It's Just the Coffee Talking: "Females have been kept in shameful ignorance, of everything connected with their own systems" - Another rabbit hole - this time, Dr. Fredrick Hollick

I love medical science, although I did not end up going 'into' medicine because my heart was pulled towards marriage and children and mothering stronger than medical school and residency.  However, I collect and read medical journals, historical medicine, modern medicine, and study/research just for fun.

Earlier this week I downloaded a historical book on midwifery, and disease of women during pregnancy and childbirth, published in 1848 by a very 'modern' for his time doctor, Fredrick Hollick.

As I started to read the opening pages, I was intrigued.

While I was expecting a regular historical medical guide, I was first interested in the proclamation that this was the first popular, scientific and practical guide on midwifery ever published.

I was hooked when I read how outraged he seemed to be that females were kept in the dark about their own bodies and their reproductive systems by the male medical doctors.  (Ms. Blackwell, the first female doctor didn't get her medical degree until 1849 but even then was barred from practicing and found it a struggle as no one accepted females as physicians then.)

I started to like this guy, Dr. Hollick... and I quickly forgot about reading my book as I wanted to read more about him for the moment.


Here is the book that piqued my curiosity in the author;




Being a Familiar and Practical Treatise, More Especially Intended for the Instruction of Females Themselves, but Adapted Also for Popular Use among Students and Practitioners of Medicine

Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1848,
in the Clerk's office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.

"Being the first popular, and yet strictly scientific and practical book on Midwifery ever published, its preparation has necessarily been a work of great labour and difficulty. Everything had to be simplified; familiar explanations had to be given of complicated processes, and illustrations had to be designed that could be understood by my readers. Little or no assistance could be obtained from other works on the subject, because they were either designed for professional men; and therefore too technical, or else were too general in their explanations, and too unsystematical, to be of any practical use."

"....Such a work as this has long been needed. Females have been kept in shameful ignorance, of everything connected with their own systems, and of the wonderful phenomena in which they play so important a part. That ignorance has led to untold evils, which can never be corrected till they become more enlightened respecting themselves. Fortunately many of them begin to see this, and they request, in behalf of themselves and their sisters, that such knowledge be no longer withheld.

I have been now, for a long time, engaged in this pleasing task of female instruction, both by my Lectures and books, and in my daily communion with them as patients; I am therefore aware both of their great lack of proper information, and of their strong desire for it, and I flatter myself I also know, from experience and careful observation, the best mode of imparting it to them.

In fact, I have made it a matter of careful study, not only to render my subject plain, but also pleasing and unobjectionable; so that the most unreflecting shall feel an interest in it, and the most sensitive be able to study it without pain or repugnance.

The object of this book is not to make every woman a professional Midwife, nor to induce her to dispense with proper assistance in her hour of difficulty, but simply to explain to her the nature and manner of child-birth, and the means by which she is to be assisted. This will disabuse her mind of many pernicious errors— make her more patient under her unavoidable difficulties and pains— more docile to what is required of her, since she will see the reason for it—"

"I have known women die in child-bed, for want of the most trivial assistance, which even a child could understand how to give, though there were elderly females, mothers themselves, around her; but they knew not what to do. Such a state of things is disgraceful to the boasted intelligence of the age, and should be remedied as speedily as possible.

Every Adult female, or at least every married one, should be instructed in these things, so that she may know how to regulate her own conduct and how to render useful assistance to others in case of need. Ill informed women are generally as apprehensive of danger as they are incapable of avoiding it; and as regardless of proper advice as they are ignorant of the reason for it.

The time, I trust, is fast coming, when every female will be taught, as of paramount importance, everything which concerns her own welfare; and when ignorance will no longer be considered necessary to propriety and virtue, nor useful knowledge incompatible with the most refined delicacy and the strictest morality. I consider it my duty to assist in hastening that time, and I feel much pleased that my previous efforts have been so much commended. This book I hope will be equally acceptable, and, if possible, more useful, than those which have preceded it."
 F. HOLLICK, M. D., New York

Something to ponder over your morning coffee if you wish....

Who was this man who stood up so firmly for women and their right for information about their own bodies and reproductive systems?
Dr. Hollick by John Plumbe, Jr., from the National Plumbeotype Gallery, 1847, hand-colored lithograph on paper, from the National Portrait Gallery which has explicitly released this digital image under the CC0 license. (

Frederick Hollick (1818-1900) was a 19th-century American physician, sex educator, and author. His most notable works include The Origin of Life and The Marriage Guide, both of which focus on teaching healthy sexual practices and behavior, as well as proper knowledge of the reproductive processes and management of diseases. Hollick’s beliefs were controversial for the time period since many health professionals at this time were against discussing sex and functions of the human body in a public sphere.


It seems he had some troubles once he got vocal... he was charged and brought to trial twice on charges of obscenity hinging on pornography for his lectures and his paper-mache' mannequin of the female reproductive system. 


"..... Although several of Hollick’s views merited similarities among his colleagues, it was not enough to sway them into approving of his overall methodology. Thus, beginning in 1846, Hollick was condemned by his Antebellum peers to multiple charges of obscenity, leading to two trials, the second of which he failed to show up for.

The charges insisted that both Hollick’s papier-mâché mannequin and the distribution of anatomically correct diagrams of sex organs were obscene, edging on pornographic.  However, the first charges were eventually dropped due to witnesses dismissal of the mannequin as obscene, but rather informational, which only reaffirmed the widely held belief that Hollick’s teachings provided a fresh, welcoming view of sex.

