Monday, November 4, 2013

W44: Pioneer Work

Every time I’ve brought a friend to use the Biblio-Mat they would go first and get an amazingly fascinating book and I would become excited only to drop my toonie in and pull a dull read, like say, a book about commuting across the prairies twenty odd times. So this time, I figured I would go first and fool the mechanical book machine elves inside. Didn’t work. My friend received an old book of vintage card games. I ended up with this:

Who wanted to read about awesome vintage card games anyway?
Outside of the publisher’s logo, the light olive green cloth cover was bare. The spine read Pioneer Work, however, the title page called it Pioneer Work for Women, and the publisher’s page called it Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women, so someone was clearly just seeing what was going to stick to the wall.

No nonsense coversheet.
Interestingly, there was no publishing date but from different references in the foreword, it appears to have been printed around 1913. Although the book was only 236 pages long, the font was tiny and the text went a lot further to the edges of each page than normal books.

Pioneer Works was actually an autobiography by Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, who was the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States in 1849. She was famous enough to have a legitimate Wikipedia page so at least the book was not a completely unknown piece of work as it is often the case with Biblio-Mat books.

Apparently she's pretty great at treating insomnia.
The first few chapters in the book covered her childhood, which turns out was fairly privileged in both wealth and family values. Born in England to a liberal sugar factory owner with very progressive ideas, her childhood would be considered more modern than what most kids go through even today. For instance, instead of beatings, she actually got time outs to reflect on her mistakes. This was in the early 1800s. Hell, I grew up in the 90s and I still got spankings left right and center (builds character). This would actually end up explaining a lot of the things she would go on to do further in life.

At least she had a great eye for title pages.
In her early teens, her family moved to America and they ended up spending some time in New York before moving to Cincinnati. What was fascinating in these chapters was the sheer amount of racism present in her new environment, all described in detail. It became a constant reminder of the time period and setting.

Inside cover was fairly artsy as well.
Surprisingly, her college career made up only a small portion of the book considering how groundbreaking it was at the time. Summed up in twenty odd pages, the rest of the book focused on her studies and adventures in Europe. This ranged from political protests to hanging out with Lady Byron. Ultimately she leaves England again and returns to America to do medical work and spends much of the latter chapters in correspondence with various people she met in London.

Didn't even know pig skin was an option...
The writing style of Pioneer Work lent a lot to the readability of the book as the actual core story was neither amazing nor educational. Reminiscent of Jane Austen’s narrative with a heavier epistolary twist, the prose had a flowery tint that was sometimes overpowering but ultimately held attention throughout. Without the artistic flourish, though, the biography could have been summed up as rich English girl goes to America, enrolls in medical school, graduates after studying really hard, and ends up wandering back and forth between America and England.


Book rating: 7.5/10 (Much better than anticipated)

Random quote: “I find interesting details of that long drive, when every day took me farther and farther away from all that I loved.” (Life summed up in a sentence)

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