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Deirdre Cooper Owens to give virtual talk for Hall Center Summer Series

Thursday, July 23, 2020

LAWRENCE — Deirdre Cooper Owens, author of "Medical Bondage: Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology," will give an online talk as part of the Hall Center for the Humanities Summer Speaker Series at the University of Kansas. The event, a Zoom webinar, will take place at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, July 28.

Cooper Owens is the Charles and Linda Wilson Professor in the History of Medicine & Director of the Humanities in Medicine Program at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and director of the Program in African American History at The Library Company of Philadelphia, the country’s oldest cultural institution. 

In "Medical Bondage," which was published in 2018, Cooper Owens examined a wide range of historical scientific literature and less formal communications in which gynecologists created and disseminated medical fictions about their patients, such as their belief that Black enslaved women could withstand pain better than white "ladies." Even as they were advancing medicine, these doctors were legitimizing, for decades to come, groundless theories related to gender and the inferiority of other races or nationalities.

"Medical Bondage" moves between southern plantations and northern urban centers to reveal how 19th-century American ideas about race, health and status influenced doctor-patient relationships in sites of healing like slave cabins, medical colleges and hospitals. It also retells the story of Black enslaved women and of Irish immigrant women from the perspective of these exploited groups and restores a picture of their lives.

“'Medical Bondage' details enslaved Black women’s essential role in the history of gynecology and serves as a foundational text for understanding the realities of gendered violence against Black women in the present,” Jill Rowe wrote for the Journal of Health for the Poor and Underserved in a review of Cooper Owen's book.

For more about the Hall Center’s Summer Speaker Series and the full lineup of programming for the coming year, please visit hallcenter.ku.edu.

The program is co-sponsored by Kansas Public Radio.