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Trying to Fit a Square Peg into a Round Hole

November 2nd and November 9th, 2009

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To advance the slides, move your mouse to the right side of the current slide.

Reference links to non-Atkins Library Special Collections items.
Dix Hill Picture from
Dorothea Dix Picture from Stranger and traveler: the story of Dorothea Dix, American reformer
Memorial Soliciting a State Hospital from Documenting the American South
Pictures of St. Peter’s from the Mecklenburg Landmarks Commission
Harriet Morrison’s Hexagonal House from The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Story
Harriet Morrison Irwin Patent- US Patent Office

I combined these two weeks for two reasons. The first is that the written section of my thesis is due soon. The second is that I worked on one task for the last two weeks, namely that of putting together a mock layout of how I would like the cases to look, and yes it did take two weeks. Once I finished perusing the collections, I had a fairly good idea of what pieces I wanted to use in the exhibit, but just for good measure I went back through them one more time. Once I knew all the pieces I would LIKE to include, I set about to find which ones I had room to include. To help with the visual part of the layout, I designed three PowerPoint slides to mimic the look of the cases. The first three slides show the basic designs I worked with. The first mimics the two large cases upstairs. The second image is of the top of the cases downstairs, and the third is of the bottom of the downstairs cases. I also watermarked a picture of the Special Collections room in the background since the back of the cases are glass and the room will be visible behind the exhibit. I started with the upstairs cases because I was dying to arrange them. The fourth slide is of the right case on the tenth floor. I have a two-fold intention for this case. The first is to highlight Dr. Annie Alexander. As the first licensed female medical practitioner in the South, I felt she deserved a good deal of attention in the exhibit, especially because she is a good link between the women and Mecklenburg County Medicine in general. However, as much as I like displaying Dr. A. Alexander, I did not wish to fill an entire case solely with her artifacts. Instead, I began the case with her and then layered in other doctors who I believed worked in women’s health as well as well as advertisements geared towards women.

In the center panel, I decided to prominently display Dr. A. Alexander’s diploma. This is a very beautiful and very large piece. It is hand detailed and hand written at a cost $30 dollars in the 1880s when she graduated. I think this will provide a wonderful focal point for the right panel, if we can just find a way to hang it. After the diploma, I laced in pictures of Dr. A. Alexander. Dr. A. Alexander always seems to have a decided look of confidence. At the bottom, I began to layer in women’s medicine in general. The center book is a picture of several female medical students observing a brain dissection. The two books flanking it are actually the same book, American System of Gynecaeology by Mann. The library has two copies of this book that were previously owned by two different Charlotte doctors, Dr. A. Alexander being one of them and Dr. L.W. Hunter being the other.
On the right side of the panel, I placed a picture of both Dr. Annie Alexander as well as her father Dr. John Brevard Alexander. Dr. J.B. Alexander was a driving force in Annie’s education. A prominent doctor himself, Dr. J.B. Alexander felt that his daughter could reach a segment of the population propriety sometimes banned him from. I also allocated space in this case to give a brief discussion of Dr. A. Alexander and her father. At the bottom, I wish to place one of Dr. A. Alexander’s patient logs. On the left side of the panel, I wanted to place a picture of Dr. L.W. Hunter (the owner of the other gynecological book). This picture shows him with his medical bag in hand entering his office, which was in a building in the back of his house. Above Dr. Hunter are advertisements for different items, such as nasal spray for babies or a flyer entreating housewives to purchase high quality ingredients with which to cook to ensure their family’s good health.

