“STORIES OF SICKNESS & HEALTH”

The Brooklyn Historical Society chronicles centuries of medical care in a fascinating new exhibit. 

Aired on January 30, 2020.

TRANSCRIPT

> FOR AS LONG AS IT HAS EXISTED, BROOKLYN HAS BEEN AT THE EPICENTER OF HEALTH CARE.

FROM THE DAWN OF REPRODUCTION RIGHTS WITH THE FIRST EVER CLINIC WITH THE MEASLES IN WILLIAMSBURG, IT HAS BEEN SOMEWHAT OF A MICROCOSM OF THE DEBATE.

NOW, TAKING CARE OF BROOKLYN, STORIES OF SICKNESS AND HEALTH IS EXAMINING HOW FOR CENTURIES, BROOKLYNITES HAVE COME TO UNDERSTAND AND EXPERIENCE ILLNESS.

HERE WITH MORE DETAILS ON THE EXHIBIT IS JULIE, THE VICE PRESIDENT FOR AFFAIRS AND COLLECTIONS AT THE BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

IT IS NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

LET'S START OFF WITH THE SOCIETY ITSELF.

IT'S A FASCINATING PLACE.

TELL ME MORE ABOUT ITS HISTORY.

BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY IS A 156-YEAR-OLD INSTITUTION IN THE HEART OF BROOKLYN HEIGHTS.

WE ARE A LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES, AN ACTIVE MUSEUM, A HUB OF EDUCATION, AND REALLY A COMMUNITY CENTER PIECING TOGETHER ALL THE STORIES OF BROOKLYN'S PAST AND TIME THEM TO OUR PRESENT DAY WORLD.

AND IT'S A BREATH TAKING FACILITY.

I PLAN ON GOING.

YOU HAD MENTIONED TO ME THAT IT IS INTERIOR, ESPECIALLY THE LIBRARY, IS ACTUALLY A LAND MARKED INTERIOR?

THAT'S RIGHT.

THE OUTSIDE IS OF COURSE LAND MARKED AS MANY BUILDINGS IN NEW YORK ARE.

A MUCH RARER DESIGNATION IS AN INTERIOR LANDMARK.

THE BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY IS ONE OF ONLY THREE LIBRARIES IN THE CITY THAT HAVE THIS INTERIOR LANDMARK STATUS AND IT IS A REMARKABLE PLACE TO STUDY, TO LOOK AT PRIMARY SOURCE DOCUMENTS TORSION EXPLORE THE STACKS SURROUNDED BY THE WOOD COLUMNS AND THE ORIGINAL LIGHTING AND ALL OF THE BOOKS THAT MAKE UP THE HISTORY AND CULTER OF BROOKLYN.

IT LOOKS LIKE A BREATH TAKING ENVIRONMENT FOR PEOPLE AT ALL THOSE LEVELS.

LET'S TALK ABOUT THIS EXHIBIT.

WHAT'S THE GENESIS OF THIS?

WE STARTED RESEARCHING THIS EXHIBITION ABOUT THREE YEARS AGO.

AND THIS REALLY CAME OUT OF AN OBSERVATION THAT I MADE, SPENDING TIME IN OUR LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES THAT SO MANY OF OUR COLLECTIONS WERE ACTUALLY ABOUT HEALTH IN SO MANY WAYS.

IN SOME WAYS, THE ENTIRE HISTORY OF BROOKLYN COULD BE SEEN THROUGH THIS LENS OF SICK KNOW AND HEALTH.

AS WE BEGIN TO DIG IN, WE COULDN'T HELP BUT NOTICE CONTEMPORARY ZRESIDENCES.

AT THE TIME, IT WAS EBOLA AND THEN ZEEK AND THEN MEASLES OUTBREAK IN BROOKLYN THAT IS ON OUR MINDS.

AND IT SHOWS SO SALIENTLY, THAT THE EVENTS AND DECISIONS OF THE PAST ABSOLUTELY SHAPE THE WORLD, THE BROOKLYN WE LIVE IN TODAY.

WHAT DO YOU THINK IT IS ABOUT BROOKLYN?

ITS COMPOSITION, ITS INFRASTRUCTURE, THAT HAS PUT IT AT THE CENTER OF SO MANY DIFFERENT CHALLENGES AND ISSUES OVER THE YEARS.

ESPECIALLY IN MEDICINE.

THE EXHIBITION IS ABOUT SICKNESS AND HEALTH.

PEOPLE OFTEN THINK GERMS, BIOLOGY, AND THOSE FACTOR INTO OUR HEALTH.

WHAT IS REALLY AT THE HEART OF PEOPLE'S EXPERIENCES OF HEALTH ARE SOCIAL ISSUES.

AND THINGS LIKE URBAN CROWDING, DIVERSITY, IMMIGRATION, RACISM AND XENOPHOBIA, SEXISM, ALL OF THESE ARE AFFECT HOW WE EXPERIENCE HEALTH AND BROOKLYN IS GROUND ZERO FOR THOSE EXPERIENCES.

BROOKLYN IS CROWDED, DIVERSE, IT HAS GIVEN RISE TO REMARKABLE MOMENTS OF ACTIVISM AND CHANGE AND KEY MOMENTS OF OPPRESSION.

