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Sex, Sickness, and Slavery

Sex, Sickness, and Slavery: Illness in the Antebellum South

Copyright Date: 2012
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    Sex, Sickness, and Slavery
    Book Description:

    Marli F. Weiner skillfully integrates the history of medicine with social and intellectual history in this study of how race and sex complicated medical treatment in the antebellum South. Sex, Sickness, and Slavery argues that Southern physicians' scientific training and practice uniquely entitled them to formulate medical justification for the imbalanced racial hierarchies of the period. Challenged with both helping to preserve the slave system (by acknowledging and preserving clear distinctions of race and sex) and enhancing their own authority (with correct medical diagnoses and effective treatment), doctors sought to understand bodies that did not necessarily fit into neat dichotomies or agree with suggested treatments. _x000B__x000B_Focusing on Southern states from Virginia to Alabama, Weiner examines medical and lay perspectives on the body through a range of sources, including medical journals, notes, diaries, daybooks, and letters. These personal and revealing sources show how physicians, medical students, and patients--both free whites and slaves--felt about vulnerability to disease and mental illnesses, how bodily differences between races and sexes were explained, and how emotions, common sense, working conditions, and climate were understood to have an effect on the body._x000B__x000B_Physicians' authority did not go uncontested, however. Weiner also describes the ways in which laypeople, both black and white, resisted medical authority, clearly refusing to cede explanatory power to doctors without measuring medical views against their own bodily experiences or personal beliefs. Expertly drawing the dynamic tensions during this period in which Southern culture and the demands of slavery often trumped science, Weiner explores how doctors struggled with contradictions as medicine became a key arena for debate over the meanings of male and female, sick and well, black and white, North and South.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09407-1
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-viii)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Political Body
    (pp. 1-12)

    In the July 1860 issue of theOglethorpe Medical and Surgical Journal, William C. Bellamy published an article entitled “History of a Case of Insanity with Hemorrhage from Some Unknown Source Escaping from the Urethra.” Bellamy, who had an AB degree and was a medical student from Alabama, published the description of a patient, Ben, whom he had never seen because he thought the man “no less singular than interesting.” Diagnosing what was wrong with him was perplexing even to eminent local physicians, so Bellamy wrote his account in order to share a “new and interesting” case and to ask...

  5. CHAPTER 1 Constructing Race
    (pp. 13-41)

    For mid-nineteenth-century white southerners, race was a biological category so deeply rooted that determining whether the group of people variously called black, African, or Negro were even of the same order of being as those who were white, European, or Caucasian was a fundamental question. Scientists, physicians, clergymen, and more ordinary observers questioned whether God had created all human beings according to one design or whether humans were of different species, the results of separate creations, a belief known as polygenesis. Making a determination between the theories supporting the unity of human beings from the time of creation and those...

  6. CHAPTER 2 Constructing Sex
    (pp. 42-63)

    There could be little doubt in anyone’s mind in the mid-nineteenth century that men and women were different in every respect. Americans of all sorts believed that the obvious biological differences between men and women were significant far beyond the specific organs involved in reproduction. Those organs influenced every aspect of the individual body along with the mind. In the most simplistic formulations, women’s reproductive organs shaped their nurturing, maternal personalities and determined their domestic roles in society, while men’s bodies were biologically intended for the vigorous lives they led. Women’s bodies rendered them weak and in need of protection,...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Placed Bodies
    (pp. 64-92)

    Physicians who claimed that country women lived healthier lives than those in the city for the most part did so as a means of explaining elite white women’s apparent ill health. In spite of their racial superiority, physicians argued, such women suffered the consequences of their heedless adherence to the demands of fashionable civilization. However, as they watched sectional tensions escalate, southerners who found themselves more and more on the defensive in the political and intellectual life of the nation transformed their debate about the influence of urban civilization on bodies into the belief that bodies were shaped by the...

  8. CHAPTER 4 Ambiguous Bodies
    (pp. 93-122)

    Nineteenth-century Americans of all sorts assumed that the story the body told was easily read. At a glance, they believed, race, gender, class, and other identifying characteristics could be determined by the color of skin, shape of nose and lips, texture and style of hair, and cut, fabric, and style of clothing. At the same time, Americans recognized that the body could tell an ambiguous story. Surfaces did not always speak plainly. Clothing could hide a body that did not match what it claimed to represent. Unwilling to tolerate the threat of social disorder inherent in ambiguity for a host...

  9. CHAPTER 5 The Examined Body
    (pp. 123-153)

    For antebellum southern physicians and laypeople alike, no matter what their race or sex, defining the characteristics of the physical body, even a normal one, was insufficient for a complete understanding of its function and experience. Everyone recognized that bodies were influenced by the minds that were encased within them just as those minds were influenced by the bodies they inhabited, although they would have used different language. As a result, they believed the relationship between mind and body influenced every aspect of experience, whether physical or emotional. Yet minds were not just minds in the abstract; like the bodies...

  10. CHAPTER 6 The Unexamined Body
    (pp. 154-182)

    Like physicians, lay southerners had their own ways of thinking about the connections between mind and body that helped them understand health and sickness, although their views were rarely in accord with those of doctors.¹ Views of mind and body enabled people of both races and sexes to explain their own illnesses as well as those of one another. Because theories about what caused disease and how to be healthy were in flux even among physicians, who did not yet command the level of cultural authority to which they aspired, laypeople considered themselves not only capable but entitled to define...

  11. CHAPTER 7 The Diseased Body
    (pp. 183-212)

    Antebellum physicians recognized that the connections between minds and bodies that were raced, sexed, and placed influenced how they could practice medicine in the South. Minds as well as bodies could make people sick; physicians with a professional interest in restoring them to health knew that their success depended on treating both. At the same time, they knew that slaveholders had a vested interest in understanding their slaves to be healthy unless suffering from the most obvious debility. The dichotomy caused physicians, along with their slaveholding employers, to consider the extent to which their slave patients were shamming. At the...

  12. CONCLUSION: The Body Politic
    (pp. 213-218)

    In the March 1853Charleston Medical Journal and Review, T. S. Hopkins, a physician from Waynesville, Georgia, published an article called “A Remarkable Case of Feigned Disease,” in which he offered “the history of the case” of Nat, a slave man. Nat, who was forty-five years old, was sent for treatment of “pain in the side andfits.” Dr. Hopkins “diagnosticated [sic] functional derangement of the liver,” for which he prescribed several treatments. A few days later, he “was summoned in haste to see Nat in afit,” which was different from what Hopkins expected, as “there was no spasm...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 219-260)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 261-268)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 269-274)