Dr. Marie Nyswander, Early Leader in Methadone Maintenance Treatment

Women have been active contributors to Mount Sinai Beth Israel since its founding in 1890. From the Ladies’ Auxiliary formed in MSBI’s first year of operation, to the first female House Staff member Dr. Nettie Shapiro in 1909, to so many on our front lines today, women’s contributions have always been essential to the operation of the hospital. This year for Women’s History Month, we’ll be featuring Dr. Marie Nyswander (1919-1986), a psychiatrist and an early leader in methadone maintenance in the treatment of heroin addiction. 

Dr. Nyswander was born in Reno, Nevada, and graduated from Sarah Lawrence College (1941) and Cornell University Medical College (1945). From there she joined the Public Health Service in Lexington, Kentucky, where she first worked with patients with addiction issues. She later received psychiatry training at New York Medical College, and published a book, The Drug Addict As A Patient, in 1956. The book was among the first which argued for treating addiction as a medical problem, rather than a moral failing, likely influenced by the dramatic increase chemotheraputic treatments for psychiatric disorders in the 1950s. She went on to chair the New York City Mayor’s Advisory Board on Narcotics in 1959 and worked at a clinic in East Harlem throughout the early 1960s, alongside her own private practice 

Photograph of Drs. Nyswander and Dole

Photograph of Drs. Nyswander and Dole

In 1964, she was invited by Dr. Vincent Dole, a physician at Rockefeller Hospital, to join a study on the biology of addiction, which ultimately led to the discovery of methadone as a treatment for heroin addiction. Drs. Nyswander and Dole married in 1965. From the late-1960s until her death in 1986, she was affiliated with Beth Israel Hospital, where thousands were eventually treated through the Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program. She also served on the President’s Advisory Board for Mental Health during the Carter administration. Both she and her work with Dr. Dole received many honors. 

Headline reads: "Methadone Credited With Rehabilitating 850 Addicts"

Article from January 20, 1969 issue of “Drug Topics”

Dr. Nyswander was a fierce defender of what has been a controversial treatment since its inception. Though detractors argue that methadone replaces one opioid addiction for another, Nyswander and Dole saw that abstinence-focused treatments were not always effective and that the symptoms of withdrawal caused by detoxification were needlessly challenging and painful for the patient. Methadone, an opioid itself, prevents drug cravings and blocks the ‘high’ of heroin.

Dr. Nyswander passed away in 1986 at the age of 67.

 

Sources: 

Courtwright, David T., “The prepared mind: Marie Nyswander, methadone maintenance, and the metabolic theory of addiction,” Addiction 92, vol. 3 (1997): 257-265. Accessed March 23, 2021. 

Dole, Vincent, Biographical photographs, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY. 

“Dr. Marie Nyswander Dies at 67; Expert in Treating Drug Addicts,” The New York Times (New York, N.Y.), April 21, 1986. Accessed March 23, 2021. 

Methadone Maintenance Treatment Program clippings, AA088.S003.SS001.B003.F029 – AA088.S003.SS001.B003.F047, Mount Sinai Beth Israel collection, Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY.  

COVID-19, Web Archives, and Preserving History Online

Our web archives are available online here. 

In March 2020, the world began witnessing history in real-time, and archivists scrambled to ensure that the story of COVID-19 would be well-preserved. But with so much happening at a distance, much of the communication and ephemera created in the last six months is online, meaning that archivists have had to eschew traditional practices in collecting physical material and focus increasingly on the enormous amount of material now online. For example, at the peak of the crisis, healthcare institutions like Mount Sinai were updating their websites multiple times a day so that staff and the public had the best and most recent information on policies and procedures regarding things like new treatments and personal protective equipment. This type of information will be valuable moving forward as historians try to understand a rapidly evolving crisis.  

Fortunately, technology exists to capture every version of these websites as they appear online. Web archiving has been a practice since the late-1990s, and since 2015 the Aufses Archives has used Archive-It, a web archiving service provided by the Internet Archive, to regularly capture information related to the Mount Sinai Health System. We also use this tool to capture web content related to the response to COVID-19, as well as day-to-day changes to the website. 

Screenshot of the Aufses Archives page on Archive-It.

Screenshot of the Aufses Archives page on Archive-It.

