Dr. Ruth Finkelstein: a Pioneer in Women’s Health

Posted on July 9th, 2013 by

Clare RobbinsA blog post from Collections Intern Clare Robbins. Clare works with senior collections manager Jobi Zink. To read more posts by Clare and other JMM interns, click here.

This summer I’ve had a wonderful time working with Jobi in the Collections Department at the JMM.  I’ve worked on a variety of projects including processing the 2012-2013 collections, creating a condition report notebook for the “Voices of Lombard Street” exhibit, and even writing the catalogue numbers on surface of several objects.

After practicing writing 1984.16.1 for thirty minutes, I finally wrote it on the bottle.

After practicing writing 1984.16.1 for thirty minutes, I finally wrote it on the bottle.

Last week, I started transcribing an oral history with Dr. Ruth Finkelstein that will be used in the upcoming “Jews, Health and Healing” exhibit.  Dr. Finkelstein was a Baltimorean obstetrician and gynecologist beginning in the late 1930s through the 1980s who worked for better health care and family planning for women.   Listening to Dr. Finkelstein discuss her experiences has definitely been one of the highlights from my summer.  While I haven’t finished the interview, I thought I would share what I have found so far.

I’m busy transcribing Dr. Ruth Finkelstein’s interview.

I’m busy transcribing Dr. Ruth Finkelstein’s interview.

Dr. Finkelstein grew up in New York City with her parents and four siblings. Her father decided early in her life that she would become a doctor.  When she was twelve years old, Finkelstein’s father wrote to the Johns Hopkins Medical School for a catalogue that outlined how to get into medical school and she planned her life accordingly.  After finishing high school, she attended Johns Hopkins for both undergraduate and medical school.

In medical school, Finkelstein worked and lived at the first birth control clinic in Baltimore, officially called the Bureau for Contraceptive Advice because, as Finkelstein recalls, “birth control was a dirty word.”  Dr. Bessie Moses, a Baltimorean gynecologist, (you can read more about Dr. Moses here and here) opened this clinic on Broadway after she was denied space in the hospital.  Moses used the first floor as a birth control clinic and rented the upstairs to medical students.  While it was not illegal to open a privately funded birth control clinic at this time, Finkelstein recounted  the difficulties that early gynecologist like herself and Dr. Moses faced.  The Comstock law deemed birth control to be pornographic, thus making it illegal to import diaphragms (the only form of birth control at the time) from Europe.  Margaret Sanger, an early birth control activist and nurse, smuggled the diaphragms into the United States and distributed them to Moses.  Further, the only way a woman could go to the clinic was if she was referred by her physicians.  Women, however, were only referred if they had a heart, lung, or kidney disease.

Finkelstein also discussed the difficulties female doctors experienced in the early twentieth century.  Not only was Finkelstein the only Jewish woman at Johns Hopkins Medical School, she was also the only woman from her undergraduate class to pursue medicine.  As a doctor, she found that her opinion was not respected by her male colleagues.  The male doctors, she described, were “belittling” and overall dismissive of her opinions and diagnoses.  Because of these attitudes, Finkelstein could only work with a small group of physicians.

Despite the many hardships Finkelstein faced, she worked in the largely male-dominated medical field as an obstetrician and gynecologist in order to help women.  The best way that I can conclude this post is with a short quotations from Dr. Ruth Finkelstein describing her basic philosophy.  “I’m a champion of the underdog. I’m a softy. My philosophy is to help people, I guess.”

 

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




The Power of Personal Voice

Posted on March 18th, 2013 by

deborahA blog post by Assistant Director Deborah Cardin.

On Monday, March 18, JMM staff members and volunteers gathered for an oral history training workshop.

The training session was led by senior collections manager Jobi Zink.

The training session was led by senior collections manager Jobi Zink.

An eager group of students gathered in the board room for the workshop.

An eager group of students gathered in the board room for the workshop.

With more than 700 interviews in our collections, oral histories form an important part of the JMM collections. Like the artifacts in our collections, JMM oral histories are eclectic in nature and range in topic from major historical events like the Holocaust and civil rights era to more mundane subjects such as shopping in Jewish owned businesses and daily life in Maryland’s small towns.

The goal of this workshop was to teach proper techniques for conducting interviews as well as the mechanics of using our recording equipment.

 Esther Weiner practices how to properly use the digital recording equipment.

Esther Weiner practices how to properly use the digital recording equipment.

When I first started working at the JMM, we used cassette recorders that were considered top of the line when they were originally purchased. Today we use digital equipment that allows for greater flexibility in how interviews can be used. While the new equipment produces interviews that are higher quality than the older models, the technology can also be intimidating to volunteers (and to staff as well).

