The Historian in Me

I was halfway through my dissertation in early American women’s history before I was derailed by the birth of my 1st, and then my 2nd baby. Suddenly the biopolitics of 18th c American no longer seemed as pressing to me. But there’s still a historian somewhere deep down in me with lots of completely random, useless knowledge about the past…

For instance, did you know breast pumps were as necessary and irksome to women 400 years ago as they are to us moms today? This is an example of a glass breast pump circa 1800. The flange was placed over the nipple, and a tube extended upwards so that the milk-expressor could suck until her engorged breasts were as deflated as she desired…

FUN FACT: In 17th c France there is evidence that puppies were sometimes used as makeshift breast pumps. Hey – a woman’s gotta do what a woman’s gotta do…

You know your old-fashioned heater that only seems to have one temp: HOT? There’s an actual historical reason for this nuisance. During the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, many experts (rightly) believed that the virus was less likely to spread in well-ventilated places. So heaters were designed that could get hot enough to warm a room, even with the windows open. So your annoying, noisy radiator is actually a pandemic-fighting invention!…

One of the most popular (and titillating) medical pamphlets from the 17th c on offered advice and info on the mysterious workings of pregnancy and reproduction. For hundreds of years it was common to blame birth deformities and abnormalities on the hysterical, evil, and uncontrollable emotions and thoughts of the pregnant mother. If she lusted after forbidden fruit, her baby could be born a monster. The sight of a hairy animal could imprint itself onto the anatomy of her unborn child. This science is not all surprising given men’s age-old attempt to control women and “encourage” proper behavior. My pregnancies prove these postulations to be illegitimate, however, since if they were, my kids would have come out as giant oreos.

Published by imworriedmytherapisthatesme

I'm a history-PhD-turned-stay-at-home-mom of three. When I'm not microwaving Trader Joe's meals for my kids, breaking up fights and wiping butts, I like to paint and write. To cope with the endless hours I'm spending with my son doing virtual school, I've abandoned my gouache paints for the more portable, less messy tried but true, paper and ink. While he learns to read to 20 floating heads on his screen, I sit on a tiny chair, at a tiny table pretending to be a productive adult.

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