Friday afternoon was a busy one in the Wolfsonian library as I scrambled about conducting five orientations, presentations, and guided tours for Miami-Dade public school and Florida International University students. In between the talks and tours, I had a half hour respite in which to meet with FIU professor Mary Lou Pfeiffer. Professor Pfeiffer is teaching a course on Biomedical ethics and was here to discuss ways in which her students might make use of our collection for a project designed to stimulate debate on a wide variety of health issues. Thanks in large part to gifts made to the Wolfsonian in recent years by two collectors, Robert J. Young and William H. Helfand, Dr. Pfeiffer had a wealth of material from which to choose.


After some discussion, we settled on two areas of the library collection that we believed would provoke some thoughtful questions and discussion. First, we chose to focus on a run of Physical Culture periodicals put out by the body-builder-turned-publishing mogul, Bernarr Macfadden.


The library holds a very good run of this popular magazine from the nineteen-teens through the nineteen-fifties thanks to the generous donation of the late Robert J. Young of Deland, Florida. Although Macfadden had been a vociferous critic of Victorian prudery and taboos and had also provided legitimate criticism of some of the medical establishment quackery of the early 20th century, the articles in his own health periodical also contributed to popular medical misinformation and misconceptions.


Dr. Pfeiffer also decided to introduce her students to items from the William H. Helfand Pharmaceutical Ephemera Collection in the Wolfsonian library.

A few years back, Mr. Helfand had organized an exhibition at the Grolier’s Club in New York of some of the pharmacy-related materials in his extensive private collection and had published a catalogue entitled, Quack, Quack, Quack.

More recently, Mr. Helfand donated a large number of posters and thousands of pharmaceutical promotional materials to the Wolfsonian-FIU.

A selection of these items is currently on display in one of the fifth floor galleries, and students will have the opportunity to view and study these and other items housed in the library (and catalogued and made available in digitized form on our library catalog).

~ by "The Chief" on January 16, 2011.

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