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Saturday, April 19, 2014

Researching Carolyn B Shelton, Oregon's Acting Governor in 1909: "a woman can conduct the affairs of a Governor's office as well as a man can."

A number of sources (Portland State's Center for Women, Politics and Policy's page of Oregon women's "firsts" and most thoroughly Finn J.D. John on his "Offbeat Oregon" site) credit Oregon with having the first female governor in the nation in 1909, three years before women in the state achieved the right to vote.

Carolyn B. Shelton served as "acting governor" for one weekend in her capacity as secretary to outgoing Governor George Chamberlain. Chamberlain had been elected to the US Senate from Oregon, and needed to travel to Washington, D.C., the weekend of Friday, February 26 to be sworn in on time on Monday, March 1. Because Oregon has no lieutenant governor traditional practice was for the governor's private secretary to act as "acting governor" when the governor was absent. But this 1909 situation created notice because it was the first time that the secretary was a woman. And as Finn J.D. John points out, Shelton went to Washington, D.C. to serve as secretary to Chamberlain as senator, and then married him in 1926.

I decided to try to trace more of this history and to see how the press represented Shelton as a woman, a worker, and a temporary office holder and what happened in her life thereafter. Thanks to the fabulous Oregon Digital Newspaper program and other great sources, I'll be sharing the very interesting results across the next several posts.

"Mrs Shelton Will Act as Governor," Oregonian, February 12, 1909, 1.
The first coverage came on February 12, 1909 in the Oregonian. As you can see, this Republican paper reported favorably on this Democratic governor's actions and on Shelton herself. The Oregonian reported that Shelton, the senator's stenographer, would become private secretary "when the present private secretary becomes Circuit Judge in Multnomah Court." Noting the practice of having the private secretary "conduct the work of the office in the Governor's name," the report confirmed that "the precedent will be followed even though a woman holds the position of private secretary." Shelton, the paper noted, had been stenographer for Chamberlain for many years "and is very competent in a position of that kind. The Governor will have no hesitancy is leaving her in charge of the office during his trip to the National Capital."

The next day the Oregonian featured a picture and an interview with Shelton and with Governor Chamberlain.

Oregonian, February 13, 1909, 7.

"Knows Her Duties," Oregonian, February 13, 1909, 7.

Shelton announced that her policy would be "to treat everyone with the same courtesy that has been accorded visitors to the executive office in the past" and promised to "perform all the duties that usually fall to the Governor" and that she did not "intend to issue any pardons." She used the interview to affirm that this was an opportunity to demonstrate gender equality. "I shall try to show that a woman can conduct the affairs of a Governor's office as well as a man can."

Chamberlain noted that he had worked with Shelton for some time, first when she served as stenographer for his law firm Chamberlain & Thomas beginning in 1895 and then as she transferred to the governor's office as stenographer in 1902. Chamberlain praised her abilities and the range of her skills. "In the law office she was as useful as a young lawyer would have been in preparing papers and looking after office business," he noted. "Since coming to Salem she has not only performed a large part of the stenographic work, but has ably assisted the private secretary in his work." And she was shrewd and diplomatic. "She has been not only a faithful woman in her work, but has been tactful in her intercourse with persons who have business in the executive office."

More on the unfolding story in the next post.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Mae Cardwell in Japan

Mae Harrington Whitney Cardwell (1853-1929) was a leading woman physician, public health activist, and suffrage supporter in Oregon. The Medical Sentinel, published in Portland by Henry Waldo Coe, featured her "Random Observations in Japan" in the June 1920 issue, a report of her recent visit to hospitals and health care facilities in that nation. (Mae H. Cardwell, "Random Observations in Japan," Medical Sentinel 28, no. 6 [June 1920]: 265-268).

A sanitation expert and advocate in the U.S., Cardwell praised hygienic practices in the hospitals she visited and used the opportunity to challenge colleagues back home. "I have often thought, if it were in my power, I would cause all hospitals in the United States to adopt the Japanese style of removing the shoes when entering hospitals or home. One can hardly realize," she wrote, " without witnessing the result, what a difference in the amount of dust and dirk inside. At the entrance of every hospital an attendant either assists the visitor in putting on a clean slipper, or putting a clean cloth cover over the shoe of the visitor. I believe such a custom would aid in lowering mortality rates in the United States."

