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Cleveland exhibit has Wooster ties

The Dittrick Medical History Center of Case Western Reserve University opened a new, permanent exhibit on the history of contraception Thursday, Sept. 17.

Assistant Editor of Wooster magazine Jimmy Wilkinson Meyer is the guest curator for ìVice, Virtue, and Contraband: A History of Contraception in America.” She, along with Chief Curator of the Dittrick James Edmonson í73, worked with over 700 contraceptive items and photos to produce the exhibit.† Meyer states the exhibit indicates that acquiring birth control ìis not a new struggle Ö faced by todayís teens or couples.”† Furthermore, she adds, ìthe struggle has not ended.”† ìVice, Virtue, and Contraband” both exhibits methods of birth control and explores ìcultural issues of sexuality,” according to Meyer.

The exhibit displays the collection of Percy Skuy, retired CEO of Janssen-Ortho, a contraceptive firm in Canada.† Skuy, according to Meyer, began collecting older contraceptives when he was in marketing, as a method of luring potential buyers to visit Janssen-Orthoís booth during sales conventions.† After realizing very few older methods of contraceptive were being preserved, ìHe got the bug,” said Meyer.† Skuy displayed his array of items, including over 400 examples of intra-uterine devices (IUDs), that he had collected throughout his career in Janssen-Orthoís headquarters.† After Skuyís retirement, he sought a permanent home for the collection.

Meyer, Edmonson, and others on the museumís staff began the project in late 2005.† According to Meyer, historians and archivists from across the country provided information and artifacts for ìVice, Virtue, and Contraband.”

Working with the items amassed by Skuy, the Dittrick team added social context and history to the often-dangerous items of birth control used by women before the invention of the birth control pill.

The Dittrick currently displays over 100 objects from Skuyís personal collection as well as other items accumulated for the exhibit.† The final product features 16 display cases, four of which were prepared by Meyer.

Items on display range from early forms of IUDs and ìpessaries” to birth control items found in popular culture to books from the Victorian era discussing sexual morality.† Meyer described the objects fondly, admiring the ìcreativity” with which women approached birth control.† The exhibit, for example, displays a small juice glass used as a makeshift female condom (before the device shattered), as well as advertisements to use Lysol as a feminine douche/abortifacient. ìDonít try this at home!” Meyer said.

Meyer considers the collection to have a ìpermanent life” at the Dittrick.† Ideas for the future include lectures related to the exhibit, such as the opening talk delivered last Thursday by historian Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz of Smith College, a web presence and an illustrated book.

Meyer is one of the leading historians of contraceptive history and the author of ìAny Friend of the Movement, a history of the Planned Parenthood in Cleveland during the 1930s.”

She has previously taught a First-Year Seminar at the College entitled ìVice, Virtue, and Contraband: Reforming Reproduction.”

ìVice, Virtue, and Contraband” is sponsored† in part by David í63 and Gayle Noble í86 of Wooster, as well as Skuy.

The Dittrick Medical History Center is located on the third floor of the Allen Memorial Medical Library at Case Western Reserve University, 11000 Euclid Avenue, in Cleveland.† ìVice, Virtue, and Contraband” is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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