News from the Libraries

News from the Libraries

Gold Stemmed Pessaries: A Shadow of the Past


Although the above medical device appears to just be a thingamajig from the local hardware store, it is not. It is a gold, spring-stem wishbone pessary first developed in Germany in the 1880s and used through the late 1930s. Generally, today’s medical pessaries are used for three types of issues: a supportive device for organ prolapse, a vaginal suppository for delivering pharmacologic preparations, and birth control. The type of spring-stem wishbone pessary found in the Nixon Library is described as a remedy for uterine malposition or bleeding complaints, yet it is also widely recognized as an early modern intrauterine device.

Stones and Goop

The word pessary derives from the Greek word pessόs, which means oval stone similar to ones used in ancient checkers.  Historically, stone pessaries were used to remedy organ prolapse and women in New Zealand were noted to place pebbles in the uterus to foster sterility. Stories abound of small rocks inserted into the uteri of camels during long desert journeys to disrupt the uterine cavity and prevent pregnancy. This could not have been at all comfortable for woman or beast.

For thousands of years, cultures around the globe used cervical pessaries and documented an understanding of barrier contraceptive methods.  Inventive birth control mixtures, often combined with magic and ritual, might include viscous pastes of honey, rancid oil, animal dung, tree resin, dates, or fermented acadia leaves soaked with lint.

By the time the late 19th century rolled around, pessaries evolved to include metal cervico-uterine models.  Physician Carl Hollweg patented a wishbone pessary in 1902 designed to “support the uterus”, and specifically, “prevent excessive and abnormal bending of this organ and to obviate and break apart any abnormal growth of tissue. . . ” Considering Hollweg’s description, it seems birth control was an unintended gain from this pessary. During the cervico-uterine heyday, the most well known wishbone spring-stem pessary in the United States was the Ideal, also known as the brooch, the butterfly, or the wishbone stem.

Arrangements and Regrets

Proper placement of the wishbone spring-stem pessary required a visit to a physician. The two flexible arms were squeezed together to create a linear form and encased in a gelatinous material to facilitate entry into the uterus. After insertion, the pessary’s concave button rested against the the external os and the spring stem sat within the cervical canal. When the gel casing melted due to body temperature, the arms would spring out laterally and the oval tips maintained the device’s position within the uterine cavity. Due to infection concerns, a physician typically left the wishbone pessary in place for only two to three months before removal. Once the uterus was free from a foreign object for several months, the pessary was reinserted.

Perforated uterus due to spring-stem pessary It eventually became clear that using a stem pessary, which left the uterus vulnerable to pathogens, could be dangerous. Wishbone stem pessaries fell out of favor as evidence of infection, uterine perforation, and death began to mount. Additionally, some women who used this type of pessary for birth control experienced a level of unreliability resulting in unintended pregnancy. These multiple side effects prompted improved intrauterine designs similar to what we see today.

Out of the Shadows

The Nixon Library owns two examples of gold-filled wishbone spring-stem pessaries. One is stamped “14K”, is approximately 0.5 inches in in diameter, and 2.5 inches in length.  The other is marked “GOLD”, approximately 1.0 inch in diameter, and 2.5 inches in length.  A concave disc supports a coiled stem at which two thin metal arms with flat, oval tipped ends project into a “V” position.

It would be our pleasure to bring these pessaries out of the historical shadows for viewing.  If you would like to examine these golden pessaries in person, please contact Mellisa DeThorne at


Cooper, J. F. (1928). Technique of contraception. New York, NY: Day-Nichols

Himes, N. E. (1934). Medical history of contraception. The New England Journal of Medicine, 210(11), 576-581.

Hollweg, C. (1902). U.S. Patent No. 709675. Washington, DC: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Retrieved August 2017 from:

Oliver, R., Thakar, R., & Sultan, A. H. (2011). The history and usage of the vaginal pessary: A review. European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology, 156(2), 125-130.

Image sources:

Fotinos, D. (2017). Gold Spring-Stem Pessaries [Digital photograph].

Penetration of the uterus by gold stem pessary. [Online photograph]. Retrieved August 2017 from: doi:10.1001/jama.1933.27420190001008

[Untitled photograph of spring stem pessary with box]. Retrieved August 2017 from:

-Diane Fotinos, B.S., PA



News from the Libraries September 2017

The September issue of News from the Libraries is now available. For links to individual articles, see the table of contents below.

Online Course in Scientific Writing and Publishing Now Available

The Youth Health Literacy Challenge: A Partnership Between UT Health San Antonio Libraries, North East ISD, and SAPL

Systematic Reviews Expert Provides Free Seminars for Faculty and Librarians

Coming Later this Fall: New Library Furniture and Space Arrangements

Featured New Books/E-books for September 2017

The Library is Here to Help!

See all past issues of News From the Libraries

The Youth Health Literacy Challenge: A Partnership between the UT Health San Antonio Libraries, North East ISD, and SAPL



UT Health San Antonio Libraries partnered with the North East Independent School District Summer Food Service Program and the San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) to provide the Youth Health Literacy Challenge, a project funded by the National Library of Medicine (NLM). This project filled a gap in providing health information during the NEISD Summer Food Service Program’s feeding times at SAPL branches and encouraged youth to log health literacy activities based on challenges written in both English and Spanish. Youth were also provided with a calendar (front cover and sample page shown above) that included kid-friendly recipes, word games, and information on the NLM’s websites for youth. Additionally, a teen cooking program (reported in the August newsletter) was provided at one of the participating library branches.

