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5 8 Most of the fetal specimens I found in the basement at Mount Holyoke College were donated by alumnae who had graduated in the 1930s and 1940s and gone on to become doctors and nurses. Their clinical work gave them access to embryo and fetal remains, as I learned from a 1943 graduate who remembered studying fetal specimens in an advanced embryology class. “I believe these were specimens sent in by MHC graduates,” she wrote, “who had gone into medicine and passed on the results of spontaneous abortion and miscarriage among their patients to the college” (Wine 1999). She explained that she had personally inherited a small collection of fetuses from her father, who had practiced obstetrics as a country doctor in the 1930s. When she graduated, she left her father’s collection to Mount Holyoke. A gift of dead fetuses may seem like an unusual choice to today’s alumnae, who might be more inclined to donate benches for the gardens or money for international internships. But there was a time when a gift of exotic specimens—including human fetuses—would have been considered quite prestigious. Ever since its inception in 1837, this small undergraduate college in rural Massachusetts has prided itself on educating women for careers in science (Levin 2005). In the late 1880s, an extensive natural history collection provided teachers with ready teaching specimens, and students as well as professors liked to bring back curiosities from around the world. These colThree Building a Collection UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 58 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 58 6/8/2009 1:49:04 PM 6/8/2009 1:49:04 PM 5 9 B u i l d i n g a C o l l e c t i o n lections were the nineteenth-century equivalents of European Renaissance curiosity cabinets, in which the world’s marvelous objects could be displayed. Whereas the Wunderkammern, or “wonder chambers” as the cabinets were called, were meant to incite a sense of wonder, Mount Holyoke’s collection was designed to demonstrate how scientific rationality would bring order to the natural world through classification, categorization, and description (Benedict 2001; Daston and Park 1998).1 Exotic specimens donated to Mount Holyoke’s zoological collections in 1880 included such irreplaceable treasures as corals from Micronesia, stuffed birds from India, shells from South Africa, the skins of a baby ostrich and of a “Cape Tiger,” and an insect collection purchased for the handsome sum of one thousand dollars (Clapp 1880). A famous dinosaur fossil was the prized possession. Wet tissue biological specimens began to be added after the invention of formaldehyde as a preserving fluid in the late nineteenth century. In 1917, just before Christmas, the Mount Holyoke science building burned to the ground. The flames consumed the birds, shells, coral, “Miss Talbot’s remarkable dinosaur fossil,” and the very expensive bug collection (Turner 1918). The microscopic teaching slides were lost, as well as the mineralogical samples. Professors, students, alumnae, and friends of the college rushed to replenish the collections, donating whatever they could. Given the attention to embryo collecting that had been escalating in Baltimore since 1913, it should come as no surprise that gifts to the college would include human fetal specimens. In fact, the college developed two separate fetal collections— one each in the departments of zoology and physiology. In the 1920s, the professors set up a small display of fetal development in the hallway to coincide with the introduction of embryology into the zoology curriculum. The Mount Holyoke zoology department offered two embryology courses in 1921, “one dealing with the chick and mammals and a new course, ‘General Embryology,’ planned by Elizabeth Adams, [class of] 1914, which links up more closely with the problems of heredity” (A.H. Morgan 1921:18). Adams and her sister had both attended Mount Holyoke as undergraduates. The sister later married Charles S. Flagler, a physician in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, who over the years donated more than a dozen fetal specimens to the zoology department, presumably from the hospital where he worked. These specimens were a regular part of the curriculum well into the 1940s. Students studied them and drew sketches, as is evident in a photograph taken at nearby Smith College of a student sitting at a lab bench, examining a fetal skeleton alongside a wet tissue specimen. At Mount Holyoke, fetal specimens were donated UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 59 UC-Morgan-ToPress.indd 59 6/8/2009 1:49:04 PM 6/8/2009...


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