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Technical Versus Public Spheres: A Feminist Analysis of Women’s Rhetoric in the Twilight Sleep Debates of 1914-1916
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Technical Versus Public Spheres: A Feminist Analysis of Women’s Rhetoric in the Twilight Sleep Debates of 1914-1916

Author: Bethany Johnson; Margaret M. Quinlan
Edition/Format: Article Article : English
Publication:Health Communication, v30 n11 (2015): 1076-1088
Summary:
Twilight Sleep (TS) describes the delivery, via an injection, of an amnestic drug cocktail to a parturient woman throughout labor. In order to understand the development of modern-day rhetoric surrounding childbirth methods and procedures, this article explores the debate over TS between the public and technical sphere in New York City between 1914 and 1916 and examines the ways in which this debate altered  Read more...
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Document Type: Article
All Authors / Contributors: Bethany Johnson; Margaret M. Quinlan
ISSN:1041-0236
Language Note: English
Unique Identifier: 5857472193
Awards:

Abstract:

Twilight Sleep (TS) describes the delivery, via an injection, of an amnestic drug cocktail to a parturient woman throughout labor. In order to understand the development of modern-day rhetoric surrounding childbirth methods and procedures, this article explores the debate over TS between the public and technical sphere in New York City between 1914 and 1916 and examines the ways in which this debate altered obstetric health care for middle- and upper-class White women. The public response to this campaign posed a direct challenge to male obstetricians in New York City, many of whom were ill-equipped, both literally and figuratively, to use this procedure. Using a feminist rhetorical criticism, we examined the pro-TS rhetoric of women writers in New York City, the methods they borrowed from the women’s movement, and the ensuing dialogue between the public and technical spheres. For this study, we analyzed journal and newspaper articles, a pamphlet, a collection of pro-TS organizational documents, letters to the editor, and books published about TS and the history of birth. Lastly, we analyzed theoretical notions of childbirth in women’s health and communication studies. After examining the TS debate, we found that birth practices for middle- and upper-class women in New York City shifted and the obstetric community gained ascendancy over female midwifery. We also found that in certain instances, the rhetoric of pro-TS activists was more technically accurate than the rhetoric of some physicians. Hence the TS debate emerged from an argument over the right to use technical language in the technical and/or the public sphere. Conclusions and implications offered by this historical, feminist analysis question our current understanding of women’s health and birthing practices, doctor-patient communication, and patient empowerment and access to technical knowledge.

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