In Episode 25 of Brooklyn Historical Society’s podcast Flatbush + Main, co-hosts Zaheer Ali and Julie Golia, joined by fellow BHS historian Erin Wuebker, explore the fascinating history of gender and medicine in Brooklyn and learn about some of Brooklyn’s pioneering female physicians.
03:03 Histories and Ideas
25:26 Into the Archives
43:57 Voices of Brooklyn
For complete show notes, go to brooklynhistory.org/flatbush-main.
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Segment 1: Histories and Ideas
In segment 1, Zaheer and Julie welcome Erin Wuebker, historian of public health and Assistant Curator on the upcoming BHS exhibition Sick: Seven Diseases that Changed Brooklyn. They discuss the challenges and opportunities that shaped the experiences of the earliest generations of female physicians in Brooklyn, and frame their stories around the origins of health care in Brooklyn, the professionalization of medicine, and Progressive-era ideas about women’s supposedly unique capacity to provide care. They highlight one unknown leader in the medical profession, Dr. Susan McKinney Steward, who was the first African American female doctor in New York state.
Julie, Zaheer, and Erin mention several fascinating books and articles in this segment. Check out Regina Morantz-Sanchez’s book, Conduct Unbecoming A Woman: Medicine on Trial in Turn-of-the-Century Brooklyn.
For more contemporary debates about gender, misogyny, and the medical field, check out these fascinating stories:
Joe Fassler’s 2015 piece in The Atlantic, “How Doctors Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously”
Linda Villarosa’s remarkable april 2018 piece in the New York Times Magazine, “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies are in a Life-or-Death Crisis”
Tennis superstar Serena Williams’ harrowing postpartum experience as reported in Vogue: “Serena Williams on Motherhood, Marriage, and Making her Comeback”
Segment 2: Into the Archives
Erin joined Zaheer and Julie again for segment 2 to analyze “The Memorial Hospital Tablet,” an 1898 monthly newsletter of the Memorial Hospital for Women and Children. The Memorial Hospital was a medical care facility for women patients, staffed and run exclusively by women physicians. One of its founders was the abovementioned Susan McKinney Steward.
Here are some pictures of the newsletter:
Erin found the newsletter in the Brooklyn Hospitals and Health Services Organizations collection (ARC.141), a manuscript collection in BHS’s Library and Archives. Access the finding aid here.
Segment 3: Voices of Brooklyn
Zaheer and Julie listen to an excerpt from the oral history of Dr. Josephine English, a pioneering 20th-century Obstetrician/Gynecologist. Listen to her full oral history on our oral history portal here.
Segment 4: Endorsements
Zaheer endorsed the public program “The Poetry of Kevin Young,” which takes place at BHS’s Pierrepont building on Wednesday, May 16. Kevin Young, Director of the New York Public Library’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and poetry editor of The New Yorker, will read from his latest collection of poems and talk with fellow distinguished poet and recently appointed president of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Elizabeth Alexander. The event starts at 6:30pm; tickets are $10, $5 for members. Reserve them here.
Julie endorsed the public program, “Walt Whitman Turns 199: Harbors, Heights, and a Brooklyn Celebration,” which takes place at BHS’s Pierrepont building on Tuesday, May 29. To celebrate this consummate Brooklynite, Greg Trupiano of The Walt Whitman Project, Charles Jarden and Julian Macrone of the Fort Greene Park Conservancy, and Karen Karbiener of NYU and the Walt Whitman Initiative, along with readers Lonely Christopher and Elizabeth Nunez and opera singer Nicole Mitchell will stage a immersive, multimedia exploration of Brooklyn’s Bard on the occasion of his 199th birthday. The event starts at 6:30pm; tickets are $5 and free for members. Get them here.