Even though charges still remained against Hollick, the rising support by his followers pushed him to forfeit the bail, leave Philadelphia behind, and begin a new life in New York to share his teachings with receptive audiences alike.

There is little information about what happened to Doctor Hollick after he fled the district court's charges against him, other than his death in 1900, and his permanent influence on views about sex throughout the 19th century. "


I found this poem attributed to Fredrick Hollick, MD - from the area where Dr. Hollick had moved to - so assuming it was him;  I still had little interest in it when I started to skim through the lines, but as I flipped towards the middle and end, I realized it wasn't what I thought it was and it was quite interesting!  It was about politics!
Here are just a couple small samples, with the link to the entire poem at the end if you are interested.

The Devil's Visit...  Fredrick "Dick" Hollick


After Dr. Hollick left for New York, little is known about him until his death in 1900.  However, it seems he gave a short interview about what he saw during the quarantine insurrection of 1858 in Staten Island...... as the name, medical doctor status and the location of his home fits.

The 1858 Quarantine Fires in Staten Island

In 1858, residents of Tompkinsville, a village in the town of Castleton in Staten Island, set fire to the buildings of the nearby Quarantine Hospital, which had been located in the neighborhood for sixty years receiving sick passengers from incoming vessels to New York Harbor. Newspapers called it "The Quarantine War," "The Quarantine Riot," "The Staten Island Arson," "The Burning of the Quarantine," "The Staten Island Rebellion," and "The Quarantine Imbroglio."

View of the New York Quarantine, Staten Island.  NYPL Digital Collections, Image ID: 1659392

".... Between 1791 and 1807, yellow fever was reported to have caused the deaths of 5,000 people in New York City. In 1799, the state legislature passed the Quarantine Act, "to provide against infectious and pestilential diseases," including punishments against doctors and ship masters who failed to report sick passengers to the Quarantine Hospital—at the time located on Governors Island. The state then used the right of eminent domain to obtain thirty acres on the north east shore of Richmond County to build a new Quarantine. Staten Island was a thinly populated county, with 4,564 inhabitants enumerated in the 1800 U.S. Census. By rowboat or sailboat, a trip to Manhattan from Staten Island might take from two to five hours.

"....Within months of the hospital opening, an assembly of neighborhood residents threatened to burn it down, in response to rumors that the ship General Wayne, recently arrived from Havana, was infected with "Yellow Jack." The New York Gazette reported that Staten Island locals had "threatened to set fire to her if she was not removed from the wharf." But Dr. Richard Bayley, the Health Officer for the Port of New York, argued that the ship had been duly cleaned and disinfected.  Two years later, Dr. Bayley died of yellow fever.

By 1858, there was still no standard agreement between medical professionals about what caused the "black vomit." Most physicians still believed that the disease was a contagion spread by air. Not until the 1880s, in Cuba, was the A. aegypti mosquito determined to transmit the virus, with global eradication efforts stretching into the 1920s.

".... A Quarantine doctor described passengers on arriving ships as "a seething mass of humanity" who shared space with "decaying provisions left for days and nights together in almost totally unventilated darkness."  After “six weeks and even longer… arose a most dreadful stench… An old sea captain who lived by me remarked at once, 'That’s a yellow fever stink.'"

"..... In the summer of 1858, rumors abound of the spread of the "black vomit."  The Castleton Board of Health claimed up to thirty cases near the hospital, versus zero on the other side of the island.  Word circulated that personal possessions of one victim were sold at auction, causing infected wares to scatter all across Richmond County spreading sickness and death.  By late August, doctors at the hospital confirmed only seventeen cases of yellow fever on Staten Island, with nine ending in death, while the year before over fifty cases had been counted for July and August alone.

Fed-up and panicked, locals mobilized. "Meetings were called at which resolutions were passed denouncing the abuse," reminisced Dr. Frederick Hollick in 1893. Dr. Hollick was a Tompkinsville resident aligned with the anti-Quarantinists.  The meetings of the distressed and aggravated locals took place "in the old fort, on Fort Hill, which was then covered with trees, on one of which hung a red lantern, around which meetings gathered."  The Castleton Board passed a resolution demanding that the people must "protect" themselves and "abate" the "nuisance" of the hospital "without delay," which language was interpreted as the necessary semblance of authorization for mob justice.

On the night of September 1, a group of men wielding hatchets and torches dipped in turpentine split into two groups outside the hospital; one group went through the gate and the second over the wall.  The besiegers carried each patient out of the hospital and deposited them 100 yards away "on beds under an open shed," where Dr. Hollick claimed the patients were "well attended to." The buildings were then lit up using torches, straw, and mattresses.  

One hundred stevedores plus hospital staff confronted the onslaught of torch-wielding attackers. A physician accidentally shot another medical worker, and the top health officer was beaten with his own musket. Quarantine doctors sent a dispatch imploring the Richmond County Sheriff to form a posse and defend the buildings, but the message received no answer and no posse arrived—the Sheriff took sides with the anti-Quarantinists. Onlookers from passing boats in the harbor were said to have cheered "in the most hearty manner" in support of the conflagration.

The New York Times offered a wry summary in an 1859 article, that "the great problem of the age seems to be, to establish a Quarantine, without having it located anywhere."


And by then I was growing bored with this little rabbit hole I had fallen down and decided that the few minutes I had spent researching him was enough.  For now.