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Ina May Gaskin (1940– )

Ina May Gaskin is a certified professional midwife, or CPM, in the US during the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries. She worked at the Farm Midwifery Center in Summertown, Tennessee, a center well known for its low rates of intervention, which contributed to low rates of maternal and fetal mortality. One technique Gaskin used when assisting women with delivery helped resolve a complication called shoulder dystocia, which is when a part of the infant’s body is delivered, but the rest of the body is stuck in the birth canal.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

James Young Simpson (1811–1870)

James Young Simpson was one of the first obstetricians to administer anesthesia during childbirth in nineteenth century Scotland. Before his work in the 1800s, physicians had few ways to reduce the pain of childbirth. Simpson experimented with the use of ether and chloroform, both gaseous chemicals, to temporarily relieve pain. He found that those chemicals both successfully inhibited the pain women felt during childbirth and pain during other surgeries. Patients under the influence of chloroform fell asleep and were unaware of the intense pain of childbirth.

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

William Smellie (1697–1763)

William Smellie helped to incorporate scientific medicine into the process of childbirth in eighteenth century Britain. As a male physician practicing in childbirth and female reproductive health (man-midwife), Smellie developed and taught procedures to treat breech fetuses, which occur when a fetus fails to rotate its head towards the birth canal during delivery. Throughout his career, Smellie compiled a wealth of information about female anatomy in his writings. He modified medical technology such as the obstetrical forceps, an instrument used to maneuver the fetus during childbirth.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

John Chassar Moir (1900–1977)

John Chassar Moir lived in Scotland during the twentieth century and helped develop techniques to improve the health of pregnant women. Moir helped to discover compounds that doctors could administer to women after childbirth to prevent life-threatening blood loss. Those compounds included the ergot alkaloid called ergometrine, also called ergonovine, and d-lysergic acid beta-propanolamide. Moir tested ergometrine in postpartum patients and documented that it helped prevent or manage postpartum hemorrhage in women.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction, Disorders

Jesse Bennett (1769–1842)

Jesse Bennett, sometimes spelled Bennet, practiced medicine in the US during the late eighteenth century and performed one of the first successful cesarean operations, later called cesarean sections, in 1794. Following complications during his wife’s childbirth, Bennett made an incision through her lower abdomen and uterus to deliver their infant. Bennett’s biographers report that his operation was the first cesarean section where both the pregnant woman and the infant survived.

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

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

Leonard Colebrook (1883–1967)

Leonard Colebrook was a physician who researched bacteria and infections in England during the twentieth century. In 1936, Colebrook deployed the antibiotic Prontosil to treat puerperal fever, a disorder that results from bacterial infections in the uterine tracts of women after childbirth or abortions. Colebrook also advanced care for burn patients by advocating for the creation of burn units in hospitals and by using antisepsis medication for burn wound infections. Colebrook’s work on treatments for puerperal fever reduced cases of puerperal fever throughout the world.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Dana Louise Raphael (1926–2016)

Dana Louise Raphael was an anthropologist and breastfeeding advocate in the US during the twentieth century. After she was unable to breastfeed her own infant, Raphael began to research why breastfeeding was more common in other cultures than in the US. As part of that research, Raphael cofounded the Human Lactation Center, where she studied the breastfeeding habits of mothers around the world. Through that research, she coordinated with formula manufacturers to educate women on the benefits of breastfeeding and formula supplementation to reduce infant mortality in developing nations.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Horatio Robinson Storer (1830–1922)

Horatio Robinson Storer was a surgeon and anti-abortion activist in the 1800s who worked in the field of women’s reproductive health and led the Physicians’ Crusade Against Abortion in the US. Historians credit Storer as being one of the first physicians to distinguish gynecology, the study of diseases affecting women and their reproductive health, as a separate subject from obstetrics, the study of pregnancy and childbirth.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction, Religion

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

Roberto Caldeyro-Barcia (1921–1996)

Roberto Caldeyro-Barcia studied fetal health in Uruguay during the second half of the twentieth century. Caldeyro-Barcia developed Montevideo units, which are used to quantify intrauterine pressure, or the force of contractions during labor. Intrauterine pressure is a useful measure of the progression of labor and the health of a fetus.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Pope Gregory XIV (1535-1591)