Saturday, September 28, 2013

History of Medicine Lecture at OHSU Friday, October 18 at noon in the Old Auditorium

I'm delighted to have the opportunity to share some of the research in my next book project at the OHSU History of Medicine Lecture:

"Venereal Girls”, The Cedars Detention Home, and the Portland Free Dispensary: Gender, Public Health, and Civil Liberties in the First World War and its Aftermath

Public lecture: 12:15pm
Refreshments served at noon
Location: OHSU Old Library Auditorium


Sunday, June 9, 2013

Guest Blog by Danielle Budlong

Part Two of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, “Death,” is arguably the most historically significant and fascinating section of the book [Rebecca Skloot, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (New York, Random House Inc., 2011): 89-176.]. It begins with the end of her life, but the beginning of her immortality. Serendipitously, Dr. Lawrence Wharton Jr., Henrietta's surgeon at Johns Hopkins where she was treated for cervical cancer in 1951, had collected a tissue sample from her tumor [Skloot, 31,33]. Dr. George Gey's assistant in the tissue culture lab soon discovered that Henrietta's cancer cells did not die like every other human sample thus far, but reproduced prolifically [Skloot, 40-41]. This would begin the journey of her cells of an epic proportion, a journey that would raise serious ethical questions, conjure metaphysical fears, and bring about more scientific discoveries than anyone could have imagined.
    In the absence of the regulation and oversight that the medical research community has today, the doctors that obtained Henrietta's cells, HeLa, had virtually free rein. They were bought, sold, given away, injected into patients, often without their consent. African Americans, Jews, and prisoners were used as test subjects, more often than not without their consent or with minimal notification of the dangers involved in the particular study [Skloot, 128-130,167,]. Researchers fused mouse cells with HeLa cells, not for nefarious reasons, but panicking the public, to whom the media fed images of half-human, half-animals  [Skloot, 142-143].
    However, research flourished, while Henrietta's family did not. Microbiological Associates used HeLa to start the first large-scale cell distribution center, spurring a multibillion-dollar industry [Skloot, 100-101]. Meanwhile, Henrietta's children had to be distributed to family members, where they were abused and in poverty. The grown Lacks children have intermittent insurance, major health problems, and still live in poverty [Skloot, 163]. However, through all of this activity around HeLa, researchers accomplished great things. They realized the need to standardization in cell culture to efficient and repeatable research. The cells were used in the research that resulted in the polio vaccine [Skloot, 96-99]. The cells were instrumental to the process of gene mapping and have contributed to the development of chemotherapy drugs [Skloot 139,142].
    Henrietta's family was not aware that any of this was going on. Due to tradition, superstition, and lack of information, they related to the world in metaphysical ways. They used fears of the supernatural to help explain the events that they did not understand. This was partly due to the fact that the medical community that was working with HeLa cells did not bother to learn about the women from whom the cells came, let alone consider the family. When Henrietta's children were little, they had to stay away from Johns Hopkins for fear that “Hopkins might get us,” and this fear was probably in part based in reality [Skloot, 165-167]. Henrietta's cousin tells the story of Henrietta's funeral service, when, as they were covering her coffin with dirt, a violent storm broke out and killed a family member [Skloot, 92]. The family did not understand what happened to Henrietta, so there must have been something supernatural at work. Skloot experienced this firsthand when she visited Henrietta's cousin “Cootie.” He explained that since Henrietta died, but her cells lived, the sickness must have been the result of either voodoo or the work of the doctors. He described seeing an enormous, headless, tailless hog, dragging huge chains, getting ready to charge at him one night, but luckily the apparition was scared by a car and ran off into the family cemetery [Skloot, 81-82].
    The underlying question Skloot seems to be asking is, after all of the scientific breakthroughs that came from the studies of HeLa, was it worth it the ethical transgressions? The medical community would likely answer in the affirmative, but may have a more difficult time answering the question, does her family deserve a part of it? They took Henrietta's cells without consent, and even though that may have been common practice at the time, she still deserves to be recognized and honored. Providing her heirs lifetime full medical coverage seems a small price to pay for what they reaped from the use of her body....But who should pay?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Guest Post by Sarah Murphy


