History of Urology Forum
Presentation Authors: Friedrich H. Moll*, Cologne, Germany, Thorsten Halling, Matthis Krischel, Heiner Fangerau, Duesseldorf, Germany
Introduction: In the decades around 1900, dime museums and waxworks were popular in the United States and in Germany, respectively. They served similar purposes by providing entertainment and education and where accessible to larger parts of society than high-brow museums. The institutions brought together components of natural history and art museums, freak shows and performances. Health and sexuality were always part of the topics displayed. This often included information about sexually transmitted diseases, which might not have been available openly in other places. Although women were allowed to visit often with special opening hours the museum makers feared that the displayed objects might disturb female minds.
Methods: We analyze secondary and primary historical sources about dime museums, waxworks and similar institutions on the border between entertainment and education. Dime museums existed in many American cities, including Baltimore, Boston, Cincinatti, New Orleans and New York City. Prominent waxworks existed in Berlin, Hamburg and Dresden.
Results: In the United States and Europe a need to present medical information evolved in the 19th century. As questions about sexuality and STDs could – for political or religious reasons – not always be discussed in public, dime museums and waxworks filled a niche where the public could satisfy its curiosity and museum makers could entertain and educate their paying clients.
Conclusions: Popular medical museums and public health campaigns have received historical attention. With their positions between entertainment and education, motivated by financial interests of museum operators, dime museums and waxworks have been taken less seriously as places of health and sex education. At the same time, the institutions reached a large and diverse audience. For these reasons, they should receive more attention the future when studying the history of public health and sex education.
Source of Funding: none