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Crying Over Spilt Milk

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Moralising texts promoting maternal breastfeeding were omnipresent in the early modern period. But in the eighteenth century, chemical experiments on milk supplied Dutch physicians with new arguments for emphasising milk’s nutritious qualities, and the importance of breastmilk for an infant’s health. Learned societies stimulated medical men to investigate galactagogues—lactation-inducing substances. Thanks to chemistry, galactagogues based on cow’s milk, cheese and similar animal products were increasingly encouraged. Instrument-makers even introduced lactation technologies such as milk-pumps to the market. Although many parents continued to make up their own minds about how and what to nurse their child, Verwaal demonstrates that Dutch medical men invented innovative instruments and employed various strategies to promote the importance of mother’s milk and maternal breastfeeding.

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  1. 1.

    Abraham Tersier, Brief aan den wel edelen heere N.N. behelzende een vertoog over de melk (Dordrecht, 1768), 1. Tersier wrote many poems in his life, some of which have been preserved in the appendices to the dissertations of fellow students, such as Nicolaus Stumphius and Petrus Imchoor.

  2. 2.

    Abraham Tersier, Dissertatio physico-medica inauguralis de vita et morte, quam annuente deo ter optimo maximo (Leiden, 1739). Tersier built a career as physician in Dordrecht, where he married Quirina Bosbaan. Their son Bartholomeus (c. 1744–1824) followed in his father’s footsteps, studied medicine in Leiden, and promoted on the topic of misuse of remedies: Bartholomeus Tersier, Dissertatio inauguralis medica de intempestivo remediorum usu (Leiden, 1769).

  3. 3.

    J.A. Gruys and Adèle Nieuweboer, ‘Dutch Occasional Poetry, 16th through 18th Centuries: A Genre Rediscovered’, (Leiden, 2004).

  4. 4.

    Tersier, Melk, 2–3, 6. Emphasis added.

  5. 5.

    On the ubiquity of lactation imagery and literary references to breastfeeding in ancient early modern visual culture see Jutta Gisela Sperling, ed. Medieval and Renaissance Lactations: Images, Rhetorics, Practices (Farnham, 2013); Sabrina Higgins, ‘Divine Mothers: The Influence of Isis on the Virgin Mary in Egyptian Lactans-Iconography’, Journal of the Canadian Society for Coptic Studies, 3/4 (2012), 71–90.

  6. 6.

    Harold J. Cook, Trials of an Ordinary Doctor: Joannes Groenevelt in Seventeenth-Century London (Baltimore, 1994). Cook demonstrates that Joannes Groenevelt was both a physician and lithotomist, prescribing both internal medicines and treating surgical wounds.

  7. 7.

    George David Sussman, Selling Mother’s Milk: The Wet Nursing Business in France, 1715–1914 (Urbana, 1982); Valerie A. Fildes, Breasts, Bottles and Babies: A History of Infant Feeding (Edinburgh, 1986); ead. Wet Nursing: A History from Antiquity to the Present (Oxford, 1988); Deborah Valenze, Milk: A Local and Global History (New Haven, 2011), 153–62; Els Kloek, Giesela van Oostveen, and Nicole Teeuwen, eds., Moederschap en de min (Utrecht, 1991).

  8. 8.

    Jacqueline H. Wolf, Don’t Kill Your Baby: Public Health and the Decline of Breastfeeding in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Columbus, 2001); Valenze, Milk, 162–77; Barbara Orland, ‘Motherhood and Scientific Innovation: The Story of Natural Versus Artificial Baby Food in the 19th Century’, in Gender in Science and Technology, ed. W. Ernst and I. Horwath (Bielefeld, 2014), 129–46.

  9. 9.

    Fildes, Wet Nursing, 111–4; William Cadogan, An Essay upon Nursing, and the Management of Children, from their Birth to Three Years of Age (London, 1750).

  10. 10.

    Valérie Lastinger, ‘Re-Defining Motherhood: Breast-Feeding and the French Enlightenment’, Women’s Studies, 25 (1996), 603–17.

