Oral Histories: Gaining Insights and Learning Personal Stories

Posted on July 28th, 2014 by

During my Exhibitions Research Internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I have had the opportunity to conduct research on the Sinai Hospital Nurses Training Program for the upcoming Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition.  This research has included reading several oral history interviews from nurses who trained at Sinai Hospital (the program ended in 1975).  These interviews have not only given me new insights into the hospital and its program, but also have allowed me to learn some of each woman’s personality.

A group of Sinai nurses in gathered in their residence eating pizza, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

A group of Sinai nurses in gathered in their residence eating pizza, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Oral histories collect and record personal memories and commentaries, and are one of the most important sources of information available to historians.  An oral history allows one to learn about the lives of people that are not ordinarily covered in history textbooks.  The information gathered in an oral history can be used for research, excerpted in publication, filmed for documentary, or displayed in museum exhibition.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland is home to hundreds of oral histories.  Those histories that have not yet been digitized or transcribed are kept in audiocassette form and organized in filing cabinets.

The Jewish Museum of Maryland is home to hundreds of oral histories. Those histories that have not yet been digitized or transcribed are kept in audiocassette form and organized in filing cabinets.

Information we have gathered through the nurses’ oral histories will better allow us to place exhibition objects into context and craft a narrative for their display.  As Curator Karen Falk wrote in her “JMM Insights, July 2014: Where Culture Meets Science” blog post, Bobbie Horwitz’s interview gave context for the elaborate silver tea gifted to JMM by the Sinai Nursing Alumnae Association.  Horwitz explained, “They wanted to make ladies of us.”  One of the ways they did so was through a civilized “tea” held every Friday.

Sinai nurses drinking from their silver tea set, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Sinai nurses drinking from their silver tea set, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Another interesting story I came across was from former Sinai nurse Senator Rosalie S. Abrams.  Abrams recounted how she learned Yiddish while working in the men’s ward.  “I was a head nurse for the men’s ward,” she said. “That’s where I learned my Yiddish—on the men’s ward.  We used to sing them Jewish songs.”  Such stories illustrate the intersection of Jewish culture and medicine in the space of the hospital.

Three Sinai nursing students and their instructor stand around a patient in his hospital bed, June 1960. Accession # 2010.020.316. Courtesy of Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital.

Three Sinai nursing students and their instructor stand around a patient in his hospital bed, June 1960. Accession # 2010.020.316. Courtesy of Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital.

After reading so many interesting stories I was excited to receive training, with my fellow interns, from Curator Karen Falk on how to conduct an oral history.  We went over how to use the museum’s recording equipment and preparing the proper documentation for the interview.  It is crucial to be prepared for the interview.  One of the most important things to consider is what you want to learn.  You should know your topic and what information you hope to gain.  Prepare a list of questions that get at the heart of what you want to know and familiarize yourself with them.  Your rapport will be easily interrupted if you keep pausing to look down at your questions.  Keep in mind that you should also be flexible with your questions.  Your interviewee may bring up interesting points you never considered, but would like to explore.

Prior to conducting your oral history make sure all your recording equipment works.  Familiarize yourself with it and practice.  You do not want to waste your interviewee’s time trying to set up equipment that you do not know how to use or that does not work.

image 5.recording equip

Some of JMM’s oral history recording equipment, including a digital recorder and microphone.

Upcoming research for the Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition will include conducting more oral history interviews with Jewish medical professionals.  I hope that some of the great accounts from the Sinai nurses’ oral histories will be incorporated into the exhibit.

Sarah MooreA blog post by Exhibitions Research Intern Sarah Moore. To read more posts by interns click HERE.

During my Exhibitions Research Internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I have had the opportunity to conduct research on the Sinai Hospital Nurses Training Program for the upcoming Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition.  This research has included reading several oral history interviews from nurses who trained at Sinai Hospital (the program ended in 1975).  These interviews have not only given me new insights into the hospital and its program, but also have allowed me to learn some of each woman’s personality. 

