Please Don't Tap on the Glass

Dr. Martin Couney holding two premature babies

Let's take a trip. (We'll have to do some time travelling to do it - all the way back to sometime between 1903-1943.) We'll go to Coney Island and see the attractions. I'm particularly interested in Dr. Couney's collection of really tiny human babies. And you can see them for only 25¢! If we time it just right, we might be able to see his own daughter, who was part of the show for a while!

And at least half of you are horrified.

But it's actually a really cool story. Dr. Couney set up the attraction in order to provide necessary medical care for premature infants whose parents couldn't afford it, using incubators, which weren't used in American hospitals yet. (He learned about them when he studied in France and brought them in from there.) He had wet nurses, registered nurses, and medical technicians attending, and managed to save 6,500 infants out of the 8,000 he treated - a staggeringly high percentage for the day. That number includes his daughter, Hildegarde, who weighed three pounds at birth. When she grew up, she assisted her father as a nurse at the exhibition.  By the time his show ended, incubators were installed in most hospitals.

He also treated the wet nurses with extraordinary care, making sure they ate well and weren't stressed. Patients were given identification necklaces, and the doctor was careful that babies were reunited with their parents when treatment was complete. Couney also accepted patients regardless of their parents' race or financial status, which was remarkably progressive at the time. He never charged the parents of his patients - all the funding came from admission charges.

He hoped that his exhibit would show how wonderful incubators were and encourage their use in hospitals, thereby saving countless thousands of premature infants. It did.

Now, someone help me build a time machine, because I want to meet this man.

(You can learn more about Dr. Couney here, here, and here.)


That, ladies and gents, is embroidery, using strands of silk in approximately 250 shades of blue
  • For those of you out there who don't know, DUI stands for "driving under the influence," and is a very bad thing to do. Now get off my lawn.

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