Gender and the History of Medical Anthropology
Florida International University
This paper examines the life and work of Hazel Weidman, a social anthropologist who co-founded the Society of Medical Anthropology in 1968, to understand the role of gender in shaping not only the historical memory of the discipline but also its practices, research methods, and theories. From her volunteer service in the Navy's WAVES during World War II to her subsequent academic research experiences, Weidman's story emphasizes the interconnectedness of gender history and a shifting geopolitical order, both in the making and in the management of "culture" as an object of medical attention. Turning the anthropological gaze on the clinical setting, medical anthropologists launched a critique of mainstream medicine and its failures to adapt to a globalizing society, upending assumptions that biomedicine had no culture or that the material body was universal. At the same time, straddling the line between physical and cultural anthropology, they redefined the boundaries of the biological and the social.
Acknowledging the intersections of race, class, health, and gender identity, this paper moves between academic spaces and the anthropological field in which Weidman and other applied anthropological agents operated to reveal the uneven power dynamics that filtered into novel conceptions of culture. The first part of this paper traces Weidman's experiences as a woman who worked in institutions dominated by men-from the military to the halls of academic medicine-to understand her approach to institutional change and the scientific authority she occupied to produce knowledge about culture. The second part examines Weidman's research into "health ecology" in the multi-racial field site of 1970s Miami, where she moved after founding the SMA. Focusing on Weidman's relationship with a team of ethnic mothers she hired as research assistants, I argue that medical anthropology was engaged in both the gendering of health and implementing a Cold War racial politics in America.
Hidden Problematic Figures: Recovery without Rehabilitation of An Uncredited Eugenicist
West Chester University of Pennsylvania
This talk examines the legacy of an influential and unnoticed researcher in the eugenic sterilization movement in America, and considers the challenges in recovering the work of a forgotten and highly problematic figure in science. From 1905 through 1920, Elizabeth Kite translated the key French texts that resulted in the creation of the first IQ tests, applied those tests to screening for "unfit" immigrants passing through Ellis Island, conducted research that resulted in the notorious pro-sterilization eugenic research manifesto The Kallikak Family-for which she ghost-wrote several chapters and provided much of the research-and completed an unpublished manuscript intended as its companion publication. Her work received scant credit from her employer, Dr. Henry Goddard, director of research at the Vineland Training School, and even less historical attention.
Examining Kite's career and especially her forgotten manuscript illustrates how her unique life experience as a globe-travelling, highly educated, economically independent woman resulted in a eugenic research program that pushed the field in a more aggressively racist, nativist direction. Bringing to light this forgotten figure in the history of science also poses challenges for evaluating someone who suffered from structural sexism while also perpetuating sexism, racism and classism. Her forgotten, unpublished book-length manuscript, which examined the supposed eugenic implications of the tri-racial ancestry of families in the Ramapo Mountains, poses additional ethical challenges in telling the history of eugenics. The Ramapough Lenape Nation include several families whom Kite targeted in her manuscript, and who continue to oppose popular misrepresentations of their culture and history. In recovering Kite's history, this paper also considers the implications of having recovered another, previously unexamined facet of the historical subjugation of the Ramapough Lenape Nation.
Motherhood, Menstrual Blood, and the Moon: Life and Death in the Early Modern Womb
University of Cambridge
In early modern England, astrologers, physicians and natural philosophers discussed the ancient, mysterious influence the moon had over female bodies. From the late medieval period, it was common knowledge that the luminary governed the movement of all moisture on Earth. Through its sympathy with women's fluid menstrual blood, it was thought to regulate menstruation - a natural, periodic process that ensured women's bodies were in a prime state of health and fertility. In premodern medicine, menstrual blood was both a life-giving and corrupting substance. Historians of early modern medicine have comprehensively discussed menstrual disorders and the diseased womb, but the influence of the moon has yet to be highlighted in the discussion. An examination of early modern vernacular medical print elucidates the moon's influence over the generation and degeneration of life in the womb.
From sixteenth-century books of secrets to eighteenth-century midwifery manuals, this paper will explore how early modern writers posited the moon's role in human fertility and infertility. Drawing on ancient learned and medieval folkloric knowledge, medical texts detailed the moon's capacity to encourage the creation of the child from menstrual blood and seed, as well as disrupt its growth and endanger its life. Implicit in these texts was the notion that the moon could be used to organise or control procreation because humans - and generation - remained inextricably connected to the wider cosmos. By the end of the period, the value of astrology to learned medicine was waning, but answers to ancient questions about generation and cosmology continued to be sought in a period of great intellectual debate and change. Essential to the discussion were ideas about sex, seed, and parental responsibility.
A Bundle of Sadness: The Medicalization of Postpartum Depression in the United States, 1970-1996
University of Cambridge
Today, one in ten women suffer from postpartum depression (PPD), though this disease remains widely underreported. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) added PPD as a course modifier to depression in the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual IV released in 1996. How did various stakeholders push for the medicalization of this "hidden disease" beginning in the 1970s, and in what ways did they work together to reconstruct a disease category? This research, grounded in a social constructionist approach, focuses on the partnership between feminist advocates and professionals to fight for the medicalization of PPD. I demonstrate that women who survived PPD began banding together into self-help groups and sought the help of medical professionals to fight for increased medical recognition of their condition. This narrative challenges traditional feminist historiography, which argues that the women's health movement of the 1970s was inherently anti-medical. Then, by looking at the response of medical professionals and their efforts to construct PPD as a biological rather than psychosocial disease, I demonstrate how psychiatrists sought to move away from Freudian paradigms to have PPD recognized as a psychiatric disease that ought to be recognized and treated, even when professionals disagreed over its etiology. Last, by focusing on the American Psychiatric Association's nomenclature decisions in 1996 for the DSM-IV as a culmination of the medicalization efforts of both the self-help groups and the psychiatrists, I examine how PPD failed to meet the committee's standards of evidence to qualify for its own distinct diagnosis. For this research, I consulted the personal archival collection of the founder of Postpartum Support International, one of the first PPD self-help groups, and visited the APA archives in Washington, DC. Understanding the history of PPD is a vital part of continuing to provide empathetic treatment and care for women today.