Image 1: A group of Sinai nurses in gathered in their residence eating pizza, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Oral histories collect and record personal memories and commentaries, and are one of the most important sources of information available to historians.  An oral history allows one to learn about the lives of people that are not ordinarily covered in history textbooks.  The information gathered in an oral history can be used for research, excerpted in publication, filmed for documentary, or displayed in museum exhibition. 

Image 2:  The Jewish Museum of Maryland is home to hundreds of oral histories.  Those histories that have not yet been digitized or transcribed are kept in audiocassette form and organized in filing cabinets.

Information we have gathered through the nurses’ oral histories will better allow us to place exhibition objects into context and craft a narrative for their display.  As Curator Karen Falk wrote in her “JMM Insights, July 2014: Where Culture Meets Science” blog post, Bobbie Horwitz’s interview gave context for the elaborate silver tea gifted to JMM by the Sinai Nursing Alumnae Association.  Horwitz explained, “They wanted to make ladies of us.”  One of the ways they did so was through a civilized “tea” held every Friday.

Image 3:  Sinai nurses drinking from their silver tea set, no date. Courtesy of Sinai Hospital of Baltimore.

Another interesting story I came across was from former Sinai nurse Senator Rosalie S. Abrams.  Abrams recounted how she learned Yiddish while working in the men’s ward.  “I was a head nurse for the men’s ward,” she said. “That’s where I learned my Yiddish—on the men’s ward.  We used to sing them Jewish songs.”  Such stories illustrate the intersection of Jewish culture and medicine in the space of the hospital.

Image 4:  Three Sinai nursing students and their instructor stand around a patient in his hospital bed, June 1960. Accession # 2010.020.316. Courtesy of Nurses Alumnae Association of Sinai Hospital.

After reading so many interesting stories I was excited to receive training, with my fellow interns, from Curator Karen Falk on how to conduct an oral history.  We went over how to use the museum’s recording equipment and preparing the proper documentation for the interview.  It is crucial to be prepared for the interview.  One of the most important things to consider is what you want to learn.  You should know your topic and what information you hope to gain.  Prepare a list of questions that get at the heart of what you want to know and familiarize yourself with them.  Your rapport will be easily interrupted if you keep pausing to look down at your questions.  Keep in mind that you should also be flexible with your questions.  Your interviewee may bring up interesting points you never considered, but would like to explore.

Prior to conducting your oral history make sure all your recording equipment works.  Familiarize yourself with it and practice.  You do not want to waste your interviewee’s time trying to set up equipment that you do not know how to use or that does not work.

Image 5: Some of JMM’s oral history recording equipment, including a digital recorder and microphone.

Upcoming research for the Jews, Health, and Healing exhibition will include conducting more oral history interviews with Jewish medical professionals.  I hope that some of the great accounts from the Sinai nurses’ oral histories will be incorporated into the exhibit.

 

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To Work in a Museum…

Posted on July 24th, 2013 by

Kathleen MorrisonA blog post by Archives Intern Kathleen Morrison. Kathleen works under the supervision of Senior Collections Manager Jobi Zink. To read additional posts by Kathleen and other interns, click here.

My internship will be over in less than a month from now, having gone by pretty quickly, at least to me. As the end of this experience nears, I realize how much time and labor goes into running a good museum. Behind the scenes are thousands of papers, photos, and objects, the majority of which have been cataloged and sorted and put away in one of our collection rooms. A lot of the things I’ve seen were done by staff and former interns, but there’s a fair share of volunteer efforts down here in collections.

Currently, I’m working on transcribing an oral history from the late Doctor Arnall Patz, one of several where he was interviewed for the museum. It was recorded by a volunteer. This museum, with its small size and budget compared to institutions like Johns Hopkins and the Smithsonian collections, does its best with the help of all the volunteers. The staff are lovely and work hard, but there is always more work than there are people. It’s so nice to go look for something and then see that a former intern cataloged it carefully and correctly, or that a volunteer went through the boxes and moved things around (with direction!) to create a little more shelf space for us to accept artifacts from people.

