Rickets, Race and Reproduction

Contracted Pelvis and the American Way of Birth


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About the Book

This book outlines the history of rickets, a disease commonly associated with childhood, and studies its association with race and its long-reaching effects on childbirth. For centuries, the condition was poorly understood. For females, rickets could pose a double jeopardy: suffering in childhood and severe danger in adulthood when giving birth. The disease could result in a contracted pelvis that obstructs the birth canal. Medical researchers were faced with two distinct challenges: unravelling the etiology of rickets and ensuring the safety of women giving birth—both proved especially difficult.
Thought variously to be a disease of industrial cities and children of the poor, grounded in lack of exercise or sunlight, or the of product racial difference, the condition defied analysis until the discovery of vitamin D early in the 20th century. The dangers of rickets radically diminished. Medical intervention in childbirth continued, and childbirth increasingly shifted from the home to the hospital. Medical practitioners justified intervention by emphasizing the dangers of pelvic disproportion, continually enlarging the definition to gain full control of birth. Often conditioned by racial assumptions, surgical experimentation promoted common use of anesthesia and a radical increase in caesarean sections, and birth became a colder, more clinical experience.

About the Author(s)

The late Deborah Kuhn McGregor, professor emeritus, taught in the history and women’s studies programs at the University of Illinois for 24 years.
Robert Kuhn McGregor, professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois-Springfield, taught environmental history, early American history, and the history of popular culture, including baseball. He lives in Spencerport, New York.

Bibliographic Details

Deborah Kuhn McGregor with Robert Kuhn McGregor
Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 306
Bibliographic Info: notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2024
pISBN: 978-1-4766-9371-2
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5104-0
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Coauthor’s Note by Robert Kuhn McGregor vii
Preface by Robert Kuhn McGregor 1
Introduction. Considering the Contracted Pelvis 5
Part I. The Problem 11
One—The Lens of the Female Pelvis 13
Two—The Riddle of Rickets 31
Three—The Impediment of Race 50
Four—Science Reloads 63
Five—American Research Impaired 78
Six—Combating a Riddle Unresolved 95
Part II. Resolution 113
Seven—Johns Hopkins to the Fore 115
Eight—Intervention in Childbirth 127
Nine—Pediatricians’ Progress 146
Ten—Case Records at the OOS 161
Eleven—An Obstetrical Definition of Race 178
Twelve—The Learning Curve of Alfred F. Hess 188
Thirteen—Control of American Birth 200
Fourteen—Solving the Riddle of Rickets 220
Conclusion. The Sum of the Equation 241
Chapter Notes 251
Bibliography 283
Index 295