“STORIES OF SICKNESS & HEALTH”

January 31, 2020 at 4:45 am

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

Aired on January 30, 2020.

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>> 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 James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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