Wednesday, August 7, 2013

"Patricia Malone","Anne Shirley Carter", "Marie Barker" : penicillin heroines, but only for two months and long long ago ...

Marie Barker, dying, refused penicillin 1943

For two months during a six year long war, North America (at least its parental and grandparental half) temporarily turned away from looking at the front page pictures of healthy young sons and grandsons in uniform in their local newspaper.

Instead, from mid August 1943 till mid October 1943, their eyes were caught by the unlikely front page pictures (unlikely for newspapers at peace as well as at war ) of very sick young females, ranging from ages of two to their early twenties.

Daughters and granddaughters very much like their own.

All were either being saved from death because they had pried a little penicillin from the hard-faced men in the medical-pharmaceutical establishment --- or were dying because they had failed to move these men.

For two months these young women - some just babies themselves and some new mothers with new babies - were featured almost daily in most of the North American dailies and weeklies, usually with a photo prominent in the story.

It is the female-ness of these pictures, particularly set against the then steady front page diet of butch men with guns, that intrigues me.

The photos feature sick young women surrounded by other women : men are a comparative rarity.

Mothers and nieces comfort daughter and aunt, as in the above photo of Marie Barker. A baby is comforted by a mother (Katherine M Malone), a female nurse, or a female baby doll - as in the case of Patricia Malone.

(Though we do  also see photos of her comforted by the doctor (Dante Colitti) and father (Lawrence J Malone) who pushed to get her life saving penicillin.)

Doctor Mom was sending a message : to Congress, to the feckless AMA , NAS and OSRD and above all to the patent-obsessed Pharmaceutical industry.

One pharmaceutical leader, John L Smith, was pushed and prodded by his wife Mae to remember that penicillin, discovered in 1928, could have saved their precious daughter Mary Louise ---- if only some people had got off their fannies and thought about the children.

He responded by pushing his small firm to go all out to produce penicillin in world-saving amounts and by the Spring of the next year , the penicillin famine was well on to its way to being solved.

Patty, Anne and Marie all faded out of the story - their part in forcing men to finally make penicillin - 15 years late - for children was all conveniently underplayed by the men who wrote most subsequent penicillin histories.

But a penicillin history from a woman who was in the front lines of penicillin from its North American beginnings and knew John L Smith well (Gladys Hobby), never let her readers forget that it was those pictures of dying daughters that finally moved the men from killing to life-saving.

If only for a few months ....

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