Thomas Rowlandson (1756–1827): The Persevering Surgeon

The notion that the anatomist/surgeon never gives up is presented in Rowlandson’s drawing The Perserving Surgeon. Here the practioner is dissecting a female cadaver. His lascivious expression and raised phallic scalpel whilst thus ‘ravishing’ the body in his possesion again expresses prevalent ideas as to the activities of these gentlemen. Rowlandson cannot be absolved from the accusation of using such naked female bodies for the purpose of voyeurism and, in some instances, for pornography. The articulated human and animal skeletons, bottles of specimens, and tub for entrails in this print complete the recognisable venue.

Source: Fiona Haslam: From Hogarth to Rowlandson: Medicine in Art in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Liverpool University Press, 1996)

Did you know that World War I was the first time in American history in which women were officially members of the American military in a capacity other than as nurses?

This uniform was worn by an army contract surgeon. Women doctors were not allowed to join the Army Medical Corps. Only the Army Nurse Corps accepted women. But the army did issue contracts to a small number of female physicians, who remained civilians even though they worked in uniform.

This week, we’re exploring how women participated in World War I as part of our year-long #AmericaParticipates theme. Have the women in your family history pitched in during wartime, whether in official roles or less formal types of support?

Tibetan doctor anno 2003

This wonderful photograph of a Tibetan doctor from the photostream of Wellcome Images on Flickr makes it totally clear that Western boimedicine still has not conquered the world. Here medicine is still based on family traditions and a textbook from the 12th century!

The caption to the photo reads:

This photograph taken in the Tibetan Autonomous Region, China, in 2003 shows a Tibetan doctor stood [sic] on the roof of his house holding two precious medical books - one is a copy of the fundamental Tibetan medical classic Gyu Shi (‘Four Tantras’) written in the 12th century; the other is a manuscript on compounding medicines, which was composed by the members of his medical family (going back four generations) and takes into account the locally available materia medica and the knowledge the doctors of this lineage have gained through trial and error while compounding their medicines.

Contraceptive sponge, possibly English, 1920-1960

I found this picture on I doubt that this kind of contraceptive gave much protection against unwanted pregnancies!

Caption: Sponges were widely used as contraceptives in the 1800s and 1900s. They were used in conjunction with liquids thought to have spermicidal properties to kill sperm. These included quinine and olive oil. This marine sponge was held in cotton netting to aid its extraction. During the 1950s and 1960s, sponges were often advertised under ‘feminine hygiene’ rather than contraception as for some parts of society contraception was a taboo. Many spermicidals were of little contraceptive value. Some even doubled as household cleaners. One was advertised as a dual treatment for ‘successful womanhood’ (contraception) and athlete’s foot.

‘Phrenological Illustrations or the Science practically developed’, print, London, England, 1824

This satirical print shows three seated men being assessed for their suitability for the Tenth Hussars (part of the British Army) using phrenology. Phrenologists believed that the shape and size of various areas of the brain (and therefore the overlying skull) determined personality. Hung from the ceiling among phrenological heads is a list of the qualities to be looked for. The head of the officer on the right indicates he has the quality of brutality, while the civilian with the normal shaped head is being rejected for being kind and civil. Although practitioners of phrenology took the subject seriously many others, including most of the medical profession, saw the practice as quackery. Certainly, the artist of this print thought so, exaggerating the lumps and bumps of the skulls that phrenologists looked and felt for.

Credits: Science Museum, London

Engraving of treament for syphilis, 17th century

Caption: Syphilis. Engraving of people suffering from syphilis, a sexually-transmitted or venereal disease, being treated in 1689. At lower left is a man with syphilitic skin pustules on his whole body. At lower centre a patient is in a steambath or sauna. At left and upper centre, physicians are preparing medications for the patient in the bed at upper right; at this time, medications for syphilis contained mercury, a poisonous metal. The banner at top centre refers to Venus, the goddess of love. Syphilis is caused by infection by the Treponema pallidum bacterium. Image from Germany.

Transplant Patient Penny Holds Her Heart In Her Hands

After surviving cancer and and crippling heart failure, Penny is literally holding her heart in her hands. According to her friend Kelsey, this photo was taken before the heart was cremated so Penny could take it home as a souvenir

This is truly an amazing photo: Fifty years ago only hardly any thought a photo like this would pe possible! Hats off to the many doctors and scientists that has made life saving operations like heart transplantations possible.

The first heart transplantation was performed by Christiaan Barnard in South Africa on December 3, 1967. The patient Louis Washkansky survived the operation and lived for 18 days. The prognosis for heart transplant patients has increased since then, and as of June 5, 2009, the survival rates were:

  • 1 year : 88.0% (males), 86.2% (females)
  • 3 years: 79.3% (males), 77.2% (females)
  • 5 years: 73.2% (males), 69.0% (females)

Let’s hope that Penny will have a long and happy life: The prognosis is getting better day for day.

“For one pleasure a thousand pains.” - Illustration of a Syphilitic Man in Fumigation Stove

Original caption: “For one pleasure a thousand pains.”

A syphilitic sits in a fumigation stove, his head only visible, an attendent is just pulling in some fresh fuel, while another heats a towel in front of the fireplace.

Engraving by Jacques Laniet Receuill des Plus. Illustrates proverbs (Paris, 1659-1663).