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Thesis: Dismantling Legal Constraints to Contraception in the 1900s

In the late nineteenth century, the Comstock Act of 1873 made the distribution of contraception illegal and classified contraception as an obscenity. Reflecting the predominant attitude towards contraception at the time, the Comstock Act was the first federal anti-obscenity law that targeted contraception. However, social acceptance of birth control changed at the turn of the twentieth century. In this thesis, I analyzed legislation, advocates, and literature pertinent to that social change to report on the events leading up to the decriminalization of contraception.

Format: Essays and Theses

Subject: People, Legal, Reproduction

Min Chueh Chang (1908-1991)

As one of the researchers involved in the development of the oral contraceptive pill, Min Chueh Chang helped to revolutionize the birth control movement. Although best known for his involvement with "the pill," Chang also made a number of discoveries throughout his scientific career involving a range of topics within the field of reproductive biology. He published nearly 350 articles in scientific journals.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Chang and Eng Bunker (1811–1874)

Chāng (Chang) and Ēn (Eng) Bunker were conjoined twins in the nineteenth century in the United States, the first pair of conjoined twins whose condition was well documented in medical records. A conjoined twins is a rare condition in which two infants are born physically connected to each other. In their youth, the brothers earned money by putting themselves on display as curiosities and giving lectures and demonstrations about their condition. The Bunker brothers toured around the world, including the United States, Europe, Canada, and France, and allowed physicians to examine them.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Norman Haire (1892-1952)

Norman Haire was a physician who advocated for eugenics, which is the betterment of human population by promoting positive traits, and birth control rights in the twentieth century in both Australia and the UK. In the UK, Haire joined the Malthusian League, a contraception advocacy organization, and helped the League open the first physician-supervised birth control clinic, called Walworth Women’s Welfare Centre in London, England.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

John Hunter (1728–1793)

John Hunter studied human reproductive anatomy, and in eighteenth century England, performed one of the earliest described cases of artificial insemination. Hunter dissected thousands of animals and human cadavers to study the structures and functions of organ systems. Much of his anatomical studies focused on the circulatory, digestive, and reproductive systems. He helped to describe the exchange of blood between pregnant women and their fetuses. Hunter also housed various natural collections, as well as thousands of preserved specimens from greater than thirty years of anatomy work.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Emma Goldman (1869–1940)

Emma Goldman was a traveling public speaker and writer known for her anarchist political views as well as her opinions on contraception and birth limiting in the late nineteenth century in the United States. Goldman identified as an anarchist, which she explained as being part of an ideology in which people use violence to provoke or demand social and political change. Goldman was involved in many anarchist social groups and published the anarchist magazine Mother Earth.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Margaret Higgins Sanger (1879-1966)

Margaret Higgins Sanger advocated for birth control in the United States and Europe during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Although people used contraceptives prior to the twentieth century, in the US the 1873 Comstock Act made the distribution of information relating to the use of contraceptives illegal, and similar state-level Comstock laws also classified discussion and dissemination of contraceptives as illegal.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproductive Health Arizona, Reproduction, Outreach

Josef Warkany (1902–1992)

Josef Warkany studied the environmental causes of birth defects in the United States in the twentieth century. Warkany was one of the first researchers to show that factors in the environment could cause birth defects, and he helped to develop guidelines for the field of teratology, the study of birth defects. Prior to Warkany’s work, scientists struggled to explain if or how environmental agents could cause birth defects. Warkany demonstrated that a deficiency or excess of vitamin A in maternal nutrition could cause birth defects.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Sidney Q. Cohlan (1915-1999)

Sidney Q. Cohlan studied birth defects in the US during the twentieth century. Cohlan helped to discover that if a pregnant woman ate too much vitamin A her fetus faced a higher than normal risk of teratogenic effects, such as cleft palate. A teratogen is a substance that causes malformation of a developing organism. Cohlan also identified the teratogenic effects of several other substances including a lack of normal magnesium and prenatal exposure to the antibiotic tetracycline.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Fortunio Liceti (1577–1657)

Fortunio Liceti studied natural philosophy and medicine in Italy during the first half of the seventeenth century. Liceti wrote greater than seventy works on a wide range of topics, including the human soul, reproduction, and birth defects observed in animals and human infants. In the seventeenth century, people commonly addressed birth defects using superstition and considered them as signs of evil, possibly caused by spiritual or supernatural entities. Liceti described infants with birth defects as prodigies and monsters to be admired and studied rather than feared.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Virginia Apgar (1909–1974)

Virginia Apgar worked as an obstetrical anesthesiologist, administering drugs that reduce women’s pain during childbirth, in the US in the mid-twentieth century. In 1953, Apgar created a scoring system using five easily assessable measurements, including heart rate and breathing rate, to evaluate whether or not infants would benefit from medical attention immediately after birth. Apgar’s system showed that infants who were previously set aside as too sick to survive, despite low Apgar scores, could recover with immediate medical attention.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Friedrich Tiedemann (1781-1861)

Friedrich Tiedemann studied the anatomy of humans and animals in the nineteenth century in Germany. He published on zoological subjects, on the heart of fish, the anatomy of amphibians and echinoderms, and the lymphatic and respiratory system in birds. In addition to his zoological anatomy, Tiedemann, working with the chemist Leopold Gmelin, published about how the digestive system functioned.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Norbert Freinkel (1926–1989)

