|Mixed in with splashier items, like the iron lung and the 19th-century pedal-powered dentistry drill, |
are unassuming but important pieces of public health history like these tubes used in testing milk.
|The entry hallway was a bit confusing, but not because of this little desk,|
which features the guestbook but also a tribute to a late long-time volunteer.
That said, the Public Health museum is fairly well set up for self-guided visits, as well. Overall, the labels are lay-friendly and informative. The museum has some problems that are pretty common especially in low-budget museums -- the labels aren't great for people with low vision, and even as the casual proofreader that I am, I noticed some cut-off sentences and other errors that I'm sure the volunteers are well aware of. On the other hand, I really appreciated the way the labels made the time frames clear. Tewksbury Hospital has at various times since its opening in 1852 contained an almshouse, a long-term care and psychiatric hospital, a site of isolation for infectious disease patients, a nursing school, and residential substance abuse programs. At many sites with a complicated or multifaceted history, labels discuss concepts very generally, and leave visitors with the sense that something happened "back then" without a sense of when "back then" was or of change over time. I do wish that both the volunteers and the exhibit labels were more aware of current practices for describing disability and disabled people, because I heard and read a lot of the kind of thing that I once thought was harmless until I learned better, such as calling wheelchair users as "wheelchair-bound" as if a chair weren't a freeing mobility device, and I wanted to hear more about historical patient experiences in the psychiatric wards rather than just historical theories about them.
|A mid-twentieth century public health advertising campaign, |
Wellbee encouraged people to "be wise, immunize" once the polio vaccine debuted.
The museum bills itself as the first museum in the United States dedicated to public health. I find it surprising that there aren't more -- it's such an important topic, rich with artifact and easy for visitors to connect to our own lives -- but I haven't heard of any others. It is well worth supporting and visiting, if you can make it there in their open hours (do check their website, as their hours change seasonally).