Monday, January 18, 2010

Dr Harry Haiselden, "The Black Stork" doctor

About a dozen years ago, I read Professor Martin S Pernick's book, "The Black Stork", which I consider the best single account of the eugenics movement that I have yet found.

This, despite the fact that the book is ostensibly only about a small forgotten footnote to the overall story of Eugenics, which covered a century in time and and had powerful support in all continents.

I read it, as I said, a dozen years ago - before I had 'always on' high speed internet and before Google.

Now when I read, I constantly go to my laptop and onto Google to expand on points of interest.

This week I started re-reading The Black Stork and went to Google after quickly - too quickly ! - looking through the book's pictures and not seeing a single portrait of the subject of the book - Dr Harry Haiselden.

Google seemed to have none of Haiselden either - though his story is on many websites on eugenics, ethics, the disabled, etc .

I thought how hard it was to write a biography of someone long dead, who you never knew, without a lot of good photographs .

It helps you feel that you can see into your subject's soul through their eyes, I suppose.

I was thinking mostly of my own subject, Dr Martin Henry Dawson, but also of Professor Pernick and his subject, Dr Haiselden.

I dashed off a quick email to Dr Pernick on this point and settled in to re-read the book.

It is foolish to dash anything off - and these days emails leave no chance to correct things between writing them and popping them in a mail slot a day later, as old fashioned paper letters allowed.

Of course, in a half hour I had remembered enough of Haiselden's story to realize that he had played himself in his famous film , The Black Stork, cast as Dr Dickey, ( a name from his mother's side of the family).

He was unnaturally attached to his mom and hated his dad .... and possibly hated having to carry his dad's name as well.

So we actually had a dozen photographs of Haiselden -- as poor quality movie frames - in the book and on Google - just not labelled as such.

Just now, glancing through the book's photos more slowly, I realized I had made a further mess of it .

The famous newspaper 'two head' photo of the mother (Anna Bollinger) of Haiselden's first 'victim', did not include her spouse as the other person in the picture, as I had assumed.

Instead, it was her doctor - Haiselden.

I had glanced through the centre photos in the book far too quickly, before settling in to read Pernick's sophisticated arguments.

But I think I made an interesting mistake.

Conventionally, such a 'two head photo' in such a story would be of the two parents, with the doctor in a separate shot - perhaps with his patient.

I am thinking of the pictures of Baby Patricia with her two parents, filling newspaper pages all over America, in August and September 1943 and again in 1944.

In the case of the Bollinger baby being 'encouraged' to die at birth by Dr Haiselden, mom and doctor seem to be the only two people worth photographing, in the eyes of The Chicago Daily Tribune editors.

Clearly we might think that in 1915, society regarded the fate of children severely handicapped at birth as a matter for the mother mostly - with neither her spouse, family or priest/minister to help her make her decision - that was for a scientist cum doctor.

But this editorial decision on the part of the Chicago Daily Tribune may have simply reflected their industry's efforts to cement daily newspaper reading among women, the major buyer of the goods advertised in daily papers.

"Women's Pages" and Sob Sister stories were very much part of this effort - and we might so view this unusual decision to leave the dad out of the photo, in this light.

My point is we just don't know, from a position ninety five years later - either or both position are tenable.

So, at the top of this blog entry is a cropped photo of the very good looking (but never married) , bundle of contradictions, Dr Haiselden.

Then below, the original full photo of him along with Anna Bollinger....

I'm off to eat crow and apologize to Dr Pernick !


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