  11. 11.

    Barbara Orland, ‘Enlightenend Milk: Reshaping a Bodily Substance into a Chemical Object’, in Materials and Expertise, ed. Ursula Klein and E.C. Spary (Chicago, 2010), 163–97.

  12. 12.

    Bracken, after studying medicine in London and Paris, matriculated at Leiden in 1730 and graduated MD. Cadogan matriculated at Leiden in 1732 and again in 1737, graduating MD in June. E. Ashworth Underwood, Boerhaave’s Men at Leyden and After (Edinburgh, 1977), 27, 130–1, 87.

  13. 13.

    Rina Knoeff, Herman Boerhaave (1668–1738): Calvinist Chemist and Physician (Amsterdam, 2002), 203. On early modern medicinal uses of breast milk see Marylynn Salmon, ‘The Cultural Significance of Breastfeeding and Infant Care in Early Modern England and America’, Journal of Social History, 28 (1994), 247–69.

  14. 14.

    Consider the works of, for example, Daniel Sluim, Dissertatio medica inauguralis de lacte (Leiden, 1716); Henricus Doorschodt, Dissertatio medica inauguralis de lacte (Leiden, 1737); Joannes Stook, Dissertatio practico-medica inauguralis de febri lactea (Leiden, 1746); Herman Boerhaave de Gorter, Disputatio medica inauguralis de lacte et lactatione (Harderwijk, 1751); Marc-Louis Vullyamoz, Dissertatio chemico-medica inauguralis de sale lactis essentiali (Leiden, 1756); Jan Egeling, Dissertatio chemico-medica inauguralis de lacte (Utrecht, 1759).

  15. 15.

    Rina Knoeff has argued that Boerhaave stimulated his students to think, observe and experiment themselves, rather than to repeat the professor’s words and apply ready-made courses of action to a problem: Rina Knoeff, ‘Herman Boerhaave at Leiden: Communis Europae praeceptor’, in Centres of Medical Excellence?, ed. Ole Peter Grell, Andrew Cunningham, and Jon Arrizabalaga (Farnham, 2010), 269–86.

  16. 16.

    Women were generally not allowed to matriculate, nor did hold any official teaching positions. Women solely worked at universities in supportive functions, such as housemaster and washerwoman. See ‘schaftmeester’ and ‘wasvrouw’ in Ronald Sluijter, ‘Tot ciraet, vermeerderinge ende heerlyckmaeckinge der universiteyt’: Bestuur, instellingen, personeel en financiën van de Leidse universiteit, 1575–1812 (Hilversum, 2004), 110–1, 4, 6, 293–4.

  17. 17.

    Herman Boerhaave, Elementa chemiae, quae anniversario labore docuit in publicis, privatisque scholis, 2 vols (Leiden, 1732), vol. 2, 301; Herman Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry: Including the History, Theory, and Practice of the Art, trans. Peter Shaw, 2nd ed., 2 vols (London, 1741), vol. 2, 188. Emphasis added.

  18. 18.

    Herman Boerhaave, A New Method of Chemistry: Including the Theory and Practice of that Art: Laid down on Mechanical Principles, and Accommodated to the Uses of Life, trans. Peter Shaw and Ephraim Chambers, 2 vols (London, 1727), vol. 2, 179.

  19. 19.

    Albrecht von Haller, ed. Praelectiones academicae in proprias institutiones rei medicae, 6 vols (Göttingen, 1739–1744), vol. 1, 272; idem, Dr. Boerhaave’s Academical Lectures on the Theory of Physic: Being a Genuine Translation of his Institutes and Explanatory Comment, 6 vols (London, 1742–1746), vol. 1, 224–5.

  20. 20.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 2, 180.

  21. 21.

    Ibid., vol. 2, 181.

  22. 22.

    Ibid., vol. 2, 181–2. On Boerhaave’s business of chylification see Barbara Orland, ‘The Fluid Mechanics of Nutrition: Herman Boerhaave’s Synthesis of Seventeenth–Century Circulation Physiology’, Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, 43 (2012), 357–69, here 357–69.