IT IS ALSO A PLACE OF INNOVATION WHERE PHARMACEUTICAL COPIES GOT THEIR START.

AND WE ARE JUST AVERAGE, ORDINARY PEOPLE ON THE STREET, LOOKED AROUND AND SAW INJUSTICE AND TOOK IT INTO THEIR OWN HANDS TO MAKE CHANGES.

SO IN SOME WAYS, WHERE BROOKLYN BEGINS, THE REST OF THE WORLD GOES.

THERE'S SO MUCH THERE.

WE CAN'T GET INTO ALL OF THEM WEST WANT PEOPLE TO GO.

LET ME GO BACK TO SOMETHING I MENTIONED IN THE INTRODUCTION.

THE FIRST BIRTH CONTROL CENTER.

HOW DID THAT COME ABOUT?

SO MARGARET SANGER WAS, BY THE TIME WE GET TO THE 1910s, A VERY ACTIVE PROGRESSIVE ERA REFORMER.

VERY INTERESTED IN THE EXPERIENCES OF POOR PEOPLE, PARTICULARLY WOMEN, AND OBSERVED PARTICULARLY IN CROWDED PLACES LIKE THE NEIGHBORHOOD OF BROWNSVILLE IN BROOKLYN, THE DELETERIOUS IMPACT THAT HAVING TOO MANY CHILDREN HAD ON PEOPLE, PARTICULARLY ON POOR WOMEN.

AND THESE WERE ISSUES OF HEALTH.

HIT AN EFFECT ON POVERTY.

PEOPLE WERE MORE LIKELY TO REMAIN IN POVERTY.

NOT BE ABLE TO TAKE CARE OF THEIR CHILDREN.

AT THE SAME TIME THAT SHE'S MAKING THESE OBSERVATIONS, A DIFFERENT GROUP OF AMERICANS ARE SAYING THAT THINGS ABOUT BIRTH CONTROL ARE OBSCENE AND THEY SHNTS BE DISTRIBUTED THROUGH THE MAIL OR KNOWN WITH IN ANY WAY.

SO MANY STATES, INCLUDING NEW YORK, IT WAS ILLEGAL TO DISTRIBUTE ANY INFORMATION ABOUT BIRTH CONTROL.

I DIDN'T REALIZE THAT.

EXACTLY RIGHT.

THESE ISSUES WERE --

I THINK THEY WERE DEBATED SOCIALLY BUT THEY DIDN'T REALIZE THEY WERE CRIMINALIZED.

EXACTLY.

AND MARGARET SANGER KNEW THIS.

BY OPENING UP THE FIRST BIRTH CONTROL CLINIC IN 1916 HERE IN BROOKLYN, SHE WAS PUSHING THE LAW, RIGHT?

SHE KNEW THAT SHE HAD THE POSSIBILITY OF GETTING ARRESTED AND IN FACT, SHE KIND OF HOPED SHE WOULD BE.

THE BIRTH CONTROL CLINIC WAS WIDELY WELL RECEIVED.

HUNDREDS OF WEAPOOMEN WERE ACTU CARED FOR THERE IN THE NINE DAYS THE CLINIC WAS OPEN BEFORE IT WAS SHUT DOWN BY POLICE OFFICERS.

AND MARGARET SANGER AND THE WOMEN SHE OPENED IT WITH DID JAIL TIME.

BUT ACTUALLY, THEIR COMMITMENT TO SHINING LIGHT ON THE INEQUITY OF THESE LAWS LED TO A CHANGE IN NEW YORK STATE LAW ABOUT THE DISSEMINATION OF BIRTH CONTROL AND INFORMATION WITH BIRTH CONTROL.

A FASCINATING LOOK AT IT.

YOU ALSO HAVE A PODCAST.

WE HAVE A PODCAST CALLED FLATBUSH IN MAINE.

IT HAS BEEN RUNNING ABOUT THREE YEARS.

WE HAVE A WONDERFUL FAN BASE.

IT IS A GREAT WAY TO GET THE STORIES THAT WE HAVE IN THE BUILDINGS OUT TO THE WORLD.

WE'VE DONE ELS ON THE HISTORY OF CHOLERA IN BROOKLYN, THE HISTORY OF WOMEN DOCTORS IN BROOKLYN.

WE HAVE ONE COMING BUT THAT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PUBLIC HEALTH AND CIVIL RIGHTS.

YOU CAN FINDS THAT ON ON APPLE PODCAST OR ANY PODCAST PLATFORM YOU USE.

PODCASTS ARE GREAT BUT GET TO THE BUILDING.

GREAT TO TALK TO YOU.

A MARVELOUS OPERATION.

VERY GOOD WORK.

WE'LL GET YOU BACK NEXT TIME FOR THE NEXT EXHIBIT.

PLEASE DO.

FOR YOU FOLKS OUT THERE ON THE EXHIBIT, TAKING CARE OF BROOKLYN.

STORIES OF SICKNESS AND HEALTH AT THE BROOKLYN HISTORICAL SOCIETY.

MAKE SURE YOU VISIT US AT METROFOCUS.ORG.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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