May 23, 2018
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Professor Links American Gynecology to Slavery, Irish Immigration


        OXFORD, Miss. - Links between enslaved women and poor Irish immigrant women and the advancement of American gynecology will be discussed by Deirdre Cooper Owens, University of Mississippi assistant professor of history, Wednesday (Sept. 23) in a campus program.
        Part of the Southern Studies Brown Bag Lunch & Lecture series in the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the free, public event is set for noon in the Barnard Observatory lecture hall. 
        "I'll be discussing my comparative race study on enslaved women and poor Irish immigrant women who lived during the antebellum era in the South and in the North," Cooper Owens said. "We'll glimpse into the lives of these women whose bodies were used to help pioneer modern gynecology."
        Physicians who were intent on curing female disorders relied heavily on these two groups of women because of myriad gynecological illnesses they developed, according to Cooper Owens. The physical vulnerabilities of these women, coupled with their low status, allowed doctors more access to their bodies than to those of middle-class white women, she said. 
        Despite their physical weaknesses, these bonded and immigrant women were viewed by doctors as "super-bodies," or superior specimens for surgical and experimental work, Cooper Owens said. Ultimately, the institutions of slavery and immigration had deep linkages to the dynamic growth and advancement of American modern gynecology during the 19th century, she said.
        Cooper Owens earned a doctorate in history from UCLA. Before joining the UM faculty in August 2008, she was a 2008-09 Carter G. Woodson Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Virginia. She was recently awarded the Mary Wollstonecraft Dissertation Award. The award honors the best dissertation that uses historical methods to study women and gender. This semester, she is teaching a graduate seminar on the history of slavery.
        The Southern Studies Brown Bag Lunch & Lecture takes place at noon each Wednesday during the fall and spring semesters. For more information, including upcoming events in the series, visit For assistance related to a disability, call 662-915-5993.
(staff report)

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