Wednesday, May 22, 2013
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
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” [ Sanger soon distanced herself from this approach, as well as distancing her birth control advocacy from women’s rights. 118]. 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” [, 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,” [but due to her result-motivated approach to the medicalization of birth control, “doctors’ power [increased] over women’s bodies” 126] [ 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” [ 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. 149].
Monday, May 13, 2013
The Creation and Use of Birth Control in Different Socioeconomic Classes
Socioeconomic status has always played a part in who could create or obtain birth control. When the Comstock act was first passed in 1873, major companies had to stay out of the illegal distribution of birth control as to not harm their reputation [Andrea Tone, “Devices & Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America” (New York: Hill and Wang, 2001): 1-87.]. That being said, not all of them did. Samuel Colgate was president of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice (NYSSV), and heir to a soap company [Tone, 28]. Even though he was fighting against obscenities, he put out a pamphlet about how Vaseline was a good contraceptive [Tone, 28]. He wanted to oppose obscenities but profit from them at the same time. Colgate was part of the elite class and was never charged for distribution of lewd materials. This exemplifies the biased enforcement of the Comstock Act. More often than not it was the smaller business owners that got arrested.
It makes sense that bigger businesses would get more leeway when it came to the distribution of birth control. They had money and money is power. They were able to disguise their intentions in seemingly harmless ads. One example of an ad was for “Sanitary Sponges for Ladies” [Tone, 38]. They were sold under the pretense that women needed to keep their vaginas sanitary. When they were full of antiseptics they would get rid of germs [Tone, 38]. However, it was obvious that the real purpose was to kill sperm and prevent pregnancy. The bigger businesses were able to get away with advertising contraceptives because of their already respectable names.
Margaret Sanger believed that the elite class had more access to better birth control than the working class [Tone, 79]. She saw women in the tenements that seemed to be in desperate need of birth control. She saw women waiting to get an abortion because they couldn’t afford preventive birth control [Tone, 79]. She thought that the upper class has more knowledge of birth control than the working class. The ignorance of the working class led them to rely on gossip about birth control. They also didn’t have as much money to pay for the products [Tone, 80]. However, many scholars believe that Sanger exaggerated a lot. Her conclusions didn’t always match up with what she described [Tone, 80]. If a woman was able to pay five dollars for an abortion, why couldn’t she have just bought a twenty-five cent condom to begin with [Tone, 80]?
Logically, the availability of birth control to both classes makes sense. The upper class had more money to pay for it and more resources to find it. The lower class had more need for it and shared with each other different methods and places to get it. It seems likely that the lower class had a greater need for contraceptives. They had large families that needed to be fed on a lower salary. Spending a few cents on contraceptives could save them a lot in the future. They would have less stress and will be able to take care of their other kids better.
The use of contraceptives in different classes is significant because of its implications on the health of women. Some of the methods were very unsafe and could cause a lot of harm. Condoms were reused multiple times, which could have led to infection and the spread of disease. IUDs could be made my anybody, and were often made of metal, glass, or wood [Tone, 61]. In the lower classes, they did not have money to afford a doctor and women could die from using certain forms of birth control. The upper class had doctors and possibly more knowledge of safe forms of birth control. Socioeconomic factors played a big role in the distribution, conviction, and use of different people.
Thursday, May 9, 2013
Nursing Professionalization: Good, Bad, or Just Ugly?
Professionalizing nursing would “standardize and raise” [Susan M. Reverby, Ordered to Care: the Dilemma of American Nursing, 1850-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987,121-207] the educational requirements as well as creating a greater amount of power and professional recognition for those nurses who would also be part of a smaller pool of nurses thus increasing job availability. However, there were many consequences for these advancements . Many women who had become nurses, particularly working nurses, would find themselves excluded [Reverby, 121]. This professionalization, which came with demands for higher wages and greater respect in the work force, also created a dilemma of how to maintain their status as ladies while still pushing for these changes. Such professionalization also threatened the men of the hospitals who worked as doctors, surgeons, and administrators because they feared that such professionalization would create competition for them and would decrease their relatively cheap work force of student nurses [Reverby 121].
A graduate nurse’s place in the medical community was already unique and isolated before these pushes were made. Professionalization seemed only to further alienate her from the largely male members of the medical community as well as working nurses whose goals and desires in regards to their nursing careers were vastly different from that of the upper class graduate nurses who were organizing and directing these professionalization attempts. This can be seen particularly in the educational standards that were put forth by the upper class graduate nurses. They pushed for requirements of high school diplomas and tighter restrictions on the issuing of licenses. Yet they ignored reform issues such as wages and forbade unionization because these actions seemed unprofessional and shallow in contrast with the ideals that the upper class graduates valued.
Because smaller schools often did not meet these educational standards, graduates of those schools often found themselves fighting the professionalization of nursing because they feared “to have their status and standing lowered” [Reverby, 127] when the standards held strong legal backing. Along with opposition from the small school graduates, there was opposition from many of the state-nursing board members in regards to the requirement of a high school diploma to be a registered nurse. This is not altogether shocking when one considers that many of those members “were not themselves high school graduates” [Reverby, 127]. In an ironic twist, as the nursing community was trying to create an educational line to who was and was not a professional nurse, they were fighting against physicians who didn’t want nursing to be professionalized for the simple reason that they believed that “nurses are helpers and agents of physicians; not co-workers or colleagues” [Reverby, 131].
