In the 19th Century, rigorous work was thought to negatively affect female fertility.
It was also thought to create a masculine and angular appearance in women, thus stunting the development of femininity.
These are just a sample of some of the startling yet fascinating “facts” presented by ten distinguished speakers at the 2014 History of Women’s Health Conference held at Pennsylvania Hospital of Penn Medicine on April 2.
Strike a pose! Presenters and guests of Pennsylvania Hospital’s 9th Annual History of Women’s Health Conference give us the “Renaissance Elbow.” Originally created by portrait painters during the Renaissance and depicting men placing a fist on their hip and jutting out their elbow to make themselves appear impressive, the pose was resurrected during the American Revolutionary War period. Primarily used in portrait art, groups of siblings were characteristically shown with prized sons posed in front – elbows out – while daughters were relegated behind them, virtually scenery. This was shown in the presentation, “The Pregnant Revolution: Women and Fertility in the New Nation” by Susan E. Clepp, PhD., professor Emerita of History, Temple University, shown here, fourth from the left.
This was the hospital’s ninth annual History of Women’s Health conference. Free and open to the public, the Conference focuses on areas of women’s health from the 18th century to the present. It began as a part of Pennsylvania Hospital’s celebration of co-founder Benjamin Franklin’s tercentenary – what would have been his 300th birthday. Each year since, scholars from the humanities and health care professionals gather to discuss the past, present, and future state of women’s health at this lively forum co-sponsored by the Pennsylvania Hospital Historic Collections, the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Hospital Professional Staff.
“The typical audience for this conference is a mix of physician and nursing professionals, community members, history enthusiasts, and professionals in history and the humanities,” said Stacey Peeples, curator and lead archivist at Pennsylvania Hospital. “We host the conference each year to create a forum for open discussion of women’s health through a variety of perspectives – historical and modern – by taking an interdisciplinary approach. We celebrate the fact that Pennsylvania Hospital has always been a leader in women’s health, a leader in open discussions about where we’ve been, where we are, and where we might be going.”
Shown here from L to R are: Stacey C Peeples, curator-lead archivist, Wanda Ronner, MD, professor of Clinical Obstetrics and Gynecology, Peter Gearhart, MD, clinical assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Pennsylvania Hospital, and conference keynote speaker Robert Aronowitz, MD, professor and chair, History and Sociology of Science, University Pennsylvania.
From women struggling to enter into the predominantly male field of medicine to the female medical research subject, women throughout history were misunderstood, misrepresented, and misaligned. As Dr. Carol-Ann Farkas described in her presentation at the conference (more about that later) even brilliant women who were trailblazers in their field were constantly evaluated and judged and if “praised” – it was with the equivalent impact of the proverbial “left-handed compliment.” If a female physician was reviewed (by males, of course) it could not be done without comment on how attractive, feminine, and graceful she also was. The message is clear. Historically, intellect and achievement, particularly in the field of medicine, were not imagined or accepted female attributes. If a pretty, smart, female physician was acknowledged, she was a novelty to be admired mainly for curiosity’s sake, not for her accomplishments.
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