Overlooked and Undervalued: The role of African Americans in Civil War medicine

April 22, 2014

The Melnick Medical Museum is pleased to partner with the Mahoning Valley Historical Society to present a lecture by Betsy Estilow called “Overlooked and Undervalued: The role of African Americans in Civil War Medicine.”

The lecture will take place at the Tyler History Center (325 West Federal Street, Youngstown, OH) on Wednesday, April 30th at 7:00pm. The lecture is free and open to the public.

A group of escaped slaves working for the Union Army (courtesy of the US Military History Institute)

A group of escaped slaves working for the Union Army                                                  (courtesy of the US Military History Institute)

African American men and women joined the war effort working at hospitals, on battlefields, and with relief efforts in both the North and South. Serving as surgeons, nurses, hospital attendants, cooks, and laundresses with the Union Forces, they challenged  the prescribed notions of race and gender. In the South, hundreds of African American men and women, both free and enslaved, played crucial roles in medical service. Their stories serve as inspiration to future generations.

Betsy Estilow is a professor emeritus of biology at Hood College in Frederick, MD, where she also serves as a lecturer in Civil War history and health professions advisor. Betsy received her Bachelor of Science degree from Albright College and her Master of Science degree in Medical Technology specializing in medical microbiology from West Virginia University. Thirty years ago, she began researching the role of women in the Civil War. Combining her interest in medical care and women has led her to an intense study of Civil War medicine. She serves as the President of the Board of Directors for the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, MD where she also helped in the research and design of the exhibits. She is also the co-founder of the Society for Women in the Civil War, a national group dedicated to recognizing the role of women from 1861 to 1865. She is the author of the book Doing My Duty: The wartime experiences of John S. Hard (1992).

Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries

April 16, 2014

The Melnick Medical Museum is pleased to host another banner exhibit from the National Library of Medicine called Binding Wounds, Pushing Boundaries: African Americans in Civil War Medicine. This exhibit highlights the contributions of African Americans as nurses, surgeons, and hospital workers, which has often been overlooked.


This exhibit looks at the men and women who served as medical care providers during the War and how their service changed common notions about race and gender. Individuals highlighted include surgeons Alexander T. Augusta and Anderson R. Abbott. Nurses who provided care are represented by Susie King Taylor and Ann Stokes.

This exhibit will be on display in the first floor atrium of Cushwa Hall through May 24, 2014. It is free and open to the public during the hours that the building is open.

New exhibits in Cushwa Hall

April 16, 2014

Last week I installed the first exhibits in the lower level of Cushwa Hall near the auditoriums. This is a busy hallway and I noticed many students looking at the displays as soon as I finished them. I am very excited to have these spaces to feature cool stuff from the museum’s collection. In the future, student research on the museum’s collection or topics of medical history could be displayed here as well.


The first display is about the history of medicinal alcohol. American physicians believed that alcohol served a variety of therapeutic purposes and prescribed it regularly through the 1800s. It was fascinating to read about their uses for wine, gin, whiskey, and beer. In the early 1800s, some doctors started to question this practice as they realized that too much alcohol or addiction to alcohol could be bad for your health. The exhibit particularly examines the use of alcohol in the early 1800s and how it united doctors against the government during Prohibition. The museum has several artifacts from the Prohibition period which were donated by the family of a Cleveland doctor. For more information about doctors’ use of medicinal alcohol during Prohibition, see this post.


The second display features two surgical kits that were recently donated to the museum by Dr. Rashid Abdu. The display chronicles the advancement of surgery. It begins with illustrations of tools used in the 17th century and a trephine kit from the 1780s. The second large case features a three-tiered surgical kit from the 1850s (pictured above) and some early anesthesia equipment. The last case discusses the rise of antiseptic practices, in particular masks, gloves, and metal tools.

Student nurses back in class

February 12, 2014

Work on the new display cases in Cushwa Hall (home of the Bitonte School of Health and Human Services) continues. There are new items in the four cases near the Lincoln Avenue entrance. These cases now feature artifacts from a wonderful recent donation to the museum from a local surgeon. You can read more about the donation here. These items in these cases will continue to be changed every semester.

The big news is that the custom made, full length display case on the 2nd floor has been finished. A local company that specializes in custom made museum cases completed the work last week. This display cases was designed to showcase the numerous medical uniforms in the museum’s collection. Many of those uniforms are nursing uniforms from local hospitals, but we also have some military uniforms and surgical aprons and gowns that will also make appearances in this display case.


This display case is situated near the nursing department offices. The inaugural display features local student nurse uniforms and photographs from the 1950s. The wool uniform cape is a popular item. If there’s a revival of capes, you can thank this display!


The last step in this project is add some new track lighting for this case. It should look really nice!

Bon Voyage!

February 12, 2014


The museum’s 1952 Emerson Iron Lung is on its way across the country in a comfy climate controlled, air-ride equipped trailer. It was picked up last week and will travel to San Francisco to be part of a documentary on the life of a woman who lived in an iron lung for more than 60 years. This is the first time the iron lung has been loaned since it became part of the museum’s collection. We hope it enjoys the field trip to California!


Lecture recordings

February 10, 2014

January was a busy month with a traveling exhibit “Life and Limb: The toll of the American Civil War” and two lectures on veterans related topics.

I am pleased to share that the audio recordings of these lectures are now available here. This page contains links for ALL lectures sponsored by the Melnick Medical Museum and will be updated as future lectures occur.

The most recent audio additions are:

The lecture by Dr. Sheena Eagan Chamberlin “Historical Understandings of War Trauma and PTSD” can be found here.

Kelly Selby’s presentation on “Black Veterans: Redefining citizenship in post-Civil War Ohio” can be found here.


Civil War events

January 9, 2014
Wounded Civil War veterans Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

Wounded Civil War veterans
Courtesy of the National Library of Medicine

I have been busy planning for the our first traveling exhibit from the National Library of Medicine, entitled “Life and Limb: The toll of the American Civil War.” It is fascinating as it examines the lives of wounded soldiers in the years after the Civil War, and how society reacted to these maimed men as reminders of that awful war. Many men who survived the war had limbs amputated or other very visual scars. The exhibit is on display in the atrium of Cushwa Hall on the YSU campus through January 31st. It is free and open to the public.

Exhibit in Cushwa Hall until January 31

Exhibit in Cushwa Hall until January 31

Related to this exhibit, Kelly Selby of Walsh University, will be presenting “Black Veterans: Redefining Citizenship in Post- Civil War Ohio” on Thursday, January 30th at noon in Cushwa Hall room B112. Her presentation is part of the Ohio Humanities Council Speakers Bureau. This lecture discusses how black veterans used their wartime service as a means to claim the new rights given to them in the 14th an 15th amendments. Light refreshments will be served. Hear the audio of her talk here.

4th US Colored Infantry

4th US Colored Infantry

Another veteran-related presentation will be given on Thursday, January 23rd by Dr. Sheena Eagan Chamberlin of University of Maryland University College. She will present “Historical Understandings of War Trauma and PTSD: an exploration of social history through cultural narratives.” This event will discuss how cultural narratives have shaped the history of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), affecting how it has been understood as well as the way its sufferer’s have been treated. It also explores this shifting narrative from a gendered stigmatization to its medicalization and recently to an emerging hero-narrative. The audio recording of her lecture is available here.



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