When I was younger, I thought I could do most any job as long as it wasn’t repetitive and boring. But working in a small museum has shown me what a labor of love it is. None of the staff would be here if they were not passionate about Jewish history in Maryland, or about working in a museum. You feel kind of proud when you put something away to be saved for future generations. Even though I’m not Jewish, I am a Marylander and it’s a good feeling when I come across things I didn’t know about this state and its people as I work. History is far more close and personal than some people, myself included, realize. To work in a museum is to help make sure we never lose that connection to people who lived before us, who did the hard work to give us the world we have now.

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MS 180 Rosa Fineberg Midwife Records

Posted on April 13th, 2011 by

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The following collection is one of my favorites (mostly because of my interest in the history of medicine), but it's also a very useful tool for genealogists (as long as the genealogists' ancestors were born in East Baltimore around 1900).  Rosa Fineberg acted as a midwife during the early twentieth century.  She delievered hundreds of babies, and her record books include the names of the parents (only sometimes the name of the baby she delivered), dates, addresses, occupations, and national origins.

Thanks to one of our very dedicated volunteers we are in the processes of creating a spreadsheet with all of the information from the books.  When that document is complete (we have several months yet to go as it takes a VERY long time to type up hundreds upon hundreds of names, dates, addresses, etc.) researchers will be able to use it to find information faster, rather than having to leaf through the actual record books.

While this collection has a lot a value to genealogists, it doesn't tell us much about Rosa herself.  We know that she was extremely busy and that she must have been trusted since so many families called her in for the deliveries, but we know little else.  Luckily we have an oral history in our collection, conducted almost thirty years ago in which Rosa's granddaughter, Pearl Bagan, recounts what she remembers of her grandmother's life and work.  The combination of the oral history and the record book collection creates a much richer story than we could tell with just one or the other.

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Rosa Fineberg (d. 1926) Midwife Records

1895-1919

 MS 180

 The Jewish Museum of Maryland

 Accession and Provenance

The Rosa Fineberg Midwife Records were donated to the Jewish Museum of Maryland by Pearl Bagan as accession 1966.003 and Leonard Sollins as accession 1985.072.  Jennifer Vess processed the collection in November 2009.

Access to the collection is unrestricted and is available to researchers at the Jewish Museum of Maryland.  Researchers must obtain the written permission of the Jewish Museum of Maryland before publishing quotations from materials in the collection.  Papers may be copied in accordance with the library’s usual procedures.

Biographical Sketch

Rosa Fineberg was born in Russia as Rosa Edelhurst, the only girl in a family of seven children.  Her brothers became doctors and rabbis, and it is thought that she learned her midwifery from her brothers.  Rosa married the chief rabbi of Katrinaslav, Russia, but later she immigrated to United States without him.  She settled in Baltimore despite having all of her relations in New York, and, once established, Rosa brought over her three daughters – Sarah, aged sixteen, who married Max Siegal, Rebecca who married Harry Sohffer, and Pearl (the youngest).  Rosa’s husband never came to the United States and the family lost touch with him after World War I.  In Baltimore Rosa acted as a midwife, her records spanning the years 1895 through 1919.  Rosa attended B’Nai Israel.

Information from: OH 0167

Scope and Content

The majority of the collection is made up of record books, containing the date of birth, gender, birth order, and place of birth of the child as well as the mother’s married and maiden names, mother’s place of birth, and the father’s name, occupation and birthplace.  Not all of the records indicate the child’s name or gender.  The record books are organized chronologically.  The collection also includes a computer printout of the information from the record books and Rosa Fineberg’s midwife certificate.

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Posted in jewish museum of maryland