Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine Fellowship Lecture: Gender and Risk Perception in the Development of Oral Contraceptives, 1940-1968

Thursday, June 15, 2017 – 5:30pm

Kate Grauvogel is the  2016-2017 Foundation for the History of Women in Medicine Fellow, Doctoral student in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine Department at Indiana University-Bloomington.

This lecture is sponsored by The Archives for Women in Medicine and the Women in Medicine Legacy Foundation.

Kate Grauvogel is an advanced doctoral student in the History and Philosophy of Science and Medicine Department at Indiana University-Bloomington. Broadly, her research interests include the history of women’s health, especially pathology and psychiatry in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Her current research focuses on women and experimentation in medicine, particularly the history of blood clotting disorders in reproductive-age women, and how physicians perceived the whole constellation of gender, reproduction, secretions, clots, and associated diseases.

Grauvogel’s dissertation is entitled “A gendered history of pathology: blood clots, women, and hormones in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.” It argues that the bodies of women—whether as obstetric patients, cadavers, or sufferers of side-effects from birth-control pills—shaped pathological theory as well as understandings of the role of secretions (later identifiable as estrogens) in health and disease. It also explores the medical and cultural functions of the Pill in the twentieth century and its impact on women and their lives. In it, she hopes to show how nineteenth-century pathologists and twentieth-century physicians observed pregnant women and women on the birth control pill and gleaned important information from them, such as the idea that fluctuations in estrogens could lead to the formation of dangerous blood clots.

The project as a whole uses primary sources from France, England, and Germany. At the Countway, Grauvogel will add an American perspective from the Boston Hospital for Women Records, 1926–1983, The Free Hospital for Women Records, 1875–1975, the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective, The Leona Baumgartner Papers, 1830-1979, the Janet Ward McArthur Papers, 1939-2005, and other collections. She will be looking for cases of lying-in illnesses, including blood clotting, which will shed light on how pathologists thought about dangerous blood clots in women as the result of either pregnancy or the Pill. She hopes to emerge with a better grasp of the ailments doctors observed in women, as well as and how they described and thought about such ailments.

Waterhouse Room
Gordon Hall
Harvard Medical School
25 Shattuck Street, Boston MA

Reception begins at 5:00pm.

Free and open to the public. Registration is required. Register online now through Eventbrite or email us at

Digital Highlights: Medical Education for Women

This seemed like an appropriate highlight for a Friday in Women’s History MonthAn appeal on behalf of the medical education of women from 1856.

The pamphlet — under 20 pages long — is a succinct summing up of the history of women as medical professionals. It only takes a few pages to do this because Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman admitted to a medical college in the United States, had received her degree less than a decade before this publication. The pamphlet appeals not only for a wider admittance of women to medical schools, but for the establishment of a hospital for women within New York City.

The proposed hospital — based on the New York Infirmary and Dispensary for women and children which had been opened in 1854 — was to be a teaching hospital as well as a straightforward place of treatment.

Flip through the pages below or follow this link to read An appeal.

As always, for more from the Medical Heritage Library, please visit our full collection!

Digital Highlight: Sickroom Lessons

Title page from "Life in the Sick-Room." Click the image to go directly to the book!

For several years in the mid-nineteenth century starting in 1839, English social activist Harriet Martineau was a housebound invalid, suffering from the pain of a tumor. Before this period, she was an extremely active writer and traveller, moving around the United Kingdom and the United States to examine living conditions and current affairs in both countries. Continue reading

Digital Highlights: Safeguards

Warnings from the front matter of "The Lady's Own Book."

In 1877, in England, Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh, who would become notorious for refusing to take a religious oath to take his seat in Parliament in 1880, were prosecuted for publishing and distributing a book on birth control.

In 1847, in Michigan, Dr. Z.J. Brown published The Lady’s Own Book, or, Female Safeguard; the title goes on to specify that Dr. Brown intends talking about “Generation, Sterility, Impotency, Female Complaints, the Diseases of Infants and Children…” as well as a host of other topics all covered “…in a plain, yet chaste, style…” Continue reading

Digital Highlights: Transatlantic Beauty Advice

Title page from "My Lady's Dressing-Room."

“The abuse of the habit of kissing is injurious to the complexion.” (86) This somewhat baffling statement is part of the survey of the “The Face” in My Lady’s Dressing-Room, a 1892 translation of a French volume by the Baronne Staffe on personal care and beauty for women. Harriet Hubbard Ayer writes in her introduction that she has “translated and adapted [the original French] for the women of America.” (iii) Continue reading

Digital Highlights: Pioneer Doctor

Frontispiece portrait of Owens-Adair.

Dr. Bethenia Owens-Adair, born in Missouri in 1840, published her life-story in 1906, writing down her experiences of life with pioneering parents and her medical education as one of the first women to aim for a medical degree. She was married as a teenager and left her husband before she was twenty. She began attending school after leaving her husband and received funding from family friends and admirers, allowing her to set herself up as a school teacher and pursue her own further education. Continue reading

Digital Highlights: “Sex in Education”

Chapter 1 of "Sex in Education."

Education for women was a hot-button topic in the nineteenth century in much the same way that mandatory testing is today. In 1875, Edward H. Clarke capitalised on the public’s interest in this topic with a lecture that he turned into a book, Sex in Education: or, a fair chance for girls. The book makes for entertaining but rather disturbing reading. Continue reading