Treasures of the PI Nixon Library Blog

Treasures of the P.I. Nixon

Gold Stemmed Pessaries: A Shadow of the Past

Pessary

Although the above medical device appears to 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 DETHORNE@uthscsa.edu

Sources:

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: https://www.google.com/patents/us709675.

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: www.jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/242995. doi:10.1001/jama.1933.27420190001008

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

-Diane Fotinos, B.S., PA

 

 

August 2016 Historical Book of the Month

The August 2016 Historical Book of the Month highlights the oldest resource in the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, De Medicina, published in Milan in 1481.

Image of book: De Medicina by Celsus

Aulus Cornelius Celsus was a first-century Roman historian who compiled this set of treatises as a home health reference for wealthy Patrician families. It includes principles of good surgery, dental practices, proper diet, and herbal remedies. De Medicina was rediscovered in the late Middle Ages and chosen as one of the first medical texts to be set in type.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Andrea Schorr, Head of Collection Resources, at schorr@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2403.

July 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Skeleton image from Osteographia by Cheselden

This month’s featured historical treasure is Osteographia, or The Anatomy of the Bones by William Cheselden. Published in London in 1753, this exquisite volume includes depictions of human and animal skeletons in interesting vignettes and in lifelike poses. His artists, Gerard van der Gucht and Jacob Schijnvoet, were the first to use the camera obscura to create more accurate engravings for book illustration.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Andrea Schorr, Head of Collection Resources, at schorr@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2403.

June 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Image scanned from Charles Bell's Illustrations of the Great Operations of Surgery

The June 2016 Historical Book of the Month features the artistic masterpiece, Illustrations of the Great Operations  of Surgery: Trepan, Hernia, Amputation, Aneurism, and Lithotomy by Charles Bell published in London in 1821. Sir Charles Bell was a Scottish surgeon, neurologist, and anatomist and namesake of such structures and phenomena as Bell’s Nerve, Bell’s Palsy, and Bell’s Spasm. This classic work in the history of surgery includes 20 engraved plates of Charles Bell’s own drawings of operations he performed over the course of 20 years.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Andrea Schorr, Head of Collection Resources, at schorr@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2403.

May 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Image from De Symmetria Partium in Rectis Formis Humanorum Corporum

This month’s highlighted historical book from the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library is De Symmetria Partium in Rectis Formis Humanorum Corporum by Albrecht Dürer. This 1st Latin edition was translated from the original 1528 German edition and published in Nuremberg in 1532.

Dürer was an influential artist, renowned print-maker, and respected contributor to the Northern Renaissance. This classic work includes 85 full-length figures of the human body that celebrate its mathematical proportions and aesthetic symmetry.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at finnie@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2406.

April 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Image of blackberry from American Medical Botany

In honor of Earth Day, this month’s chosen resource is Jacob Bigelow’s American Medical Botany, a 3-volume set published between 1817 and 1820 and one of the first titles published in the United States containing colored plant illustrations.

Sixty beautiful colored plates were produced using a special process invented by Bigelow himself. Each entry includes a plant’s botanical history, chemical examination, medicinal uses, and dissections of the flower and fruit from the plant.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at finnie@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2406.

March 2016 Historical Book of the Month

The March 2016 Historical Book of the Month features this monumental work by Giovanni Battista Morgagni.

Image of Giovanni Morgagni

  • De Sedibus, et Causis Morborum per Anatomen Indagatis Libri Quinque
    • 2nd edition
    • Published in Padua in 1765
  • The Seats and Causes of Diseases Investigated by Anatomy: In Five Books
    • 1st English edition
    • Published in London in 1769

Considered the Father of Pathological Anatomy, Morgagni confirmed the relationship between symptoms of disease and pathological changes in specific organs. He systematically indexed almost 700 postmortem examinations correlating the autopsy findings with the patient’s symptoms, or the cry of the suffering organs.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at finnie@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2406.

February 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Illustration of Skull Measuring

This month’s featured historical book is Coomb’s Popular Phrenology by Frederick Coombs published in Boston in 1841. This monograph contains charts and illustrations of the exact phrenological – or skull – measurements of over fifty people. Phrenologists believed that each personality trait and mental faculty is represented in a specific area of the brain and that the size of the skull over that area determines the capacity for that attribute. By feeling the contours, bumps, and fissures of the skull, they claimed to be able to determine a person’s character and intellect.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at finnie@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2406.

January 2016 Historical Book of the Month

Portrait of Robert BoyleThe January 2016 Historical Book of the Month is Medicinal Experiments: or, A Collection of Choice Remedies, for the Most Part Simple and Easily Prepared, a collection of medicinal recipes compiled by Robert Boyle and published posthumously in London in 1692. Namesake of Boyle’s Law, Robert Boyle was one of the founders of modern chemistry, but his interests were widespread, including philosophy and theology. In this pocket-sized monograph, measuring 3 1/2″ x 5 1/2″, Boyle offers instructions for making concoctions to treat such varied ailments as jaundice, toothache, and convulsions in children, classifying each formula as an A, B, or C.

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at finnie@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2406.

December 2015 Historical Book of the Month

Portrait of Thomas Robert MalthusThis month’s highlighted resource from the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library is An Essay on the Principle of Population as it Affects the Future Improvement of Society written under a pseudonym by Thomas Robert Malthus in 1798. In this statistical classic, Malthus concludes that population increases exponentially while the food supply only increases arithmetically, leading him to advocate for population control and moral restraint. The work of Thomas Robert Malthus is credited with suggesting to Charles Darwin the concept of “Survival of the Fittest.”

For more information on the collections of the P.I. Nixon Medical Historical Library, contact Lisa Matye Finnie, Special Collections Librarian, at finnie@uthscsa.edu or 210-567-2406.