  23. 23.

    Van der Spijk succeeded Abraham Tijken as the new ‘famulus Laboratorii Chemici’ on 21 May 1735. See Willem Nicolaas Du Rieu, ed. Album studiosorum Academiae Lugduno-Batavae MDLXXV–MDCCCLXXV (The Hague, 1875), 955.

  24. 24.

    In 1718 Boerhaave composed a formal job description to state the responsibilities of amanuenses in the chemical laboratory. See Sluijter, Tot ciraet, 176–7.

  25. 25.

    Doorschodt, De lacte, 16.

  26. 26.

    Boerhaave had integrated Fahrenheit’s thermometer in his chemical lectures, and other chemistry instructors followed suit. See John C. Powers, ‘Measuring Fire: Herman Boerhaave and the Introduction of Thermometry into Chemistry’, Osiris, 29 (2014), 158–77.

  27. 27.

    Doorschodt, De lacte, 16–7.

  28. 28.

    Johanna Helena Halfman to Christina van Steensel, Nijmegen, January 1788 in Anje Dik and Dini Helmers, eds., ‘Het is of ik met mijn lieve sprak’: De briefwisseling tussen Jean Malherbe en Christina van Steensel, 1782–1800 (Hilversum, 1994), 94. Halfman had married Johan Eliza de Vrij in 1786.

  29. 29.

    Doorschodt, De lacte, 19.

  30. 30.

    Boerhaave, A New Method, vol. 2, 184–5.

  31. 31.

    Doorschodt, De lacte, 20.

  32. 32.

    Floris Jacobus Voltelen, Observationes chemico-medicae de lacte humano, ejusque cum asinino et ovillo comparatione (Utrecht, 1775). When Voltelen succeeded Hahn as professor of chemistry in 1784, he mentioned in his inaugural address that Hahn had also performed experiments with milk in the summer of 1779. Floris Jacobus Voltelen, Oratio aditialis de chemiae hodiernae pretio rite constituendo (Leiden, 1784). On Hahn and Voltelen, see H.A.M. Snelders, De geschiedenis van de scheikunde in Nederland: Van alchemie tot chemie en chemische industrie rond 1900 (Delft, 1993), 62–3; Dalila Wallé, Leiden Medical Professors, 1575–1940 (Leiden , 2007), 120–1, 4–5.

  33. 33.

    Abraham Tersier, Responsa ad rogata bina medica, unus de morbo bubulo, &c., alternus de lactis conformatione, &c., ab Collegis scientiarum Harlemensi proposita (Dordrecht, 1762).

  34. 34.

    On the historical context of Dutch learned societies, see Wijnand Mijnhardt, Tot heil van ’t menschdom: culturele genootschappen in Nederland, 1750–1815 (Amsterdam, 1988); Joost Kloek and Wijnand Mijnhardt, 1800: Blueprints for a National Community, trans. Beverley R. Jackson (Basingstoke, 2004).

  35. 35.

    J.G. de Bruijn, ed. Inventaris van de prijsvragen uitgeschreven door de Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen 1753–1917 (Groningen, 1977). The question of lactation fitted in with other relevant research questions, such as ‘What are the causes of the general illnesses of our seafarers?’ (1758/1759) and ‘How [can we] keep the body of children to live long and healthy?’ (1761).

  36. 36.

    On Maria Meinertzhagen see J.N. van der Meulen, ‘Maria Jacoba Meinertzhagen (1712–1787), een patriciërsvrouw’, in Utrechtse biografieën (Utrecht, 1998), 107–12; Els Kloek, ed. 1001 vrouwen uit de Nederlandse geschiedenis (Nijmegen, 2013), 661–2. Meinertzhagen and Gaubius were related through Gaubius’s mother-in-law, Maria Louise Meinertzhagen.

  37. 37.

    J.H. Scheffer, ‘Het dagboek van eene merkwaardige vrouw’, Algemeen Nederlandsch Familieblad, (1884), here 3.

  38. 38.

