Unexpected Finds: The Story of Reproductive Health in 1900s Baltimore

Posted on June 21st, 2011 by

Penicillin’s discovery in 1928 revolutionized the treatment of many types of illnesses and infections. It also became a fixture in the treatment of venereal disease, the specialty of Dr. Morris Abramovitz, but I was surprised to not even find mention of it in the process of unpacking and photographing the contents of his doctor’s cabinet. A bit of research revealed that Dr. Abramovitz was born in 1879 and died in 1951, only a decade after mass production of the drug began. Much of Dr. Abramovitz’s work came before this medical innovation, but he still has several inventions of his own.

A photo postcard depicting a display of Dr. Abramovitz’s inventions. 2001.026.062.02

 

A photo of one of Dr. Abramovitz’s inventions, the Combined Method Apparatus today, taken by me. 2001.026.010b

 

His most popular and influential invention seems to be the Combined Method Apparatus. Images demonstrating its use are featured prominently in the photos that came with the cabinet, and inside the cabinet is also a package containing the apparatus set to be mailed as far away as Indiana.

 

A Combined Method Apparatus packed and ready to be shipped to Indiana. 2001.026.073a

 

The apparatus appears to offer doctors the option to inject more than one solution at a time, in cases where combined medications or multiple treatments were required. Compared to the large hypodermic needles throughout the rest of the kit, this method appears much easier than trying to prepare two of those at once!

 

A photo postcard demonstrating how the Combined Method Apparatus is used. 2001.026.062.7

 

As opposed to curing venereal disease with huge hypodermic needles, the brighter side of reproductive health is, of course, ensuring a healthy childbirth for both the mother and baby. The same day as I wrapped up work on unpacking and photographing the doctor’s cabinet, I ended up doing image research for a Gil Sandler column about early 1900s midwives. In the article it states that in the 1920s, only 22% of births in Baltimore took place in a hospital. Among the Jewish community, many of whom were immigrants, the percentage was even lower. These immigrants were not yet comfortable with the environment of the hospital, or the all-male staff of doctors, and instead preferred the help of midwives while delivering their children at home.

 

A photo of Rosa Fineberg, one of the most prolific midwives in Baltimore. 1966.003.033

 

Rosa Fineberg, who worked from 1895 to 1919, had a particularly impressive record, delivering over 2,000 babies in the immigrant communities of Baltimore. The JMM was lucky to receive all of her records of her work as a midwife. The books that make up these records vary in condition, but they are all filled in by hand, recording the child’s place of birth, parents, father’s occupation, mother’s maiden name, and even how many children the couple had, all valuable information for creating a greater understanding of immigrant families in Baltimore, but also an indicator of one woman’s thorough and compassionate work as a midwife, serving the immigrant community and aiding in their transition from Europe to Baltimore.

 

A page from one of her midwife books.

 

To me, these sort of interesting, unexpected finds remind me why I find museums so interesting. In objects and photos from the past we are not only reminded of facts we already know. We also stand to be surprised by details we may not have thought of before!

A blog post by intern Emilie Reed.

Posted in jewish museum of maryland




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