The easiest way to access our web archives is to browse the list of websites on the main screen. These results can be filtered using the groups, subjects, or creators on the left side of the screen. You can also use the search bar at the top of the screen to search the metadata created by the archivist. (We expect our COVID-19 group to be the most used group for the foreseeable future.) Information on COVID-19, as well as a wide range of subjects, has been collected by a number other academic institutions, and you can also browse their collections here. 

If you’re searching for a particular webpage instead of a whole website, or if you’re trying to search the original text of a website, the “Search Page Text” option may be of use. This feature supports keyword searching of individual web pages, much like Google. However, you can also filter by “Capture date range” which means you can search not just across subjects, but also across time.  

Screenshot of the “Search Page Text” functionality in Archive-It, after searching “COVID-19.”

With either searching method, once you’ve selected a link, you’ll be taken to a page of dates, each corresponding to a particular date of capture. While there’s no guarantee that every version of the website was captured, it will at least give you a sense of how the site has progressed over time. 

This page, related to the COVID-19 pandemic, had 72 captures at the time of writing, starting every day from March 23, 2020, to May 12, 2020. The crawl now occurs monthly, due to fewer updates of the website.

Once you’ve selected a date, you’re taken to a version of the website captured on that date. Shown below is our earliest Archive-It capture of the Mount Sinai Hospital homepage, as it appeared in February 2015. The website should play back in the same was as it originally appeared.  

A screenshot of the Mount Sinai homepage from February 2015.

Of course, the Mount Sinai Health System only represents a very small corner of the internet, and archivists are working to capture as much as possible. All the websites captured by the Aufses Archives contribute directly to the Internet Archives’ Wayback Machine, which at the time of writing has 477 billion website captures, including a limited number of Mount Sinai webpages dating back to the 1990s, captured on an ad hoc basis. You can also contribute by adding URLs via the link on the Wayback homepage. 

Hortense Hirsch

This is a guest blog post by summer intern, Lily Stowe-Alekman. Lily is a junior at Smith College where she studies History, Archives, and the Study of Women and Gender.  

Even before given access to traditional pathways of change, women at The Mount Sinai Hospital have worked to make change in the institution. From the opening of The Mount Sinai Hospital in 1855, the wives and daughters of the Board of Trustees worked to provide services in order to provide comfort to patients and to address their social and emotional well-being. By 1917, the first year that women were allowed on the Board, the role of women, and their expectations of that role, had substantially changed. The growing power of women was expressed by the creation of their own organization to exert influence over the life of the Hospital, the Social Service Auxiliary. And according to Helen Rehr, DSW, the second Edith J. Baerwald Professor of Community Medicine (Social Work), they were a force to be reckoned with.1 When prompted in an interview about the Auxiliary, “…they weren’t social butterflies having their tea. That’s not an image you would draw,” Rehr responded “Not these women, never. In the 28 years that I’ve known them I don’t recall having tea with them. No, they were women who came with a commitment to the social organization.”  Hortense Hirsch, who served on the Auxiliary Board and Board of Trustees as one of the first woman able to be a Trustee, is a powerful example of the trailblazing women of the Auxiliary Board.

Black and white portrait of Hortense Hirsch, circa 1960.

A portrait of Hortense Hirsch, circa 1960.

In 1923, Mrs. Hortense Hirsch (1887-1990) began her work with the Social Services Auxiliary (today’s Auxiliary Board), of which she would continue to be a member for sixty-five years, including a tenure as president from 1951-1956. From there, she was elected to the Board of Trustees in 1932, where she remained until becoming an honorary trustee in 1986. She sat on several committees of the Board, including as a member of the Committee on Building Maintenance and Equipment, Vice-Chairman of the Committee on Social Service, Chairman of the Committee on Convalescent Care, and as a member of the Committee on Ladies’ Auxiliary. Hirsch was president of the Neustadter Home for Convalescents beginning in 1937 when the Home affiliated with Mount Sinai, until she stepped down from the post in 1953.

A photograph of (from left to right) Helen Benjamin, member of the Women’s Auxiliary Board; Mrs. Edith Lehman, the first President of the Auxiliary Board from 1916-1917, Mrs. Ruth Cook, President from 1917-51; and Mrs. Hortense Hirsch, the presiding President of the Board at the fiftieth anniversary of the Auxiliary Board in 1956. Helen Benjamin holds a picture of the first social work volunteer from 1907.

