Angela Fritz’s recent blogpost on the anatomical studies of Thomas Eakins appeared in a new journal that may be of real interest to members of the Critical Physiotherapy Network.
The Journal of Humanities in Rehabilitation is published by the Emory Center for Digital Scholarship and aspires to:
raise the consciousness and deepen the intellect of the humanistic relationship in the rehabilitation sciences. Our mission is to encourage dialogue among rehabilitation professionals, patients, families and caregivers that describe the human condition as it experiences the impact of illness or disability. We hope to highlight and illustrate the special relationship between the patient and rehabilitation provider, as well as provide a venue for scholarly discourse on topics that focus on rehabilitation from the uniquely human perspective that patients and providers share (link).
Angela Fritz’s article profiles Thomas Eakins who was a prolific artist during America’s Gilded Age (a period covering the latter part of the 19th century). The article features some of Eakins’s photographic studies of human movement, but he was equally as famous, along with his contemporaries like John Sargent, Edmund Tarbell, Thomas Dewing, Henry Tanner and Julian Weir for his studies of idealised femininity in postbellum America. The women Eakins profiled were often thin, pale and weak-looking and represented notions of gentility much sought after by ‘cultured’ society at the time, both in America and Europe (See Women on the Verge and Cultures of Neurasthenia).
Women in the Gilded Age – particularly educated upper and middle-class white women of ‘independent means’ – were subject to terrible social restrictions, and many suffered appalling health physical and mental health problems as a result of corseting, enforced docility and confinement (see, for example, a classic feminist text of the time – The Yellow Wallpaper – freely available as a pdf).
When these women rebelled, they were labelled as hysterical or neurasthenic and were treated with a Rest Cure that served to further imprison the women.
Why is this relevant to physiotherapy? Well the Rest Cure involved isolating the woman away from her family for six to eight weeks while she was ‘fattened up’ on a diet of milk and beef juices, all the while being treated with vigorous massage, electrotherapy and passive movements. Based on the evidence in early physiotherapy books of the time, these women were vital in helping physiotherapy to establish their credibility and were the first significant population of patients to serve the interests of our nascent profession. Amazingly, this history remains completely unexamined.