The image of the female caregiver holding a midnight vigil at the bedside of a sick relative is so firmly rooted in our collective imagination we might assume that such caregiving would have attracted the scrutiny of numerous historians. As Emily Abel demonstrates in this groundbreaking study of caregiving in America across class and ethnic divides and over the course of ninety years, this has hardly been the case.
While caring for sick and disabled family members was commonplace for women in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century America, that caregiving, the caregivers' experience of it, and the medical profession's reaction to it took diverse and sometimes unexpected forms. A complex series of historical changes, Abel shows, has profoundly altered the content and cultural meaning of care. Hearts of Wisdom is an immersion into that "world of care." Drawing on antebellum slave narratives, white farm women's diaries, and public health records, Abel puts together a multifaceted picture of what caregiving meant to American women--and what it cost them--from the pre-Civil War years to the brink of America's entry into the Second World War. She shows that caregiving offered women an arena in which experience could be parlayed into expertise, while at the same time the revolution in bacteriology and the transformation of the formal health care system were weakening women's claim to that expertise.
Table of Contents:
Part One: 1850-1890 1. "Hot Flannels, Hot Teas, and a Great Deal of Care": Emily Hawley Gillespie and Sarah Gillespie, 1858-1888 2. An Overview of Nineteenth-Century Caregiving 3. "Tried at the Quilting Bees": Con'icts between "Old Ladies" and Aspiring Professionals
Part Two: 1890-1940 4. A "Terrible and Exhausting" Struggle: Martha Shaw Farnsworth, 1890-1924 5. "Just as You Direct": Caregiver Translations of Medical Authority 6. Negotiating Public Health Directives: Poor New Yorkers at the Turn of the Century
Reviews of this book: This excellent historical review of female caregiving within families as a transformative experience identifies conditions that make this form of human connectedness rewarding and meaningful. --J.E. Thompson, Choice
This is a breathtaking work in terms of its depth and its breadth. Emily Abel's research is impressive in its time frame, wide range of topics, and wonderful source material. What she has given us, for the first time, is a full-length study of the female support network, not only for childbirth but for a whole range of health issues. With her pleasing writing style and clear, readable prose, she gives us much more than mere glimpses of anonymous people--she provides the reader with a sense of the texture of human lives. --Susan L. Smith, University of Alberta
The reader of Hearts of Wisdom is surprised by the topic and content, but is left with the sense that the most central story of human possibility has been left out of all other history books. The work offers a substantive contribution to history, feminist scholarship, caregiving professions, and informal caregivers. --Patricia Benner, R.N., Ph.D, University of California, San Francisco
Hospices have played a critical role in transforming ideas about death and dying. Viewing death as a natural event, hospices seek to enable people approaching mortality to live as fully and painlessly as possible. Award-winning medical historian Emily K. Abel provides insight into several important issues surrounding the growth of hospice care. Using a unique set of records, Prelude to Hospice expands our understanding of the history of U.S. hospices. Compiled largely by Florence Wald, the founder of the first U.S. hospice, the records provide a detailed account of her experiences studying and caring for dying people and their families in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Although Wald never published a report of her findings, she often presented her material informally. Like many others seeking to found new institutions, she believed she could garner support only by demonstrating that her facility would be superior in every respect to what currently existed. As a result, she generated inflated expectations about what a hospice could accomplish. Wald’s records enable us to glimpse the complexities of the work of tending to dying people.
Selected from the first thirty issues of Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, the thirteen articles in this volume indicate salient trends in feminist scholarship since 1975. Covering a wide variety of disciplines, this collection is representative of that scholarship, which has permanently altered accustomed patterns of thought by challenging basic theoretical frameworks in many academic disciplines. The contributors to this volume are Joan Kelly-Gadol, Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Fatima Mernissi, Myra Jehlen, Elaine H. Pagels, Evelyn Fox Keller, Donna Haraway, Adrienne Rich, Diane K. Lewis, Heidi Hartmann, Catharine A. MacKinnon, Judith Herman, and Lisa Hirchman, and Helene Cixous.
The history of medicine is much more than the story of doctors, nurses, and hospitals. Seeking to understand the patient’s perspective, historians scour the archives, searching for rare personal accounts. Bringing together a trove of more than 400 family letters by Charles Dwight Willard, Suffering in the Land of Sunshine provides a unique window into the experience of sickness.
A Los Angeles civic leader at the turn of the twentieth century, Willard is well known to historians of the West, but exclusively for his public life as a booster and reformer. Willard’s evocative story offers fresh insights into several critical issues, including how concepts of gender, class, and race shape patients’ representations of their illness, how expectations of cure affect the illness experience, how different cultures constrain the coping strategies of the sick, and why robust health is such an exalted value in certain societies.
Though notorious for its polluted air today, the city of Los Angeles once touted itself as a health resort. After the arrival of the transcontinental railroad in 1876, publicists launched a campaign to portray the city as the promised land, circulating countless stories of miraculous cures for the sick and debilitated. As more and more migrants poured in, however, a gap emerged between the city’s glittering image and its dark reality.
Emily K. Abel shows how the association of the disease with “tramps” during the 1880s and 1890s and Dust Bowl refugees during the 1930s provoked exclusionary measures against both groups. In addition, public health officials sought not only to restrict the entry of Mexicans (the majority of immigrants) during the 1920s but also to expel them during the 1930s.
Abel’s revealing account provides a critical lens through which to view both the contemporary debate about immigration and the U.S. response to the emergent global tuberculosis epidemic.