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A Moment in History 

Title page of Anathomia Corporis Humanis by Mondino de Luzzi. Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Title page of "Anathomia Corporis Humanis" by Mondino de Luzzi

Alessandra Giliani

 
(1307 – 1326

Italian prosector and anatomist. Alessandra Giliani is the first woman to be on record as being an anatomist and prossector. She was born on 1307 in the town of Persiceto in northern Italy.

She was admitted to the University of Bologna circa 1323. Most probably she studied philosophy and the foundations of anatomy and medicine. She studied under Mondino de Luzzi (c.1270 – 1326), one of the most famous teachers at Bologna.

Giliani was the prosector for the dissections performed at the Bolognese “studium” in the Bologna School of Anatomy. She developed a technique (now lost to history) to highlight the vascular tree in a cadaver using fluid dyes which would harden without destroying them. Giliani would later paint these structures using a small brush. This technique allowed the students to see even small veins.

Giliani died at the age of 19 on March 26, 1326, the same year that her teacher Mondino de Luzzi died.  It is said that she was buried in front of the Madonna delle Lettere in the church of San Pietro e Marcellino at the Hospital of Santa Maria del Mareto in Florence by Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, another assistant to Modino de Luzzi.

Some ascribe to Agenius a love interest in Giliani because of the wording of the plaque that is translated as follows:

"In this urn enclosed are the ashes of the body of 
Alessandra Giliani, a maiden of Persiceto. 
Skillful with her brush in anatomical demonstrations 
And a disciple equaled by few, 
Of the most noted physician, Mondino de Luzzi, 
She awaits the resurrection. 
She lived 19 years: She died consumed by her labors 
March 26, in the year of grace 1326. 
Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, by her taking away 
Deprived of his better part, inconsolable for his companion, 
Choice and deservinging of the best from himself, 
Has erected this plaque"

Sir William Osler says of Alessandra Giliani “She died, consumed by her labors, at the early age of nineteen, and her monument is still to be seen”

The teaching of anatomy in the times of Mondino de Luzzi and Alessandra Giliani required the professor to be seated on a high chair or “cathedra” from whence he would read an anatomy book by Galen or another respected author while a prosector or “ostensor” would demonstrate the structures to the student. The professor would not consider coming down from the cathedra to discuss the anatomy shown. This was changed by Andreas Vesalius.

The image in this article is a close up of the title page of Mondino’s “Anothomia Corporis Humani” written in 1316, but published in 1478. Click on the image for a complete depiction of this title page. I would like to think that the individual doing the dissection looking up to the cathedra and Mondino de Luzzi is Alessandra Giliani… we will never know.

The life and death of Alessandra Giliani has been novelized in the fiction book “A Golden Web” by Barbara Quick.

Sources 
1. “Books of the Body: Anatomical Ritual and Renaissance Learning” Carlino, A. U Chicago Press, 1999 
2. “Encyclopedia of World Scientists” Oakes, EH. Infobase Publishing, 2002 
3. “The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science”Harvey, J; Ogilvie, M. Vol1. Routledge 2000 
4. “The Evolution of Modern Medicine” Osler, W. Yale U Press 1921 
5. “The Mondino Myth” Pilcher, LS. 1906 
Original image courtesy of NLM
 


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The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum (1)

In 2013 I wrote a short biography of Dr. Ephraim McDowell (1771- 1830) for the sidebar on this blog entitled “A Moment in History”. While researching the life of this illustrious surgeon I learned that his house is now a National Historic Landmark and has been transformed into a museum in the city of Danville, Kentucky. It took me almost four years but on Sunday February 19, 2017 I was able to go visit this place. Following is a series of articles and pictures of this visit.

The house itself was built in the 1790’s and most of it has been restored and lovingly maintained by the city, the Kentucky Medical Association, a Board of Directors, and a group of volunteers that work as docents giving tours of the house.

The following is an edited excerpt of Wikipedia on the McDowell House:

“After McDowell's death in 1830 the house was sold. It was the home of a Centre College president for a short time. Later the entire area became a slum and tenement property. The house deteriorated badly. Dr. August Schachner, of Louisville, led the efforts to buy the house for restoration. In 1921 he visited the house. "Since our last visit, the house has continued its downward course until it has reached a point where it now seems almost beyond redemption”. The room in the rear of the corresponding front room on the second floor,"(the operating room) "which is on a lower level by several feet, is used as a dump for the ashes from the grates of the rooms on the second floor."

The Kentucky Medical Association bought the house in 1935 and deeded it to the state of Kentucky, who had it restored by the Works Progress Administration (WPA). It was dedicated on May 20, 1939. In 1948, Kentucky returned the property to the Kentucky Medical Association.

The Kentucky Pharmaceutical Society restored the Apothecary Shop in the late 1950s with help from the Eli Lily Foundation. It was furnished by the Pfizer Laboratories. It was dedicated and presented to the Kentucky Medical Association on August 14, 1959.”

The house is located at 125 South Second Street, Danville, KY 40422. It is a white two-story wooden structure considered to be large for the time. To the right side stands a small one-story brick structure, the apothecary, where Dr. McDowell would provide medicine for his patients and others. To the left is the patio and garden where Dr. McDowell would grow medicinal plants for the apothecary. On the garden front there is a large two-sided plaque that reads:

Ephraim McDowell House

“Home of Ephraim McDowell, the “father of modern surgery.” Here on December 25, 1809 McDowell performed the first successful abdominal operation when he took a 22-pound ovarian cysts from Jane Todd Crawford of Green Co. With no anesthesia, she sang hymns during the operation. Crawford recovered in 25 days and lived until 1842”

The back side reads:

“Built in three stages. Brick ell, or single-story wing, built 1790s. McDowell purchased house in 1802 and added front clapboard section c.1804. Rear brick office and formal gardens added in 1820. House sold when McDowell dies in 1830. 1n 1930s, Ky. Med. Assoc. bought house; restored by WPA. House dedicated on May 20, 1939. Now a house museum”

Ephraim McDowell House and Museum
The Ephraim McDowell House and Museum

Visiting the Ephraim McDowell House and Museum Dr. Miranda in front of the Ephraim McDowell House

Front of the plaque at the Ephraim McDowell House Front of the plaque at the Ephraim McDowell House

Back of the plaque at the Ephraim McDowell House and Museum Back of the plaque at the Ephraim McDowell House

 This article continues here