History of Urology Forum
Presentation Authors: Barbara Chubak*, New York, NY
Introduction: Since museums first opened to the public for education and entertainment in the late 18th century, access to the overtly sexual materials they contained was restricted to certain visitors and contexts. This paper aims to describe and critique how 19th century medical museums structured their offerings and visitor access to reinforce sex-gender norms and delimit popular knowledge about sexual health.
Methods: Review of primary and secondary sources about popular 19th century anatomy museums, focusing on those with an explicitly sexual educational purpose, and comparison to similar exhibits today.
Results: Popular 19th century anatomy museums, exemplified by Dr. Kahn's museum in London and the Ladies' Museum of Anatomy in New York, were particularly focused on sexual disease and disorder, and offered visitors personalized clinical care in addition to general information. Exhibits intended for male visitors emphasized venereal disease and depicted the female body in a manner designed to titillate; in contrast, the Ladies' Museum focused on motherhood, diminishing female sexual pleasure in favor of encouraging intercourse as a form of service to one's husband.
Conclusions: By the end of the 19th century, these and other popular anatomy museums were forced to close, under legal and economic pressure from medical establishment institutions that accused their owners of obscenity and quack medical practices. A century later, museum exhibits of human anatomy and sexuality returned to popularity, but controversy persists about the ways they embody social norms to shape knowledge about sexual health.
Source of Funding: None