Hortense Hirsch lived to be 103 years old, and by all accounts she remained steadfast in her dedication to social work and volunteerism for her whole life. After she graduated from Smith College in 1907 at the age of 19, she married Walter Hirsch and then moved to New York City in 1909. She began her work as a volunteer at Mount Sinai in 1917.  The Federation of Jewish Philanthropies later referred to her as the “honorary ‘Dean of Social Work Volunteers.’” As a thoroughly involved volunteer and then Auxiliary Board member, Hirsch dedicated many hours to the hospital.  Dr. Helen Rehr remarked in 1982, “The demands on her were great, but she always rose to it. There was no question on that score.”

Color candid photograph of Hortense Hirsch. She wears a red dress and a pearl necklace. She's opening an envelope and laughing.

Portrait of Hortense Hirsch, circa 1976.

Hortense Hirsch’s personality leaps off the pages of archival materials. When at Smith College, she maintained her own horse and buggy, which was against the rules, by paying a farmer for boarding, effectively evading the administration. In a New York Times article documenting her 100th birthday celebration, her daughter Carol Kridel told them, that while Hirsch was too ill to attend and she had to stay in bed, she was still “wearing a pink bedjacket and a pink bow in her silver hair.” The article also includes a story of Hirsch “[coming] to her 85th birthday and [tossing] her skirts high to show she approved of the latest rage—hotpants.”

Hortense Hirsch’s work on the Social Service and Women’s Auxiliary Board helped to transform the hospital. She worked tirelessly as a volunteer and board member. Hirsch’s work and legacy came from and continued those of the women who originally found pathways to affect changes at The Mount Sinai Hospital in the late 1800s. Hirsch served on the Board of Trustees, an opportunity that was not available to the women of previous generations. As Dr. Helen Rehr stated, “the Mrs. Hirsches are an outgrowth of that group of women who were the wives of the board of trustees” and ultimately transformed the hospital in the process.

Archives History in the Archival Materials

This is a guest blog post by summer intern, Lily Stowe-Alekman. Lily is a junior at Smith College where she studies History, Archives, and the Study of Women and Gender.  

As a summer intern with the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives, I have become acquainted with Mount Sinai’s history and the efforts that go into preserving its legacy. One of the projects I have worked on is cataloging The Mount Sinai Hospital News, an in-house tabloid-style newsletter for Mount Sinai employees. Colleen Stapleton, Patient Navigator for the Liver Education & Action Program at Mount Sinai, volunteered with the Archives this spring and digitized the newsletters from 1958-71. In my work cataloging, I read some really entertaining stories that offered a glimpse into the personal lives of people who worked in The Mount Sinai Hospital (later Medical Center), whether that be birth announcements of their children, quirky stories about the things employees did outside of the hospital, or articles about celebratory dinners and ceremonies. One can also not forget the hospital’s bowling team.

While cataloging in July, I came across a story that made me pause because it felt like a full circle moment. The October 1971 issue of The Mount Sinai Medical Center News featured an article called “Everyone Talks about Mount Sinai’s Glorious History; Dr. Al Lyons, Arch Archivist, Does Something About It.” This article has history of the Aufses Archives and is within the archive. While the Aufses Archives is a site of historical preservation, it has its own history as well.

Caption: The objects featured in the article header are still in the Arthur H. Aufses Jr. MD Archives today!

The creation of what is now the Arthur H. Aufses, Jr., MD Archives is due to the work and advocacy of Dr. Albert S. Lyons in the 1960s to 1980s. Over this time, Dr. Lyons advocated for the need of creating the archive and in 1986, secured its future with the hiring of a full-time archivist, Barbara Niss, who remains the Director today. Dr. Lyons (1912-2006) spent over sixty years of his life working at Mount Sinai. He began as a surgical resident at Mount Sinai Hospital in 1938. He went on to become the founder and Chief of the Intestinal Rehabilitation Clinic and worked to help support patient needs post-surgery. He was also a Clinical Professor of Surgery at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine. He wrote a well-known book, Medicine: An Illustrated History, a volume of over six hundred pages, charting medicine from the prehistoric era to the twentieth century. 