Medical Advancement versus Cultural Beliefs

The LIFE of Henrietta Lacks
            To be moved, conflicted and evermore curious you only need to start reading Rebecca Skloot’s The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks [Rebecca Skloot, “Life,” The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010)]. The first part of her book, entitled “Life,” makes you question the development of the modern medical field, and draws you into the story of a woman’s life that has greatly been overlooked in the history of medicine. Henrietta’s cancer cells would be found to never die, unlike most human cells; Henrietta Lacks’ cells would become known as HeLa. Skloot intricately ties together a complicated timeline that involves the medical developments leading up to the “discovery” of the HeLa cells, what is known of Henrietta Lacks’s life up until her death in 1951, the beginning of Skloot’s journey to discover the story of Henrietta and her family and trying to put the reader into the culture of the mid-20th century that included racism, sexism and elitism that is difficult for us to comprehend.
            Part One develops as Skloot travels back and forth between her personal journey to discover more about Henrietta Lacks and the series of developments in cell cultures and cancer-fighting technology. She starts with Henrietta’s first exam where she was diagnosed with cancer. Outlining the foreign nature of hospitals to those who grew up outside of the medical culture, like Henrietta, and especially the difficulty of receiving medical care as a poor African American in Baltimore, Maryland. Skloot talks about Henrietta’s life from her childhood up until her diagnosis. To balance the story, Skloot includes a couple of chapters of medical developments and discusses the complex views of the medical field by the public, particularly surrounding cell cultures. The last aspect of Part One revolves around Skloot’s personal journey to get in contact with Henrietta’s family, and her tumultuous start to uncover a family’s history of loss, distrust and manipulation.
            While the story unweaving before the reader brings a whole mix of emotions, one of the main aspects of Skloot’s Part One is the conflict between general population, specifically the rural poor, and the development of the medical field. There was a complete disconnect between the developing medical field and public understanding and acceptance of modern medicine. Henrietta was just one of the many that came to a hospital, but not understanding fully her diagnosis or the treatment implications. While it was common practice for doctors to explain that radiation treatments would most likely make her infertile, Henrietta did not understand until it was too late that the treatment would make it so she could not have another child (Skloot, 46-7). A gap in language and understanding was the likely culprit of this tragic misunderstanding, but the fact the Henrietta also did not grasp the seriousness of her condition, and that it was likely a choice between fertility and life, and she said if she had known she would not have gone through the radiation treatments (Skloot, 47).
            With such a disconnect in understanding and priorities it is not surprising that many people did not want to have biopsies taken to be used for experimentation, but without this practice medical advancement would likely not have occurred at the rate it has. Even though Henrietta’s husband was asked if doctors could take samples of Henrietta’s cells after her death, his lack of full understanding of the implications did not prevent them from taking those samples, and continue using the samples previously taken without Henrietta’s knowledge. While we would like to say that the doctors were purely in the wrong, without Henrietta’s “immortal cells” many of the medical advances that they lead to would not have happened, or at least would have not had happened as early as they did.
            There is an ethical issue that people still struggle with today regarding the line between patient permission and medical advancement. Had Henrietta been more educated and had an explanation about the impacts her cells could have on the world, would she have agreed? Do doctors have the right to disregard cultural beliefs in the name of saving lives? Skloot has only begun to dive into these issues in Part One, but her open-minded pursuit of the truth allows for a controversial issue to be addressed from all sides simultaneously. The level of respect Skloot brings to the varying interpretations and lives involved in the “discovery” of the HeLa cells allows for a productive conversation around a part of history that is often brushed aside and forgotten, but is very much relevant.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Guest Post by Annie Potter


Controversial and Chaotic Contraceptives

The pill was one of the most controversial issues raised in the 20th century. During this period of time there was a real concern of overpopulation worldwide and the dwindling amount of resources. “ Thus fear of self-annihilation through the depletion of natural resources meshed easily with Cold War concerns about the spread of communism and nuclear extinction”[Andrea Tone, Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. New York: Hill and Wang, 2001, 200-292].

Feminists feared that the big drug corporations were using women as guinea-pigs to further the development of the birth control pill. To women in the 20th century it was freedom, freedom to control one’s body. Filled with fear and suspicion the African-American population considered the pill a form of racial genocide. “Throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s nationalists reiterated the long standing fear that birth control would lead to race suicide by subduing the size and strength of the black population. African-Americans could not afford attrition at the time when blacks had finally gained, through the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the promise of universal suffrage. Large black families were the community’s insurance against racial experimentation, its best promise for political and social gain” [Tone, 254-255].

Margaret Sanger and Katharine McCormick took interest in the pursuit of the birth control pill. A pill that would place women in control of their bodies. In Margaret Sanger’s point of view the pill would liberate women from the control and reliability of men to prevent pregnancies. “ The pill accomplished what the diaphragm had not. It created widespread doctor and patient acceptance of medical birth control” [Tone,201]. With the determination of Sanger and the financial backing of McCormick the development of pill would occur through the work of two scientists (Dr. Pincus and Dr.Rock). Although Sanger was a supporter of the pill McCormick kept a close watch on Pincus and the development of the pill. The first large-scale clinical trial for birth control was held in Puerto Rico where Pincus believed was far away from the probing American media. The result of the trial proved mediocre at best and several horrible side effects occurred. “ Then too, there were the medical side effects: nausea, dizziness, headaches, stomach pain, and vomiting” [Tone, 223]. Pincus thought the side effects were minimal enough that the pill still could be marketed within the United States. In 1957, the oral contraceptive Enovid was released to the general public. Most American women overlooked the side effects because the benefit of non-pregnancy was extremely effective. This opportunity provided women with choices concerning family matters and career aspirations.

