Finding a Home in the Collections

Posted on October 30th, 2013 by

Within the first five minutes of my internship at the Jewish Museum of Maryland, I found myself in the midst of an intimidating board meeting. Over the course of the next two months, I realized that I had joined a dynamic staff and a group of enthusiastic Collections interns. So far, I have worked with a wide range of collections including photographs, oral histories, scrapbooks, rare books, invitations, and Bar Mitzvah cards. The most exciting evening of my internship was the day Jobi Zink entrusted me with the condition reports for two swords and a rifle for the Passages through Fire: Jews and the Civil War exhibit. You can find photographic evidence of my excitement at handling these objects on the JMM Facebook album or by clicking these links: Civil War Sword and Full Sword and Scabbard.

While most of the other collections are not as thrilling as swords and rifles, I gained valuable insight about Jewish culture in Baltimore and the rest of Maryland by processing multimedia collections. As an out-of-state undergraduate at UMBC, learning about Jewish life in all aspects of Baltimore’s history has helped me feel at home. I particularly enjoyed processing an affectionate oral testimony about Camps Louise and Airy. Growing up, I never attended Jewish summer camps, so I was intrigued to learn about this important aspect in the history of Baltimore’s Jewish youth. This record is now available in the JMM’s digital collections (Oral History #170).

Most of my work is in the form of paper documents – ranging from Hebrew diplomas, High Holy Day Cards and Bar Mitzvah invitations to family photos and newspaper clippings from Jewish businesses. I am especially intrigued by the sheer extent of the collections donors such as Linda Lapides saw fit to donate to the JMM collections. Within her file, I found a vibrant story of Jewish life evolving and changing within the city of Baltimore. Perusing her donations helped me realize that Jewish life extended far beyond the walls of the synagogue in Baltimore City.  My favorite piece of the collection was a German-language book representing the early Zionist movement, encouraging Jewish people to migrate to what was then British Palestine (Palästina). This was an exciting opportunity to practice my German language skills! In the next file, I stumbled upon two scrapbooks and a large collection of photographs detailing the development of the family-owned Greenberg’s Jewelers – yet another reminder of Jewish life outside of the synagogue. I can’t wait to find out what else lies in store for me to process in the library closed stacks!

Intern JenA blog post by Collections Intern Jen Wachtel. To read more posts by JMM interns, click here.

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Oral Histories: Dr. Arnall Patz

Posted on July 16th, 2013 by

Katharine HarperA blog post by intern Kathy Harper. To read more posts by Kathy and other interns, click here.

I’m going into my seventh week as the Photo Archives Intern here at the Jewish Museum of Maryland. While most of my duties have pertained to the photograph archives, I’ve also done extra things for my intern duties, including helping out with the upcoming exhibit on Jews, Health and Healing by transcribing oral histories.

Hard at work, transcribing my oral history.

Hard at work, transcribing my oral history.

The oral history that I transcribed was for Dr. Arnall Patz (1920-2010), a very important figure in medicine, who not only was Jewish, but also spent his adulthood in Baltimore (after growing up in Georgia).  He originally came to Baltimore for an internship at the Sinai Hospital in 1945. While in the city, he met his future wife, Ellen, and they wed five years later in 1950. As his career blossomed, he contributed many things to the field of medicine, including building one of the first lasers used in ophthalmology, and also playing a significant role in the prevention of blindness in premature babies. In 2004 he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his work.

Dr. Arnall Patz with his Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2004.” Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Arnall Patz with his Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2004. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

In his early years of medicine Dr. Patz was assigned to various hospitals in the Maryland/D.C./Virginia region, and worked in different sections, ranging from cardiology to venereal disease. From the beginning, however, he developed an interest in pediatrics and ophthalmology. Specifically, he was interested in the blindness of premature babies. At the time, the standard of care for such infants was to give them high amounts of oxygen for weeks. This was thought to be beneficial, but in fact was causing major damage as the oxygen led to overgrowth of blood vessels in the eye which caused permanent damage to the retina. Dr. Patz applied for a research grant to conduct a study in regards to the oxygen given to the premature infants, which was rejected; it was considered to be unethical to restrict the oxygen in babies, and his theory was considered highly controversial. However, the “total rejection” (as Dr. Patz described it in his oral history) did not deter him, and instead he borrowed some money from his brother and conducted the study. At a time when nobody was really doing controlled studies, his was one of the first major clinical trials in American medicine. The study was small, but showed an overwhelming difference between the two groups of infants, the ones who received high amounts of oxygen and those who did not. With the help of Dr. V. Everett Kinsey, he was able to have a national study to further support his findings.

Dr. Patz, right, and Dr. Kinsey with Helen Keller in 1956, receiving a Lasker Award for their research. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Patz, right, and Dr. Kinsey with Helen Keller in 1956, receiving a Lasker Award for their research. Image courtesy of The New York Times.

Dr. Patz was an important contributor to the field of medicine, listening to his oral history was very interesting, as was the additional readings I did on him in preparation for this blog post. With only three more weeks left in my internship I’m glad I had the opportunity to find out about him and I encourage anyone who is interested to check out the New York Times article on him that I referenced.


Altman, Lawrence. “Arnall Patz, a Doctor Who Prevented Blindness, Is Dead at 89.” New York Times 15 Mar 2010, n. pag. Web. 16 Jul. 2013. <Arnall Patz, a Doctor Who Prevented Blindness, Is Dead at 89>.

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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.”


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