During the twentieth century, Norbert Freinkel studied hormones and diabetes in the US. Freinkel conducted many experiments that enabled him to determine the factors that influence hormones of the thyroid gland to bind to proteins and to determine the effects that those thyroid hormones have on surrounding tissues. Furthermore, Freinkel researched gestational diabetes, which is diabetes that occurs for the first time during a women’s pregnancy. That type of diabetes is caused by a change in the way a woman’s body responds to insulin, a hormone made in the body.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Otto Rank (1884–1939)

Otto Rank studied how birth impacts individuals’ psychology and creates anxiety throughout their lives in Europe and the US during the nineteenth century. In his book The Trauma of Birth, Rank stated that birth was extremely traumatic and that one spent his or her whole life trying to recover from the experience of being born and harshly separated from the peaceful womb. He argued that the trauma experienced at birth is the source of all human suffering and the key to understanding anxiety later in life.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Rudolf Carl Virchow (1821-1902)

Rudolf Carl Virchow lived in nineteenth century Prussia, now Germany, and proposed that omnis cellula e cellula, which translates to each cell comes from another cell, and which became and fundamental concept for cell theory. He helped found two fields, cellular pathology and comparative pathology, and he contributed to many others. Ultimately Virchow argued that disease is caused by changes in normal cells, also known as cellular pathology.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Joseph Bolivar DeLee (1869–1942)

Joseph Bolivar DeLee was an obstetrician in the US between the nineteenth and twentieth centuries who advocated for the specialized teaching of medical students in the field of obstetrics to address problems occurring during pregnancy. He claimed obstetricians maintained a wider skillset than midwives, and founded the Chicago Lying-In Hospital to provide affordable obstetric care to women in Chicago, Illinois.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Virginia Apgar (1909–1974)

During the mid-twentieth century, Virginia Apgar worked as an obstetrical anesthesiologist and gave drugs to women that reduced their pain during childbirth in the US. In 1953, Apgar created a scoring system, called the Apgar score, that uses five measurements, including heart rate and breathing rate. The Apgar score evaluates newborn infants and determines who needs immediate medical attention. Apgar's work helped decrease infant mortality rates. As of 2020, hospitals around the world use the Apgar score.

Format: Graphics

Subject: People

Edward Drinker Cope (1840-1897)

Edward Drinker Cope studied fossils and anatomy in the US in the late nineteenth century. Based on his observations of skeletal morphology, Cope developed a novel mechanism to explain the law of parallelism, the idea that developing organisms successively pass through stages resembling their ancestors. Others had proposed the addition of new body forms at the end of an individual organism's developed as a mechanism through which new species arose, but those proposals relied on changes in the lengths of gestation or incubation.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Barbara Seaman (1935–2008)

Barbara Seaman was a writer, investigator, and advocate for female healthcare rights during the twentieth century in the United States. Seaman’s work addressed the gendered prejudice she observed in the US healthcare system and argued that women of the 1960s lacked the proper tools to make informed decisions about pregnancy care, breastfeeding, childbirth, and contraception. Seaman wrote the book The Doctor’s Case Against the Pill in 1969 to expose the dangers in prescribing and consuming high doses of estrogen in the form of birth control.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Paul Eugen Bleuler (1857–1939)

Paul Eugen Bleuler studied autism and schizophrenia, among other psychiatric disorders, throughout continental Europe in the early twentieth century. Bleuler worked as a psychiatrist caring for patients with psychiatric disorders at a variety of facilities in Europe. In 1908, Bleuler coined the term schizophrenia to describe a group of diseases that cause changes in thought processes and behavior in humans as well as difficulties relating to the world.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Henry Morgentaler (1923-2013)

Henry Morgentaler was a physician who performed abortions, acted as a reproductive rights activist, and advocated for legal access to abortions in Canada during the twentieth century. In 1969, he opened his first abortion clinic in Canada and participated in the legal/court case of R v. Morgentaler (1988), which led Canada to decriminalize abortion. Morgentaler helped establish legal access to abortions for women in Canada and advocated for the protection of women's reproductive choices under the law.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Alfred Day Hershey (1908–1997)

During the twentieth century in the United States, Alfred Day Hershey studied phages, or viruses that infect bacteria, and experimentally verified that genes were made of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. Genes are molecular, heritable instructions for how an organism develops. When Hershey started to study phages, scientists did not know if phages contained genes, or whether genes were made of DNA or protein. In 1952, Hershey and his research assistant, Martha Chase, conducted phage experiments that convinced scientists that genes were made of DNA.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Jane Elizabeth Hodgson (1915–2006)

Jane Elizabeth Hodgson was a physician who advocated for abortion rights in the twentieth century in the United States. In November of 1970, Hodgson became the first physician in the U.S. to be convicted of performing an illegal abortion in a hospital. Hodgson deliberately performed the abortion to challenge the Minnesota State Statute 617.18, which prohibited non-therapeutic abortions. Following the legalization of abortion in the US Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade (1973), Hodgson focused on promoting accessible abortion, obstetric, and gynecological care throughout Minnesota.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Mary Coffin Ware Dennett (1872-1947)

Mary Coffin Ware Dennett advocated for social reform in the United States in the early twentieth century, particularly regarding sex education and women's rights to access contraception. Dennett authored several publications on sex education and birth control laws. She also worked to repeal the Comstock Act, a federal law that made it illegal to distribute obscene materials through the US Postal Services.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Zhang Lizhu (1921- )

Zhang Lizhu is a Chinese gynecologist and researcher. For most of her career, she worked in the Peking Medical College Third Hospital, renamed in 2000, Peking University Third Hospital. There, she led a team of researchers and physicians in the study of human in vitro fertilization (IVF) and embryo transfer (ET) technology. Zhang and her colleagues contributed to the birth of the first test-tube baby in Mainland China in 1988.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

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