Although the birth control pill was a promising contraceptive IUDs would become America’s most used contraceptive. “ In this political climate, the development of intrauterine devices seemed a godsend. Cheaper than the pill, virtually impossible for a women to remove, and requiring only a single ‘ motivated’ act--the decision to have one inserted--the IUD seemed too good to be true” [Tone, 263]. The most notable and infamous IUD is the Dalkon Shield created by Hugh Davis. Later Irwin Lerner modified the Dalkon Shield and filed a patent as the sole inventor. The Dalkon Shield was released in 1968 and over two million women used it. The Dalkon Shield was cited as the most effective and safe IUD in the market. Later the Dalkon Shield would prove to be anything by reliable or safe. The “Dalkon Shield caused over 200,000 infections, miscarriages, hysterectomies, and other gynecological complications and led to an untold number of birth defects , caused by contact between the device and the developing fetus” [Tone, 279]. Unfortunately, the FDA had limited power to regulate the medical device industry. Only after the fact of ineffectiveness and danger could the FDA remove the product.“ In 1984, the company’s legal team was rattled by the actions of Judge Miles Lord, a federal judge in Minnesota who had been assigned to hear twenty-three Dalkon Shield cases...The judge’s consolidation order denied the company the opportunity to defend itself by examining and attacking each plaintiff’s sexual history” [Tone, 281]. Dalkon Shield lost the lawsuit and thus resulted in the recall of the product in 1984.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Guest Post by Allison Barker


Sanger’s Dilemma
Most folks have at least heard of Margaret Sanger, the 20th century feminist and proponent of birth control access.  Focusing on her work from the 1920s onward, Sanger faced a not-so-unique dilemma.  A not-so-unique dilemma faced by many past and present progressive movements:  the separation of an issue (in this case, women’s access to birth control) from the oppressed group struggling to achieve their goals.  We’ve seen this in the woman suffrage movement (moving the focus from woman suffrage to arguments of state pride and the benefits for male voters) as well as the modern LGBTQ rights movement (moving the focus from the voices within the LGBTQ community to awarding non-LGBTQ people for their behaviors/achievements).
One particular dilemma faced is outlined in various sections of Andrea Tone’s book, Devices & Desires.  Sanger, infamous for her then-illegal birth control clinic in New York established in 1916, envisioned a populist approach to contraception “where women from all walks of life could use contraceptives without reliance on doctors” [Tone, Andrea. Devices & Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. (New York: Hill and Wang, 2002), 118].  Sanger soon distanced herself from this approach, as well as distancing her birth control advocacy from women’s rights.  Instead of advocating for birth control as a woman’s right to contraception, Sanger chose to focus on birth control from a medical standpoint.
During the 1920s Sanger was committed to inexpensive/free birth control for women (without the need for a doctor).  Period.  It was a radical idea for the time, one that not even the National Woman’s Party (formed by Alice Paul) would support.  Sanger quickly learned two things: the extent of sexual reform was extremely limited in the early 20th century, and the political and social influence of medical science was greatly increasing.  “Narrowing her agenda, she sought birth control allies through an ideology that trumpeted women’s health over their civil liberties and cast doctors, not patients, as agents of contraceptive choice” [Tone, 125].  Sanger also began to oppose over-the-counter contraceptives “whose use bypassed physician expertise” [Tone, 125-126].
Herein lays the dilemma. Sanger’s focus on contraceptives as purely a medical issue accomplished two things: it created distance from the woman’s movement (which was costing Sanger many male allies) and began to bring doctors and physicians (who were dominantly male) into Sanger’s corner.   Do to Sanger’s efforts (and ironically the Comstock Laws, which permitted prescriptions by physicians), birth control could now be watched over by experienced medical professionals further legitimizing contraceptives, but at the cost of putting health above patients’ rights. 
Sanger became stuck in an interesting pickle on the topic of women’s rights.  On one side she opposed the use of condoms “because they forced women to depend on men for fertility control,” [Tone. 126] but due to her result-motivated approach to the medicalization of birth control, “doctors’ power [increased] over women’s bodies” [Tone, 138].
Unfortunately for Margaret Sanger, her ideals regarding accessible and safe birth control for women became a by-product of her time.  The early 20th century was not a friendly time regarding both the morality of women’s rights and of contraceptives.  The era was ripe with ideas similar to those of Anthony Comstock in regards to equating birth control to promiscuity and murder (in the case of abortion).  Sanger needed to ally herself with doctors and big businesses (suppliers of contraceptives) and put medical science before patients’ rights in order to make any progress during a very restrictive era.  It is important to note that while Sanger advocated for medical involvement in contraception, she understood that working-class peoples (the demographic she primarily focused on in her clinics) would have restricted access to medical professionals.  Tone ends the chapter stating that “to her [Sanger’s] credit, she never gave up her goal of quality birth control for all” [Tone, 149]. But due to the volatile nature of morality (such as the morality that drove Anthony Comstock’s obscenity crusade) on the topic of women’s issues in the early 20th century, it is impressive what Sanger managed to accomplish.