Here you see Jobi “patiently” answering a question posed by curator Karen Falk with one of her trademark stink eyes!

Here you see Jobi “patiently” answering a question posed by curator Karen Falk with one of her trademark stink eyes!

Hence the importance of our training.

Oral history interviews provide listeners with the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of specific historical events. As listeners of the acclaimed Story Corps project are aware, the subjects of interviews do not need to be famous – nor do the topics under discussion need to be momentous events from long ago – in order for the interview to be compelling.  (To learn more and to listen to archived interviews, visit storycorps.org/)

A search through our oral history database turns up interviews with Jewish business owners, former residents of East Baltimore (whose memories can be found in our Voices of Lombard Street exhibit),

Three separate oral history quotes greet visitors as they enter the exhibit gallery and help set the exhibit’s tone.

Three separate oral history quotes greet visitors as they enter the exhibit gallery and help set the exhibit’s tone.

This colorful quote helps bring the Lombard Street market section to life.

This colorful quote helps bring the Lombard Street market section to life.

and food mavens (whose favorite Jewish food traditions and recipes helped inform the recent Chosen Food exhibit.) We also have on file interviews with Jacob Beser who discusses his World War II military career that included  flying in both missions that dropped atomic bombs on Japan (OH 0141 and OH 0331)and Mitzi Swan (OH 0658) who participated in the protest to integrate the tennis courts at Druid Hill Park.

Excerpts from Mitzi Swan’s interview can be found in the 2004 edition of Generations that focused on the theme of Jews in sports.

Excerpts from Mitzi Swan’s interview can be found in the 2004 edition of Generations that focused on the theme of Jews in sports.

Oral history interviewees are sought as part of the research for each new exhibit. Some of my personal favorite interviews were conducted with young campers, whose enthusiasm for their camping experience helped shaped the look and feel of Cabin Fever: Jewish Camping and Commitment (2005).

At the entrance to the exhibit, visitors encountered a quote expressing the magical feeling that campers experienced as the camp bus approached the entrance to camp.

At the entrance to the exhibit, visitors encountered a quote expressing the magical feeling that campers experienced as the camp bus approached the entrance to camp.

Exhibitions, programs, and publications are all enriched thanks to our vibrant oral history program. We are so excited to have a new corps of trained oral history interviewers who are now capable of collecting new fascinating stories to add to our collections.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




The Fox Point Oral History Project

Posted on April 27th, 2012 by

A blog post by Outreach Coordinator Rachael Binning.

This past month I had the pleasure of being on a panel at the Oral History Mid-Atlantic Region (OHMAR) Conference. The presentation was very special for me because I had the opportunity to talk about my work at the Jewish Museum of Maryland and my graduate work while studying at Brown University. The conference allowed me to have a mini-reunion with my fellow Brown alumni who I worked with on a project called The Fox Point Oral History Project.

One of my greatest accomplishments at Brown was working on The Fox Point Oral History Project. The project began as an oral history and community engagement project that has continued to grow each year. While I was a student I interviewed former and past residents of Fox Point, a neighborhood that borders on Brown’s campus. The residents had wonderful stories and photographs that documented the diverse communities that lived and worked there, including Cape Verdeans, Portuguese, and African Americans. The neighborhood is located on the water in Providence so many residents there worked as longshoremen and stevedores.  The landscape of the neighborhood has changed and population has transitioned from a mostly working class neighborhood to one filled with student, professors, and professionals. Students and teachers at Brown realized the importance of this neighborhood and how it has rapidly changed and therefore began collecting oral histories and photographs from long time residents of the neighborhood.

After establishing a relationship with the community and collecting stories and memories we proceeded to share this history with the current residents of the neighborhood. We established a relationship with the local elementary school called Vartan Gregorian Elementary School and installed an exhibit in the hallways of the school using photographs and oral histories from the oral histories we collected. We then worked with the middle school students to teach them about the history of their neighborhood. After studying the history of the neighborhood the 6th graders added their own photographs to the exhibit that documented their current perspective of the neighborhood. Finally, the 6th graders were trained as docents and gave tours of the exhibition to their fellow students and members of the community at the exhibition opening and throughout the year.

The Fox Point Oral History Project was a wonderful opportunity for me. Talking about it at the OHMAR panel in relation to my work at the JMM really reminded me how much my graduate work helped to launch my career doing outreach and community engagement work. It also made me appreciate how lucky I am to have the opportunity to continue to do great community-museum work at the JMM through projects such as our partnership with Commodore John Rodgers Middle School. I’m looking forward to see what community projects are in store for next year.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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