreverent postcard is best understood as part of a wave of postcard popularity. This powerful piece of propaganda discouraged women’s suffrage by using mockery and saying that women voting would result in men losing their masculinity.

It is not surprising that this postcard is creased, considering that it is from 1910. But it is likely that it was already somewhat damaged at the time it was first sent. The anti-suffrage image is effective as propaganda precisely because it is a postcard, a semi-public object that is handled by multiple people.

Today, we use postcards as souvenirs. Twenty-first century people generally buy them only when they are traveling. In the first quarter of the twentieth century, though, people sent and collected every imaginable kind of postcard. While some wealthier people had extensive collections, this visual medium was also cheap and accessible to the working class [1]. The “golden age” of postcards was from the year of the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893, up until 1918 as World War I came to an end [2]. A fine example is this this self-referential postcard (held at Newberry Library) that depicts a woman looking at her postcard collection.

The “Suffragette Madonna” postcard arose during that wave of popularity. It mocked the struggle for women’s voting rights in the early 1900s by showing a man in the style of the ideal female: the Virgin Mary. In the early twentieth century, many considered it inappropriate for women to act in the public ways, including voting. At the same time, as this postcard shows, it was silly and emasculating for a man to be associated with childcare. The caption on the postcard says “Crop of 1910.” The postcard designer was saying that the man in the image was just one of a much larger “crop” of feminine men who thought women should be able to vote.

A New York postcard maker called the Dunston Weiler Lithograph Company made a series of 12 postcards that included a nearly identical Suffragette Madonna postcard, as well as other ones:

Above: Suffragette Series No. 1: Suffragette Madonna, and No. 2: Suffragette Copette, 1909, Dunston-Weiler Lithograph Company, New York, paper stock, H: 14 x W: 9 cm, University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa, Catherine H. Palczewski Postcard Archive.

 

The series by Dunston Weiler included mocking images of a feminine Uncle Sam and a police officer (“Suffrage Coppette”) [3]. And so, even to someone who didn’t understand or appreciate the subtle religious jab at Catholic symbolism, the Suffragette Madonna postcard successfully functioned simply as a humorous image. To many, the postcard of a man performing domestic duties was just as ludicrous as a police officer wielding a rolling pin.

As scholar of communication studies Catherine Palczewski writes, the imagery on this postcard visually expressed an idea that wasn’t in the verbal arguments around women’s suffrage during the early twentieth century [4]. The fact that this postcard exists in 2017 – unlike ephemeral spoken conversation – ensures that we don’t forget this controversial debate.

[1] John Fraser, “Propaganda on the Picture Postcard,” Oxford Art Journal, Vol. 3, no. 2. (October 1980), 39.
[2] Catherine H. Palczewski, “The Male Madonna and the Feminine Uncle Sam: Visual Argument, Icons, and Ideographs in 1909 Anti-Woman Suffrage Postcards,” Quarterly Journal of Speech Vol. 91, no. 4 (November 2005), 365, whole article 365-394].
[3] Palczewski, 370.
[4] Palczewski, 387.

 

Rosa Gallagher