Pope Gregory XIV, born Nicolo Sfondrati, reversed the bull of Pope Sixtus V, Effraenatum, under which an abortion at any time of gestation can be punished by excommunication. He supported the Aristotelian distinction between an "animated" and "unanimated" fetus, making abortion of an unanimated fetus punishable by lesser means. This decision contributed to the historical debates within the Roman Catholic Church on when a fetus has a soul, and when abortion was punishable by excommunication.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Religion, Reproduction

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

Katharina Dorothea Dalton (1916–2004)

Katharina Dorothea Dalton was a physician in England in the twentieth century who defined premenstrual syndrome (PMS) as a cluster of symptoms suspected to begin one to two weeks before menstruation and disappear upon the onset of a new menstrual cycle. Prior to Dalton, there was little research on pre-menstrual issues and those that existed linked the problem to excessive water retention or estrogen. Dalton hypothesized that PMS resulted from a deficiency in the hormone progesterone and advocated for hormone replacement therapy to lessen the symptoms of the syndrome.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Lap-Chee Tsui (1950-)

Lap-Chee Tsui is a geneticist who discovered the cystic fibrosis (CF) gene, and his research team sequenced human chromosome 7. As the location of the cystic fibrosis gene is now known, it is possible for doctors and specialists to identify in human fetuses the mutation that causes the fatal disease. Tsui's research also outlined the mechanisms for the development of cystic fibrosis, which were previously unknown.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Thomas Joseph King Jr. (1921-2000)

Thomas Joseph King Jr. was a developmental biologist who, with fellow scientist Robert Briggs, pioneered a method of transplanting nuclei from blastula cells into fresh egg cells lacking nuclei. This method, dubbed nuclear transplantation, facilitated King's studies on cancer cell development. King's work was instrumental for the development of cloning of fish, insects, and mammals.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Marshall Henry Klaus (1927–2017)

Marshall Henry Klaus was a scientist and pediatrician who studied maternal-infant bonding in the twentieth century in the United States. Maternal-infant bonding is the psychological and chemical attachment between mother and infant. Klaus cofounded DONA International, an organization that trains birthing aides, called doulas, to provide physical and emotional support to laboring mothers. He also studied the differences between the layouts and quality of care provided in nurseries and birthing centers in different countries and compared them to those found in the United States.

Format: Articles

Subject: People

Kurt Benirschke (1924-)

Kurt Benirschke studied cells, placentas, and endangered species in Germany and the US during the twentieth century. Benirschke was professor at the University of California in San Diego, California, and a director of the research department at the San Diego Zoo in San Diego, California. He also helped form the research department of the San Diego Zoo and its sister organization, the Center for Reproduction of Endangered Species.

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

James Marion Sims (1813-1883)

James Marion Sims developed a surgical cure for ruptures of the wall separating the bladder from the vagina during labor, ruptures called vesico-vaginal fistulas, and he developed techniques and tools used to improve reproductive examinations and health care for women in the US during the nineteenth century. Sims's lateral examination position allowed doctors to better see the vaginal cavity, and his speculum, a spoon-like object used for increased view into the vagina, helped to make gynecological examinations more thorough.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

Elinor Catherine Hamlin (1924- )

Elinor Catherine Hamlin founded and helped fund centers in Ethiopia to treat women affected by fistulas from obstetric complications. Obstetric fistulas develop in women who experience prolonged labor, as the pressure placed on the pelvis by the fetus during labor causes a hole, or fistula, to form between the vagina and the bladder (vesicovaginal fistula) or between the vagina and the rectum (rectovaginal fistula). Both of those conditions result in urinary or fecal incontinence, which often impacts womenÍs social status within their communities.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Reproduction

William Thornton Mustard (1914-1987)

William Thornton Mustard was a surgeon in Canada during the twentieth century who developed surgical techniques to treat children who had congenital heart defects. Mustard has two surgeries named after him, both of which he helped to develop. The first of these surgeries replaces damaged or paralyzed muscles in individuals who have polio, a virus that can cause paralysis. The other technique corrects a condition called the transposition of the great arteries (TGA) that is noticed at birth.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Disorders, Disorders

Julia Clifford Lathrop (1858–1932)

Julia Clifford Lathrop was an activist and social reformer in the late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries and the first chief of the United States Children’s Bureau. In that capacity, she conducted demographic studies to identify links between socioeconomic factors and infant mortality rates. Lathrop mobilized the effort to increase birth registration and designed programs and publications to promote infant and maternal health throughout the US.

Format: Articles

Subject: People, Outreach