Immersing himself in Cushing’s “harem”

Bliss
Bliss

Out of earshot, the women who worked for Harvey W. Cushing, M.D., referred to themselves as “the harem.” The “chief,” said Cushing biographer Michael Bliss, Ph.D., would not have been amused.

In a talk in the Historical Library of the Cushing/Whitney Medical Library in February, Bliss, a historian at the University of Toronto and biographer of William Osler, said Cushing enjoyed a decidedly professional relationship with his female staff and was less than tender as a boss. He paid the women who worked as secretaries, histologist and photographer low wages and worked them long and irregular hours. He dictated up to 10,000 words a day, expected a high level of performance and seldom thanked anyone. Yet he also offered perks such as coveted football tickets, invitations to his home and even trips to Europe.

The most devoted of his assistants was Madeline Stanton, who followed him from Harvard to Yale, where she became director of the Historical Library. In one of her journal entries, Stanton wrote, “I shall be miserable, I am sure, if I ever have to work with anyone else.” Bliss’s biography of Cushing is due out in 2006.