Vol 57 No. 12 : June 15, 2005
Vol 57 No. 12 | June 15, 2005
NLM Grant Helps Wegener Continue Research
Frederick Wegener, a member of the CSULB English Department since 1998, continues his 2004 leave through 2005 to research images of medical women in post-Civil War America thanks to a second $50,000 publication grant from the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine (NLM).
“Receiving this grant is a tremendous boon,” said Wegener, a Long Beach resident whose previous scholarship focused on the work of Henry James, Edith Wharton, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, and other American writers. “It’s a privilege to have this kind of time in which to pursue one’s research and to develop such a project, especially since the NLM’s very generous funding has been extended for a second year. It’s gratifying to me as someone who is not a physician, scientist or medical historian to be awarded a grant like this from the National Library of Medicine, as well as extremely validating for the project. It’s also quite humbling in that I’m well aware of how many worthy projects there are out there that don’t get funded.”
The goal of his leave is to complete a book examining cultural representations of women doctors in the United States – in fiction, verse, dramatic writing, and visual media – from roughly the Civil War through World War I.
“I’m interested in the images of women in medicine that proliferated between 1860 and 1920,” he said. “This period coincided with the emergence of American women in the medical profession. There was a vociferous debate in both the medical establishment and the mainstream press at the time about the entry of women into medicine and about the implications of such a development. What I am mainly interested in are the ways in which the works I’m studying functioned as effective interventions in that debate, as well as in debates on related issues like suffrage, the institutions of marriage and maternity, changes in relations between the sexes, and so on. To that extent, one can argue that such material really exemplifies a certain kind of ‘cultural work’ performed at any given historical juncture by activities in the imaginative domain.”
What especially interested Wegener was the appeal the topic of medical women had throughout the period with American writers across the board – writers of both sexes and every region of the country, from the best to the hacks. “Everyone was interested,” he said. “What I want to explore is what there was about such a phenomenon that animated so many imaginations and attracted such a vast audience.”
The widespread circulation of images of medical women in a conservative era particularly interests Wegener. “The portrayals are largely affirmative, with remarkably few disparaging or satirical renderings of women as doctors,” he said. “Yet the medical establishment at that time remained predominantly hostile to women’s entry in medicine. I want to determine why the imaginative response proved so favorable and why the figure of the woman doctor was so much more warmly welcomed in the cultural sphere.”
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