Next, I began work on the left panel. This panel is meant to detail several different aspects of Mecklenburg county medicine, such as medicine in war and slavery, as well as specialty medicine. I tried to design the center panel as one that would draw in the eye with a large title plaque, as well as the three different objects I have to work with. Below the sign are more ads for medical products or services, including ones for prosthetic legs, Sloan’s lineament (apparently a pain killer), and a do-it-yourself medical book. Directly below the ads are receipts from a local doctor/dentist for dental work, one for as many as 14 gold fillings. On the left of the receipts are three lenses from what appears to be two sets of eyeglasses. Two of the lenses are even bifocals. To the right of the receipts is a medical scale. I believe this dates to the 18th century and was designed to be able to easily fit into a pocket or medical bag.
The right panel of this case is meant to feature people from Mecklenburg County who dealt with medicine during wartime. The centerpiece is Dr. J.B. Alexander’s appointment as a Surgeon during the Civil War. The signature on the bottom is that of Zebulon Vance- a Civil War governor of North Carolina. This is actually the second appointment Dr. J. B. Alexander received. The first was that of Assistant Surgeon, but he soon made his way to full Surgeon. His daughter Dr. A. Alexander followed in her father’s footsteps, becoming a first lieutenant as an acting surgeon in World War I. There are three pictures above the appointment. The bottom-most is one of the U.S. Army 1st North Carolina Regiment which served in Cuba during the Spanish American War. There are several photographs in this album, but the two that deal with hospitals or field medical care are the most relevant to this project. The two upper pictures are actually postcards of the hospital at Camp Greene.
The left panel of this case deals with medicine and slavery. The top three pieces are medical receipts for the care of slaves. These receipts are extremely telling for they show that slaves were treated by the same medical doctors as the rest of the family of their white masters. Often the receipts or doctors personal records show slaves and family members all on one page. These receipts also show that slaves were given drugs such as laudanum, a potent pain killer. The book at the bottom is a ledger designed for slave owners or overseers. The front matter lists the appropriate treatment for crops and slaves including how the owner/overseer could medically treat the slaves themselves. Finally, the bottom pieces are a fleem and a draftsman’s compass. The three-bladed fleem was used to cut through skin, mainly for slicing through blisters or for a common process called bleeding which held that a sick person improved if the doctor removed a certain amount of blood from them. This piece appears to be from the late 18th century.
Now, on to the 1st floor cases. My intent for these cases is to display information about the three women of my thesis and their accomplishments. Despite being much smaller, these cases proved much more difficult. To begin with, the space is more limited in them. For example, there are some wonderful architectural prints from the Louis Asbury Collection that I would love to include, but they are larger than the cases themselves. Secondly, the cases are so specific that it makes it more difficult to decide what to include. The first case I tackled was that of Dorothea Dix. I wanted to make sure to include a picture of Dix. These women were the driving forces behind these endeavors. They were not like many women of the time who worked behind the scenes. They were women who were in the public eye, especially Dorothea Dix and her congressional crusades, thus it only seemed fitting to show their pictures. I also wanted to show a picture of Dix Hill, which is the insane asylum in Raleigh and the first hospital in North Carolina. This is a mammoth building. I first saw this gigantic structure when I was doing research in Raleigh. The grounds are covered with trees, so you cannot see the building until you emerge from the trees, at which time you are greeted by a structure that appears to dwarf its surroundings. While I did not include a map of the area from the mid-1850s, I would like to. The placement of Dix Hill is incredibly interesting. The majority of the city of Raleigh is in a compact area. Dix Hill resides to the Southwest of the city- by itself. I also wanted to include something eye-catching as well as informational. Thus I created a sign that offers students fictitious help from Dix Hill. It announces that Dix Hill can help with any of the following problems:
• Ill Health
• Intemperance
• Hard Study
• Religious Excitement
• Excessive use of stimulants
• Sun Stroke
• Fright
• Disappointment in Love
• Masturbation
• Family Afflictions
• Congestion of Brain
• Excessive Lactation
• Loss of Property
• Jealousy

These are all reasons people were admitted to Dix Hill within the first few years of its operation. I hope this sign will not only catch the eye of passerby’s, but also illustrate some of the similarities and difference between 19th and 21st century ideas of insanity. The bottom of this case, I decided to focus more on Dix’s writings. Combing through her legislative Memorials, the reader comes away with a picture of a woman who is able to yield words like soldiers yield a sword. She was a verbal warrior for the cause of insanity. Dix did not just use her words to fight though. She also used them to instruct. The other document in the bottom case is a children’s book Dix wrote on the proper morals for a child.
Next I designed the case for Harriet Morrison Irwin. This case proved fun to design because there are pictures of the house, as well as the architectural patent. These both provide great visual elements. As with Dix, I wanted a picture of Irwin. In the upper case I thought it would be best to include the architectural patent. It gives a good general idea of what she was trying to accomplish. Then in the bottom I wanted a picture of one of the hexagonal houses. It was the first house she built and is the best illustration of the reality of how her houses were constructed. The picture is of the house the Irwin’s actually lived in. Also in the bottom of the case, I placed an ad for baking powder. I realize this may seem odd, but my intent with this was to illustrate how Irwin’s contribution to the built environment was actually an extension of some of the prescribed social roles of the time. This ad advises women that if they are to be good housewives and keep their families healthy, they need to use this specific type of baking powder. It claims that the ingredients in it support a healthy house. Irwin was doing the same in trying to create a healthy house; she just took it to an extreme that other housewives did not.
Finally I began work on Jane Smedberg Wilkes. Wilkes was a challenging case for the simple reason that I had the most material on her, and had to pare it down a good deal. Yet there were still certain elements I wanted in the case. The first, as with the other cases, was a picture of Wilkes. Next, I wanted a picture of St. Peter’s Hospital as it stands today. Since this is only one of two buildings I discuss that is still in existence, I wanted to make sure that a current picture is available. The final artifact in the case is actually a Valentine Wilkes received from a gentleman suitor before she married her husband. Special Collections has an entire folder of these letters. One of the more interesting ones is from a suitor admonishing her for playing with his affections. I believe this Valentine can act as a reminder that these were real women. While I extol the virtues of these women as almost super-human, they were not. These were real women who achieved amazing feats. The bottom-case is more focused on the hospitals. It has two postcards that show the two hospitals Wilkes built. The journal that is beside it was published in 1936 and details the founding and achievements of the hospitals until then. As the last element in this case, I wanted to give a brief overview of hospitals in Charlotte. Jane Wilkes was truly crucial in hospitals in Charlotte, and I would like to briefly show how. Thus ends my explanation for my ideal exhibit. Now all that is left is to see how much of this can be put into play and what improvements can be made on it.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Phoebe Pollitt permalink
    December 11, 2009 9:11 pm

    HOw long will your exhibits be up for all to see?

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