By Michael Sappol ~
Originally published in Hidden Treasure: The National Library of Medicine, 2011.
There he sits in retirement, still bearing the legend “Examined and Approved by Frank H. Hamilton, M.D.” (a prominent surgeon and one of the four physicians who attended President Garfield). But during his career, the life-size manikin worked standing up, or, more precisely, hanging from a hook. Then he sustained a wound: the stress of suspending his 8.2 pounds wore out the cardboard and he fell. It might have happened front stage at a medicine show, where a pitchman of nostrums was getting the suckers worked up by enumerating the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” Or in a doctor’s office, where the manikin served as a 100-in-1 quick reference wall chart. Or in a classroom, where he bore witness to lectures on the respiratory system, first aid, or nutrition.
He was stiff and sharply delineated, contained. Yet he came equipped with extravagant foliage—layers, sublayers, and openings—like some tropical plant that just can’t stop growing. On the right half of his torso alone there sprouted seventeen flaps, printed on both sides. He was a gadget that does too much: a Swiss Army knife with a thousand blades. A reviewer described him: “Besides exhibiting the form, position, color, and relation of the organs of a healthy body…the manikin is accompanied by a series of microscopical plates showing sections of lung, vein, valve, bone, hair, finger-end, skin, wall of stomach, cross-section of muscle, etc. The cranial, spinal, and sympathetic nerve systems, and their connections are also illustrated.” Another writer raved about the many “surgical operations” presented in the manikin: “Ligations of Arteries, Amputations in the Seven Surgical Divisions of the Arm and Leg…Lines of Exsections of Joints,” etc.
Some openings were morally instructive. Colored plates demonstrated “the effects of alcohol and narcotics on the human stomach,” deformations of the female rib cage caused by corsetry, and “microscopical sections representing pathological changes occurring in several maladies,” including venereal diseases. The manikin—obviously masculine, but an effigy of the universal human—also contained both male and female organs of “generation.”
At an 1887 educational exposition in Chicago it was showered with “special praise.” At the time reformers claimed that every civilized person should have a basic knowledge of the human body and the laws of health. Twenty-five states required the teaching of physiology in public schools. But, for this task, books and lectures were insufficient. Visual and tactile aids were needed, argued Dr. Roger S. Tracy of the New York City Health Department. “Human dissection being out of the question,” schools should buy three-dimensional “dissectable” manikins to “afford the pupil a vivid and exact conception” of the organs “in their situations, connections, and relative dimensions.” But such papier-mâché manikins, imported from France, cost from $250 to $1,500—too expensive for financially pressed school systems. White’s Manikin, in contrast, went for $35. The school superintendent of Woonsocket, Rhode Island, ordered four for his grammar school classrooms. It was marketed for at least twenty years. A deluxe edition was repackaged in Germany as Dr. Franke’s Phantom (1891), clairvoyantly anticipating its current status: a ghostly relic of late-nineteenth-century anatomical pedagogy.
Learn more about anatomy in the historical collections of the National Library of Medicine.
Michael Sappol was formerly historian and scholar-in-residence in the History of Medicine Division of the National Library of Medicine. In June 2016 he relocated to Stockholm, Sweden. He is the author of A Traffic of Dead Bodies: Anatomy and Embodied Social Identity in Nineteenth-Century America and Dream Anatomy and co-editor of A Cultural History of the Body in the Age of Empire.