Citation

A Doctor’s Fortune: An Inheritance of Black Bones

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Abstract:

The racialized history of medicine is often associated with the antebellum South. In Alabama in the 1840s, J. Marion Sims perfected his surgeries by experimenting on enslaved women scores of times without anesthesia before moving to NY and becoming the “father of gynecology.” In the 50s, the Medical College of Georgia faculty purchased a slave to rob fresh bodies from the local Black cemetery for anatomy classes. The discarded remainders, the bones found in that basement, are now a symbol of the ways in which white claims to black bodies, slave and free, have extended into sickness and beyond death.

With its focus on a Connecticut family that produced seven generations of doctors, this paper examines the relationship between medical knowledge generation and white uses of black bodies by looking to long-standing, Northern, roots and routes of white professional reputation, status and capital production. Sally Porter McGlannan, the last in this line and one of the earliest women graduates of Johns Hopkins Medical School, donated a skeleton to her hometown historical society/museum in the 1930s. “Larry,” she told them, once belonged to her great, great grandfather, Dr. Preserved Porter. “My earliest medical training was on that same old skeleton, for father,” who was also a doctor, “taught me the names of the bones when I was little more than a baby.” McGlannan’s story of gendered and multi-generational success and philanthropy highlights how economic interest as capital (social, financial, intellectual) silently accrues; it illustrates how white knowledge and status is indebted not only to black labor in life, but also to the work black bodies continued to do without their consent in the name of (segregated) “progress.”

As the largest slaveholders in their New England town in the late 1700s, the Porters were clear-eyed about slavery’s monetary advantages; in life, the man whose skeleton later generations called “Larry” was named Fortune. By the time Fortune died, however, gradual emancipation made it clear that Dr. Porter couldn’t pass on his fortune in slaves. Yet, by skeletonizing his slave, Fortune continued to serve him and his physician sons as a symbol of professional prestige that associated them with the medical elite who had experience in the “anatomical theaters” of professional schools in Europe or in the very few, new, U.S. medical schools. Through their actions, the Porters not only held onto their property beyond slavery—they added to their economic interests quite literally. In Porter’s estate records, Fortune’s living wife Dinah was valued at less than her husband’s skeleton. Dr. Porter was celebrated in books, town lore and popular museum exhibits for more than a hundred and fifty years after his death. The social interest, capital and prestige accrued and passed down from one generation to another masks the coercive power that adheres to the privileges and power of historically denuded knowledge production and medical progress. These are among history’s many unpaid debts; these are history’s blanched and unburied bones.
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Name: American Studies Association Annual Meeting
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MLA Citation:

Foreman, Gabrielle. "A Doctor’s Fortune: An Inheritance of Black Bones" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC, <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p656651_index.html>

APA Citation:

Foreman, G. "A Doctor’s Fortune: An Inheritance of Black Bones" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Studies Association Annual Meeting, Hilton Washington, Washington, DC <Not Available>. 2014-12-10 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p656651_index.html

Publication Type: Internal Paper
Abstract: The racialized history of medicine is often associated with the antebellum South. In Alabama in the 1840s, J. Marion Sims perfected his surgeries by experimenting on enslaved women scores of times without anesthesia before moving to NY and becoming the “father of gynecology.” In the 50s, the Medical College of Georgia faculty purchased a slave to rob fresh bodies from the local Black cemetery for anatomy classes. The discarded remainders, the bones found in that basement, are now a symbol of the ways in which white claims to black bodies, slave and free, have extended into sickness and beyond death.

With its focus on a Connecticut family that produced seven generations of doctors, this paper examines the relationship between medical knowledge generation and white uses of black bodies by looking to long-standing, Northern, roots and routes of white professional reputation, status and capital production. Sally Porter McGlannan, the last in this line and one of the earliest women graduates of Johns Hopkins Medical School, donated a skeleton to her hometown historical society/museum in the 1930s. “Larry,” she told them, once belonged to her great, great grandfather, Dr. Preserved Porter. “My earliest medical training was on that same old skeleton, for father,” who was also a doctor, “taught me the names of the bones when I was little more than a baby.” McGlannan’s story of gendered and multi-generational success and philanthropy highlights how economic interest as capital (social, financial, intellectual) silently accrues; it illustrates how white knowledge and status is indebted not only to black labor in life, but also to the work black bodies continued to do without their consent in the name of (segregated) “progress.”

As the largest slaveholders in their New England town in the late 1700s, the Porters were clear-eyed about slavery’s monetary advantages; in life, the man whose skeleton later generations called “Larry” was named Fortune. By the time Fortune died, however, gradual emancipation made it clear that Dr. Porter couldn’t pass on his fortune in slaves. Yet, by skeletonizing his slave, Fortune continued to serve him and his physician sons as a symbol of professional prestige that associated them with the medical elite who had experience in the “anatomical theaters” of professional schools in Europe or in the very few, new, U.S. medical schools. Through their actions, the Porters not only held onto their property beyond slavery—they added to their economic interests quite literally. In Porter’s estate records, Fortune’s living wife Dinah was valued at less than her husband’s skeleton. Dr. Porter was celebrated in books, town lore and popular museum exhibits for more than a hundred and fifty years after his death. The social interest, capital and prestige accrued and passed down from one generation to another masks the coercive power that adheres to the privileges and power of historically denuded knowledge production and medical progress. These are among history’s many unpaid debts; these are history’s blanched and unburied bones.


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