Friday, 14 October 2016 — 12:00 noon — GAR 1.102 — joint event with the Symposium on Gender, History, and Sexuality

Elizabeth O’Brien, UT

“Rebellion in the General Hospital: Medical Experimentation, Forced Sterilization, and Revolutionary Doctors in Mexico City, 1932”

Following the armed phase of Mexico’s political revolution (1910-1917), the country undertook a cultural revolution that reached its peak during the presidency of Lázaro Cárdenas (1934-1940). The revolutionary spirit apparently- reached the General Hospital in 1932, when medical students staged an armed coup and ousted the long-standing hospital director. Citing excessive numbers of “experimental” and “unnecessary” hysterectomies, the students claimed that clinical professors committed human rights abuses for their own economic and professional gain. During the conservative regime during 1928–1934, four factors contributeed to this crisis: (1) After the reorganization of the National University, university­–affiliated practitioners experienced little bureaucratic oversight. (2) The doctors in question received their professional training during the autocratic dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz, when racialized medical experimentation was the norm. (3) The anti­-clerical federal climate led some officials to ignore forced sterilizations, which they saw as acts of defiance against the Catholic Church. (4) Many authorities viewed working class people as culturally backward, and promoted efforts to scientifically reform their behavior. This paper foregrounds letters of complaint from patients, which reveal that their appeals utilized post­revolutionary rhetoric about the state’s duty to protect citizens from injustice. At the same time, however, not all patients identified as victims: many women sought to control their fertility, and the operations became particularly contentious when women themselves requested sterilization.

Elizabeth O’Brien is a PhD candidate in the Department of History at UT Austin. Her dissertation examines Church, State, and popular struggles to control reproduction in Mexico between 1800 and 1936, with a particular emphasis on the cultural politics of surgical interventions. O’Brien’s work has been supported by grants from the Fulbright program, the National Science Foundation, the Foreign Language and Area Studies program, and the Tinker Foundation, as well as a University Continuing Fellowship. She holds a BA from Michigan State University and an MA from UT’s Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies.