Home Medical profession A collection of rare medical books traces the tangled history of women’s health

A collection of rare medical books traces the tangled history of women’s health



Women’s health is in the headlines in 2022. But it has taken centuries for the medical profession to characterize and understand reproduction, menstruation and childbirth.

This bumpy history is captured in a new exhibit of ancient books at Second Story Books in DC The rare volumes – all on display, for sale and available to handle – trace centuries of evolving knowledge in the fields of gynecology, obstetrics and more.

Comprising 93 books on women’s health, the collection shows how early doctors thought about female anatomy, reproduction, pregnancy and childbirth.

Most were written by men, but an 1833 volume on diseases of the uterus was written by Marie-Anne Victoire Gillain Boivin, a French midwife turned obstetrician who helped launch the field of obstetrics , invented an early speculum and was among the first to listen to the heartbeat of the fetus with a stethoscope.

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The most valuable book in the collection is “Graphic Illustrations of Abortion and the Diseases of Menstruation” by AB Granville in 1834. A prolific scholar who campaigned against midwives for attempting to place pregnancy and childbirth under the control of physicians, Granville wrote extensively on conception and pregnancy at a time of high maternal and infant mortality.

The book contains striking color illustrations of fetuses and wombs in all stages of development and pregnancy – the aftermath of what Granville called “morbid menstruation”.

At the time, the term “abortion” included miscarriage. But Granville also helped women end their pregnancies by administering herbs such as savin in her private practice.

The books are from the collection of the late Milford “Mickey” Foxwell Jr., a physician who became a clinician and educator at the University of Maryland and served as admissions director for its medical school. A dissection lab at the university bears his name.

Foxwell was a connoisseur of medical history and his books document the evolution of the profession’s knowledge of the human body. Second Story Books sells over 2,000 Foxwell books from the 17th to 20th centuries.