Thingamajig: The Mystery Scissors

by Alethea Drexler, archives assistant

The past few months have brought us several donations that were heavier on artifacts than they were on paper.  That’s a little unusual for an archive but not necessarily a bad thing.  Honestly, artifact donations are often very entertaining. 

The heirs of a Fort Worth-area nurse named Senorita (that was her first name) Green Walden brought us some photographs and a modest but choice collection of memorabilia, including a lovely navy blue and red wool cape that the home seamstress side of me is dying to trace and copy. 

Mrs. Walden graduated from nursing school in 1948.  In her graduation photograph, all of the new nurses have round scissor handles peeking out of their uniform pockets. 

The collection did not come with a lot of documentation, written or hearsay, but it did include a curious pair of scissors:


They’re marked as having been made in Germany, possibly by the English-based firm Alfred Field, which went out of business in the early 1940′s.  Since she didn’t graduate until the late 1940′s, we’re not sure how she acquired them.  We do wonder, though, if they’re the scissors in her pocket at graduation.  The decorated handles suggested to us that they might have been symbolic more than utile.

The decorated handles are very unusual for medical implements, since decoration and moving parts are difficult to clean properly.  If these were used at all, they likely would have been used externally.

That did not tell us, though, what kind of scissors they actually are.  They have both a curved cutting blade and what seems to be a leaf-style clamping mechanism:


. . . and there are small hooks on the handles so the scissors can be locked closed.This brought me back to the old problem of not being able to do adequate research on something when I didn’t know what it was or how to search for it.  This is when I have to call on the experts: I emailed a nursing museum.

Jane Early at LaSalle University’s Museum of Nursing History in Philadelphia, agreed with our thought that the scissors might be ceremonial more than functional, but she said she and her colleagues had never seen any like them.  She graciously did some asking around and then emailed us back again to suggest that they might be umbilical-cord scissors, which would have to cut and then clamp.

So . . . the possible answer now is “umbilical cord scissors”, but our research is still coming up empty except for the efforts of the Museum of Nursing History.

Now it’s your turn, readers.  Has any of you seen scissors like ours?

Moon-sun man with owl

Painted man with owl from IC 77 Medical World News photo collection.

Painted man with owl from IC 77 Medical World News photo collection, circa 1965.

I love the archives. I found this image today while doing a random check of a box with a lid that was not properly seated. There is no context, no official caption, no indication of why the man and the owl, probably stuffed, are posing together. It was the 60s. Enough said.

Philip Montgomery, archivist

Hermann Hospital Sweetheart

by Philip Montgomery, archivist

A few months ago, Dr. Adrian Melissinos was searching for nursing photos when she discovered “Sweetheart” the donkey. Today, I had to find the photo of this early Hermann Hospital mascot. I love that the photographer, who remains unknown, made an effort to capture this donkey’s personality.  What is even more intriguing is the background of the photo.  The location was a puzzle.

Image The back of the photo reads “Hospital sweetheart grazing in back of original hospital. Note donkey’s home in background.”

Since this photo is in IC 86 Hermann Hospital Archive records, I knew the hospital mentioned in the note is Hermann, but the view is unusual. Digging in the box I found an answer. This picture shows the home of Sweetheart and the screened in porches of the hospital wing devoted to nurses housing.


The screen porches are gone today and so is Sweetheart.  I doubt if there is a enough grass remaining in the area to provide a snack for Sweetheart.  Still, I love the idea that Hermann Hospital had a mascot who was loved and cared for. Who could resist those ears?

Archival Surprises

by DK Smith, Project Archivist

In part, the fascination of an archivist’s job lies in the discovery of bits of lost history hidden in doctors’ papers. For example, the photo below contains a wonderful unknown trophy, faceless major characters, and an obviously emotional scene. What is going on? Five minutes with a loupe, an archivist’s magnifying tool, and some research led to the discovery of the High School Girls Basketball League, one of the earliest and most successful leagues for women’s basketball in Texas, holding statewide tournaments from 1939-1954 for 129 Texas high schools.  This scene was shot at the state championship award ceremony in 1951, a time commonly thought to be devoid of womens’ sports.


The photo is located in MS 159 Dr. Herb Fred papers in the series Family Life, Photos at the John P. McGovern Historical Collections and Research Center.  This collection is still being processed and will be available to the public in 2014.

For more on the High School Girls Basketball League of Texas go to


by Philip Montgomery

Female hysteria is the topic of today’s blog.

MJ Figard, archivist and rare book librarian, recently acquired new books for our Rare Book Collection from Howard Rootenberg with B&L Rootenberg. The first is an 1889 two-volume set of essays titled “History of Pathology of Vaccination” edited by Edgar M. Crookshank. The second book by George Tate is titled “Treatise on Hysteria” published in 1831.  Tate was a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. What Tate has to say on female hysteria is fascinating. His commentary provides more insight into the medical profession and the male perception of women in the the 1830s than insight into medical treatment.


His description a physician’s treatment of a female patients sounds like nothing short of hell for the patient.  Tate borrows this description from another physician’s writing and on pages 75 and 76 describes the “hysteria” of a woman following intercourse on her wedding night.

“Presently, she jumped out of her bed, and flew to the window, which her husband prevented her from opening; she then became unconscious of all around her, and fainted. …. The practitioner who attended, bled, purged, blistered, leeched, bathed, and starved the patient; and, in about three weeks, the symptoms gradually abated. A visit from her husband and some friends produced a relapse; and mania, in a mild form, supervened.”

I suspect the husband needed more bleeding, purging, leeching, etc. than the patient, but that is my non-medical opinion.

The Electreat Mechanical Heart

by Kate Wilson, Archivist

In processing the D. H. Rankin Medical Artifacts Collection I have found myself intrigued with the Electreat Mechanical Heart. I’m not really sure what draws me to this object- maybe the fact that we have six of them in the collection or maybe the incredibly illustrated promotional flyer that accompanies the device. Whatever it is, I find myself sucked into the vastness of the internet, jumping from hyperlink to webpage, learning more and more about this quack medical object.

Electreat Mechanical Heart Electreat Mechanical Heart Verso

The Electreat Mechanical Heart is a transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS) device first patented in 1919 by Charles Willie Kent and manufactured in Peoria, Illinois. It has been estimated that as many as 250,000 of the Electreats were sold over a 25 years. The device operated on two “D” cell batteries and a mechanical inductorium. A roller was built in at the top to be applied to the skin and plug-in sponge pad electrodes were supplied.

The Electreat was one of the very first high-output battery operated TENS units manufactured. Following passage of the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act in 1938, Kent was the first individual prosecuted by the U.S. government for making unsubstantiated medical claims. Kent was prosecuted multiple times for making unsubstantiated claims, first in 1940 and then again in 1950. You can read both of the original proceedings available on the National Library of Medicine’s website.

I have forever been plagued with dry and chapped skin on my feet. Maybe I can take one of the Electreat Mechanical Hearts home and experiment with its healing electric bath powers as suggested in the third row, second image!