The essential split in these two groups of nurses seeking reform was that, “those eager for registration and higher standards focused on entry requirements and nursing education, whereas nurses already in the field were occupied with the conditions they faced at work” [Reverby, 134]. So rather than a united community of nurses taking on the medical community and gaining better pay, increased avenues of employment, and greater respect in the workforce, these two factions spent a great deal of time fighting against each other instead. Furthermore, the working nurses felt alienated from the upper class nurses because “they refused to accept the judgment that only those with pure noneconomic motives could be true nurse” [Reverby, 131]. This was one of the largest points of contention between the often upper class nurses from large schools that held the positions of leadership within the nursing organizations. These working nurses actually needed the funds from their work to support themselves and often a family. Therein lies the difference, their motivations and backgrounds were so very different that seeing eye to eye became nearly impossible.
Monday, May 6, 2013
Character As Skill: The Ideology of Discipline
A person who wants to study in order to be a nurse, teacher, or other field needs to go to school and be organized. Florence Nightingale was a woman who influenced the model for the training of American nurses in the nineteenth century. As Susan Reverby notes, Nightingale believed that character was the skill… “critical to the ‘reformation’ in both nursing and hospital care.” [Susan M. Reverby, “Ordered To Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing, 1850-1945 ,(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), 41.] This was very interesting because in order for a woman to be a nurse, skill was not that necessary; instead, character was important and that was the skill a woman needed to have. Another strategy for women to enter in the field of nurse was “discipline” because they were carefully trained for homes and hospitals. One of the biggest reasons why Nightingale started a model and disciplined nurses was the fact that she faced disasters in the military and civilian health care. She fought for the training of “proper” nurses. Nightingale did not wanted to see this again and because of her ideas and contribution to a better change in the world of health she wanted to see character as a skill.
“The ‘Nightingale model’ thus emphasized character training and strict discipline, a distinct field of work for nurses separate from physicians, and a female hierarchy with deference and loyalty to physician authority.” [Reverby, 43.] If a woman truly wanted to be a nurse, she would need to be serious in this field and not mix in feelings or problems while getting trained. Nightingale was very serious in training nurses and perfecting them because nurses were needed in homes or hospitals. She really wanted women who truly wanted to be nurses and were passionate about it.
Also, behavior was very important while taking classes in order to be a nurse. Behavior was expected from every student because as in any family or institution, behavior is widely from the expected norms. Since behavior was important, they also needed to have spirit in order to become a nurse. They needed to be passionate about being a nurse so the students could graduate and get recommendations letter from physicians or nurses. At the same time, lessons were very crucial and strict by physicians and nurses. This was to teach students a lesson and once they graduated, they would change the way they were before. An example of this is when a teacher told her graduating students, “You have become self- controlled, unselfish, gentle, compassionate, brave and capable- in fact, you have risen from the period of irresponsible girlhood to that of womanhood.” [Reverby, 58.] Students would become well educated, even though teachers were really hard with them.
Many physicians and nurses followed the Nightingale model that taught the students the proper ways, manners, and character to have as a nurse while working in homes or hospitals. Character was expected from students because that was a skill a person needed to have. Even though rules were very strict in medical schools, students were graduated with different personalities. Students would differentiate work, way of conduct, and character as skill.
Wednesday, May 1, 2013
A Woman’s Duty
Caring has always been seen as a feminine quality. Women care for their homes, children, and husbands. Taking care of the sick also falls to the family’s women. Most accept this part of their lives as their womanly duty. But what happens to the idea of caring when women starts to get paid for it? Are they revered? As one often sees in women’s history of labor, the answer is no. Instead, as Susan Reverby writes about in her book Order to Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing 1850-1945 their work is marginalized [Reverby, Susan M. Ordered to Care: The Dilemma of American Nursing, 1850-1945. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1987. 1-36.]
Nursing really began in family homes. Here mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters stepped up to help take care of ailing family members [Reverby, 11]. Out of concern for those in their care, some women tried to learn as much as they could about healing and how to properly take care of people [Reverby, 12]. As the middle-class grew in wealth the women that were in need of money and who had come to be known as good healers, were employed to take care of other families ill members [Reverby, 11]. These women were often older, widowed, white woman from poor backgrounds [Reverby, 14]. And they were not considered healers but more of a higher domestic worker [Reverby, 15]. Early nurses had no set list of activities they had to do. The matron of the home they were employed in could have them doing everything from actually taking care of her patient to doing housework and cooking [Reverby,15]. Nurses working in the home could be held anywhere from high esteem from their community to some of the lowest members of their community [Reverby, 15].
Women working as nurses in people’s homes could be considered valued members of their community. But for those working in early hospitals this was never the case. Florence Nightingale said that hospital nurses “were too old, too weak, too drunken, too dirty, too stolid, or too bad to do anything else” [Reverby, 22]. This is not total truth. But what is true is that many hospitals of the time were far too disgusting to keep anybody then either the very devoted or the very desperate [Reverby, 28]. Nurses were usually also patients mobile enough to help care for other patients [Reverby, 27]. Not all nurses were “bad” people or patients. If a woman could stick it out long enough she could learn a great deal from experience and doctors [Reverby,32]. As in all things what actually took place in a hospital differed from place to place.
“Ordered to Care” is the best way to put some of America’s early nurses. Caring was tied to being a good women and Christian. But it was also long and grueling when her other duties had to get done as well. When disposable income became a part of an emerging middle class it’s not shocking many looked for help from others to do it for them. It is hard, however, to shake off a sense of duty. While nurses were paid to do this job it was still strongly attached to their identity as women. Because of this one can easily see the lack of respect that is often tied to the profession of nursing. And clearly not the respect that these women deserved for doing the hard job others did not want.