Due to the complexity of project activities and recent data that 45% of children aged 8-18 in Bexar County are overweight or obese, the Youth Health Literacy Challenge aimed to reach underrepresented and underserved youth in grades 3-12. During the 2015-2016 school year, NEISD reported that 45% of students received free and reduced meals, 57% of students were Hispanic-Latino, and that a large portion of students living near library feeding sites had low family income. These factors indicated a high risk for poor health outcomes and low health literacy in the areas served.

As a Resource Library of the National Network of Libraries of Medicine, UT Health San Antonio Libraries used the Youth Health Literacy Challenge to promote awareness of NLM health information resources that could influence youth to practice healthy behaviors. SAPL and UT Health San Antonio Libraries staff handed out 1,838 out of 2,253 calendars during the project period. NEISD staff distributed 1,269 out of 1,900 activity logs. Karen Barton, Liaison and Community Engagement Librarian, served as the Principal Investigator and seeks to collaborate with more feeding and cooking programs in the area in order to promote health information resources.

Systematic Reviews Expert Provides Free Seminars for Faculty and Librarians



Margaret Foster, MS, MPH, AHIP, Associate Professor and Systematic Reviews and Research Coordinator at Texas A&M University, visited UT Health at San Antonio August 7-9, 2017 as part of the SCAMeL Librarian Exchange Professional Development Program. During her visit, Ms. Foster, in coordination with the UT Health San Antonio library liaison team, offered seminars on systematic reviews to area librarians and UT Health San Antonio faculty. These seminars included: “Establishing a Systematic Review Service,” “Determining Which Review is Right for You,” and a Lunch and Learn on the systematic review process. Ms. Foster also offered individual consultation to faculty members interested in performing systematic reviews. The UT Health San Antonio library liaison team worked with Ms. Foster in furthering their own systematic review on information skills training in nursing education.

Coming Later This Fall: New Library Furniture and Space Arrangements

Thanks to an award from the Student Fee Fund, the Library will be developing new small scale furniture arrangements and installing other new furniture options later this Fall as part of a pilot space design project. Three spaces will be developed to enhance areas for student individual study, group study, and relaxation.

Individual study chairs or pods will be installed on the 3rd and 4th floors. The relaxation area will be located on the 5th floor adjacent to a new collaboration study area comprised of two counter-height tables, stools, and whiteboards. Feedback from students will guide the library on expanding furniture and space design options in the future.

Stay tuned for updates. See below for illustrations.

3rd Floor – Front corner window area – 2 pods for individual study

4th Floor – Columns adjacent to the front window area – 6 pods for individual study

5th Floor – Relaxation spaces and group study collaboration tables

Featured New Books/E-books for September 2017

For a list of the newest titles at the Briscoe Library click here.


Purchase suggestions?
Complete the online Purchase Suggestion Form or contact
Andrea N. Schorr, Head of Resource Management.



The Library is Here to Help!

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Online Course in Scientific Writing and Publishing Now Available


The Offices of the Vice President for Research and the Associate Dean for Research in the Long School of Medicine have joined forces with Nature Research Publishing to provide an online course in scientific writing and publishing. Nature MasterClasses – Scientific Writing and Publishing offers a multi-module experience that takes researchers through the entire publishing process from writing a paper to publication. Designed for busy researchers it’s made up of bite-sized videos and activities. Researchers can choose their own training path and learn at their own pace.

Access to this course is available to UT Health San Antonio students of all levels, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, staff and administrators. Note that the course focuses on the natural sciences.

Start your access: To start using Nature MasterClasses you must first register for an individual user account:

For assistance setting up an account or navigating the site, please refer to the library guide:

NOTE: To create an account and/or access the course modules, you must be logged in to the UT Health network, WiFi, or connected to VPN.


News from the Libraries August 2017

The August issue of News from the Libraries is now available. For links to individual articles, see the table of contents below.

Community Engagement Librarian Helps Teens Cook Healthy Meal

School of Medicine Liaison Teaches Part of Research Design Course

Outreach Provided At Back to School Event Benefiting Over 450 Relative Caregivers and Children

Briscoe Library Hosts NW Vista Community Health Worker (CHW) Continuing Education Program

Library Instruction Provided for MRGV AHEC College Academy

School of Medicine Liaison Attends Renowned EBP Institute

AHEC Summer Public Health Camp Visits Briscoe Library

Laredo Regional Campus Library Hosts High School Summer Fellowship Students

Featured New Books/E-books for August 2017

See all past issues of News From the Libraries

Community Engagement Librarian Helps Teens Cook Healthy Meal


In July, Liaison and Community Engagement Librarian Karen Barton teamed up with Pruitt at Roosevelt H.S. Teen Librarian Rae Downen and Biology teacher Misty Belmontez to provide a cooking program as part of the weekly Teen Time program. The teens gathered vegetables from the school’s garden and decided to make Chicken Ratatouille with a side of quinoa. They also combined figs from Ms. Belmontez’s tree, vanilla ice cream, and other ingredients to make a tasty dessert. As the teens prepared the meal, they learned about National Library of Medicine (NLM) health information resources. They were very engaged and involved in the preparation of the meal and very much enjoyed the fruits of their labor.

Karen Barton is a former San Antonio Public Library (SAPL) teen librarian. Pruitt at Roosevelt Library, a SAPL branch, was a partner in providing the UT Health San Antonio Youth Health Literacy Challenge, a project created by UT Health San Antonio Libraries and funded by the NLM.