Beyond his clinical work, Dr. Lyons was committed to Mount Sinai’s institutional history and to history of medicine in general. He taught the History of Medicine elective courses in the medical school. In the 1960s, he convinced the hospital board to collect the institutional history of the hospital. In 1966, he was made Hospital Archivist by Mr. Gustave L. Levy, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees. Dr. Lyons’ passion for preserving the history of The Mount Sinai Hospital overlapped with the discussions and planning of Mount Sinai School of Medicine, which welcomed its first students in the fall of 1968. In 1970, he was given the official title of Medical Center Archivist. Dr. Lyons also contributed a broad range of valuable materials to the Archives, including over eighty-five oral history interviews dating to 1965, a formative time for the field of oral history as well as for the Medical Center, as the School planned for and welcomed its first students.

In October of 1971, The Mount Sinai Medical Center News wrote about Dr. Lyons’ archival work. The article highlights the work and efforts of Dr. Lyons and serves as a call to action of sorts for the archive. Dr. Lyons is quoted in the first line as saying, “When in doubt, don’t throw it out.” He goes on to say that “too much of Mount Sinai’s past has already gone up in smoke,” due to people throwing out items without realizing their significance. He stresses as well that ordinary everyday materials are archival. He stresses that history is not necessarily in the distant past, that the events of the previous day are history. In this sense, Dr. Lyons de-mystifies the archives by showing that it should be in connection with the present moment and is not a disconnected abstract institution. The closing paragraph of the article instructs readers, “If you’ve uncovered some papers or objects you think may be worth saving, are planning some event to make current Medical History, etc. Drop Dr. Lyons a note.” In turn, “He and the Future will thank you!”

 

SOURCES

Arthur H. Aufses, Jr. MD Archives and Records Management. “Lyons, Albert S., MD, Papers, 1932-2000.” Collection Guides.  https://icahn.mssm.edu/about/ait/archives/collection/albert-lyons.

Aufses, Arthur H., Jr., and Barbara Niss. This House of Noble Deeds: The Mount Sinai Hospital, 1852-2002, New York University Press, 2002. ProQuest Ebook Central, xi.

“Everyone Talks About Mount Sinai’s Glorious History; Dr. Al Lyons, Arch Archivist, Does Something About It.” Mount Sinai Medical Center News. October 1971. 5, 10.

Mount Sinai Beth Israel and the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

Founded in 1892, the early history of Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital was decorated with a series of success stories in the treatment of disease. Against the background of Manhattan’s Lower East Side, then affected by poverty, close living quarters, and dangerous working conditions, its residents, largely recent Jewish immigrants, were made vulnerable to many of the contagious diseases of that era. In its first years, Beth Israel contributed research to combat the typhoid epidemic of 1906-1907, established an after-care clinic to children affected by the 1916 polio epidemic, and is credited with finding the cure for trachoma, which had previously been a cause to turn away new immigrants at Ellis Island. 

Only twenty-five years after Beth Israel’s opening, the United States was embroiled in the first World War. The Hospital encouraged its medical staff to join the Medical Reserve Corps, with approximately half of its doctors signing up. The Hospital had also encouraged its nurses, physicians and other staff to join the war effort.  

This left Beth Israel in a precarious position when the 1918 Influenza epidemic reached New York City. Being chronically understaffed, Beth Israel’s Medical Board contacted the Department of Health for advice. The response was simply: “There is nothing to advise except the use of gauze masks which did not always prevent the disease.” In November 1918, the Hospital eliminated visiting hours, curtailed teaching hours, and turned the Male Medical Ward over to the Department of Health to use as an isolation facility for the pandemic. (The DOH never used the facility because they were similarly understaffed.)  

Female ward of Beth Israel Hospital, Jefferson and Cherry Street, circa 1910

Ultimately, Beth Israel was only able to admit twenty-nine influenza patients. Seven members of the House Staff were awarded $25 (approximately $500 today) for “self-sacrificing services performed” and the Hospital offered special incentive pay to doctors and nurses to help combat the fact that they were understaffed.  

Despite the limited patient intake, Beth Israel’s contributions to the 1918 flu pandemic were still impactful. In December 1918, Superintendent of the Hospital, Louis J. Frank, contacted Presidents Roosevelt and Taft to encourage universal nursing training in the education of women, likely in response to the chronic under-staffing at this time. By January 1919, many of the patients in the Hospital were admitted for “post-influenzal complications” leading to the care of many affected by the pandemic.  

 

Sources: 

Beth Israel Medical Center. The First Hundred Years: Beth Israel Medical Center. 1990. p. 35 – 36. 

Pettit, Dorothy Ann. A Cruel Wind: America Experiences Pandemic Influenza, 1918-1920, A Social History. Winter 1976. p. 201, 215.