Episode 35: The Extremely Risky Behavior Literally All of Your Ancestors Engaged In


Join Em and Dr. Jesse as we play a little game we like to call, “How Early in History Could Em Have Had Children and Survive?” The answer may surprise you! We also cover Mary’s girdle, (some of) the life and times of Dr. James Barry and Dr. Ignaz Semmelweis, childbirth-related saints, the masculinization of obstetrics, and debunk a few myths about parental love in a time of high infant mortality.

Annotations and Corrections

1/ One exhibit from the National Library of Medicine mentions a c-section in 1500 CE where the mother lived and went on to have five more children, and the baby lived to be 77 years old. In this case, the husband (who was a sow gelder) operated on his wife. However in other situations, the woman might live, but only for a month afterward, which I would call, mm, a qualified success at best.

Jesse: Wow, I was off to a rocky start! They all died? Anyhow, James Barry (1789–1865) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Barry_(surgeon)

For more on a trans individual potentially identifying as (or being identified as) intersex, see episode 26 note 14 on Eleno / Elena de Céspedes. See also Israel Burshatin, “Written on the body: slave or Hermaphrodite in sixteenth-century Spain” in Queer Iberia: Sexualities, Cultures, and Crossings from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance (Durham: Duke University Press, 1999): 420–456.

Episode 26 note 14 also mentions Brother Marinos (mentioned later in this podcast) and Herculine Barbin, who was intersex (female identified) and a lesbian.

2/ We talked about Ignaz Semmelweis (1818–1865) at some length in episode 2, I think! He’s not in the notes, though. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignaz_Semmelweis

3/ For more on stones and lapidaries, see episode 26 (Valentine’s Day!) note 2.

4/ Saint Cyr https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyricus_and_Julitta

5/ Saint Margaret of Antioch! https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_the_Virgin

Here are some great images:

6/ The Golden Legend https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Legend

7/ Cihuateteo https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cihuateteo

8/ For more, see Monica Green’s Making Women’s Medicine Masculine (Amazon link).

9/ What Florence Nightingale actually wrote: “I never had such a blackguard rating in all my life – I who have had more than any woman – than from this Barry sitting on his horse, while I was crossing the Hospital Square with only my cap on in the sun. He kept me standing in the midst of quite a crowd of soldiers, Commissariat, servants, camp followers, etc., etc., every one of whom behaved like a gentleman during the scolding I received while he behaved like a brute . . . After he was dead, I was told that (Barry) was a woman . . . I should say that (Barry) was the most hardened creature I ever met.” (source)

10/ For the record, Henry VII and his wife (Elizabeth) had seven children.

11/ Here is the act we’re discussing (it’s working it’s way through congress): https://blackmaternalhealthcaucus-underwood.house.gov/Momnibus

12/ A clip from Conan’s podcast Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend (they reference the guy who did her father’s birth certificate around 1:30–2:00 in, but don’t tell the whole story in this section; I believe this is the full episode this is excerpted from, and the whole story would be in there–plus he interviews Dave Grohl!) Also, in a statement on April 24, 2021 (Armenian Remembrance Day), Joe Biden referred to the Armenian genocide as a genocide! So that’s cool.

13/ Philippe Ariès was wrong, but here’s his Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippe_Ariès

Em: I wish I could provide a link to the article I reference, but honestly I have no idea what it might have been. Chalk that one up to sleep deprivation stealing my memory.

14/ Nicholas Orme’s Medieval Children (Amazon link).

15/ Genesis 21:16 (Also in 21:8 Isaac is weaned!)

Episode #34: Gaudeamus Itigur–Universities and Academics


We’ve just spent the month of June watching innumerable students progress across the stage in their long gowns. Where does the tradition of wearing black robes, mortarboards, and stoles/hoods as academic regalia come from? Hint: it’s the Middle Ages! Join Em and Jesse as we discuss the origins of universities (and some of the oldest ones) and learn about some of the earliest women scholars and professors.

Annotations and Comments

1/ You can find out more about rules for academic dress at Oxford here and for Cambridge here–both still have several styles of academic gown that are worn for exams, ceremonies, concerts and presentations, festivals, and the like. You’ll note that the Cambridge version is so complex it requires a flow chart to help students determine which gown is most appropriate.

Academic hoods!

Also, you’ll notice that Hogwarts requires students to wear robes. Yes, this is because they’re wizards (although that style of dress is also based on medieval clothing), but it’s also because of English schools (the real ones, for Muggles).

2/ Spoiler alert: the whole Dr. Jill Biden thing pretty much died about two days later.

3/ “Why are (male) surgeons still addressed as Mr?” tl;dr: it’s because surgeons and physicians trained separately and only physicians were allowed to use “doctor.” This was a time when physicians were educated gentlemen and surgeons were people who cut off your arm if you needed it cut off.

4/ Plato’s Academy: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Academy

Aristotle’s Lyceum: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyceum_(Classical) vs modern usage https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lyceum

5/ As seen in the movies, the teachers at Hogwarts sit at the High Table. For more on the High Table tradition in academia in England, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_table

6/ Scholasticism: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scholasticism

Trivium: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trivium

Quadrivium: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadrivium

The Phantom Tollbooth (GREAT BOOK!) https://www.amazon.com/Phantom-Tollbooth-Norton-Juster/dp/0394820371

The Jane Austen novels that treat on university educations and the clergy most directly are Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey.

7/ Universities and Schooling in Medieval Society, edited by William Courtenay and Jürgen Miethke, with the assistance of David Priest (Leiden: Brill, 2000). https://www.amazon.com/Universities-Schooling-Medieval-Society-Studies/dp/9004113517

8/ Joan of Arc was in episode 9.

9/ Relevant: https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/faq-the-snake-fight-portion-of-your-thesis-defense

10/ True story about the two of us going to Italy in 2003(ish). I (Em) also threw up in a Cracker Barrel on this trip and have never been back to one. Uh. And then when we finally got to Italy, I think I lived on basically cappuccino and gelato. Somewhere I have a very small print of Fra Angelico’s Annunciation, which was the painting that sticks out most in my mind of those we saw on the trip. Maybe that says a lot, because we also saw the Last Supper.

11/ Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andreas_Vesalius
De humani corporis fabrica https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/De_humani_corporis_fabrica

12/ Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia (1646–1684) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elena_Cornaro_Piscopia

13/ Alessandro Macchiavelli (1693–1766) https://news.stanford.edu/pr/2015/pr-feminism-bologna-findlen-082415.html

For more on all of the women mentioned here (and the forging) see Paula Findlen, “Inventing the Middle Ages: An Early Modern Forger Hiding in Plain Sight,” in For the Sake of Learning: Essays in Honor of Anthony Grafton Vol. 1. edited by Ann Blair and Anja-Silvia Goeing (Leiden: Brill, 2016), 871–896.

Laura Bassi (1711–1778): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laura_Bassi Actually, we say she lectured on “the liberal arts,” but specifically she was a physicist and mathematician! Specifically, she was super into Newtonian physics! And she married a (medical) doctor/fellow lecturer and had somewhere between eight and twelve children, five of whom lived to adulthood. She was the original working mom, is what I’m saying. #Goals

14/ Trotula https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trotula
For more, see The Trotula: A Medieval Compendium of Women’s Medicine, edited and translated by Monica H. Green (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2001). https://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/13496.html