    Carolus Linnaeus to Abraham Bäck, February 1759, The Linnaean Correspondence,, Letter L2490 (consulted 23 November 2016).

  39. 39.

    Jacobus de Puyt, ‘Observatie van een verlossinge van drie kinders’, Middelburg, 1777. Middelburg, Zeeland Library, Handschrift 4940.

  40. 40.

    The jury consisted of J. Engelman, Hieronymus Gaubius, Joannes Grashuis, Jacobus Hovius, P. Sannié, and Thomas Schwencke. See de Bruijn, Inventaris, 35–6. The golden medal awarded to monsieur David was designed and made by Amsterdam goldsmith Marchand. Louis Marchand to C.C.H. van der Aa, Amsterdam, 18 June 1762 in Noord-Hollands Archief (NHA), 444, Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen te Haarlem, 1752–1975, no. 373.

  41. 41.

    Joannes Grashuis to C.C.H. van der Aa, Hoorn, 22 May 1761. NHA 444, 373.

  42. 42.

    [anonymous], NHA 444, 373, n.d.

  43. 43.

    As suggested by Johan Abraham Bierens de Haan, De Hollandsche Maatschappij der Wetenschappen, 1752–1952 (Haarlem, 1952), 185. David’s book appeared as Jean-Pierre David, Dissertation sur ce qu’il convient faire pour diminuer ou supprimer le lait des femmes (Paris, 1763).

  44. 44.

    On the history of academic publishers Luchtmans see Sytze van der Veen, Brill: 325 Years of Scholarly Publishing (Leiden, 2008).

  45. 45.

    Lambertus Bicker, Verhandeling van het zog der vrouwen, ter beantwoordinge op de vraage by de Hollandsche Maatschappye der Weetenschappen opgegeeven in de jaaren 1760 en 1761 (Leiden, 1763), [*3].

  46. 46.

    Vaderlandsche letter-oefeningen, 4 (1764), 201–212. This journal was one of the most prominent Dutch literary journals.

  47. 47.

    For example, David and Bicker were both referenced in Joannes Guilielmus Thorvarth, Dissertatio practico-medica inauguralis de lactis defectu (Leiden, 1764), 19, 30–1, 3. Readers were directed to Bicker for all children’s diseases relating to milk in the Dutch edition of Nils Rosén von Rosenstein, Handleiding tot de kennis en geneezing van de ziekten der kinderen, trans. and ed. by Eduard Sandifort (The Hague, 1768), 52.

  48. 48.

    J. van der Groen, Den Ervaren huys-houder; zijnde het III. deel van het Vermakelyck landt-leven (Amsterdam, 1683), 16.

  49. 49.

    Robert de Farvacques, Medicina pharmaceutica, oft drôgh-bereydende ghenees-konste: met besondere aenmerckingen op verscheyde misbruycken, die soo wel in de medecyne als chymie zyn voor-vallende (Brussels, 1681).

  50. 50.

    Robert de Farvacques, Medicina pharmaceutica, of Groote algemeene schatkamer der drôgbereidende geneeskonst, 3 vols (Leiden, 1741), vol. 1, 21.

  51. 51.

    Nieuwe Nederduitsche apotheek: Op eene klaare en verstaanbaare wyze onderwys gevende omtrent de beste dagelyks gebruikt wordende geneeskundige bereidingen (Leiden, 1753), 26, 9, 34. This work listed Boerhaave’s and Gaubius’s chemical preparations, or so the preface argues.

  52. 52.

    Jean-Pierre David, ‘Wat ’er behoore gedaan te worden, om het Zog der Vrouwen te vermeerderen, te verminderen, of te doen verdwynen’, Verhandelingen uitgegeeven door de Hollandse Maatschappy der Weetenschappen te Haarlem, 7 (1763), 2–76, here 24–8.

  53. 53.

    Ibid., 30.

  54. 54.

    Bicker, Zog der vrouwen, 108.

  55. 55.

    Johann Daniel Major, Dissertatio medica de lacte lunae (1667); cited in Bruce T. Moran, ‘Lac Lunae and Breast Milk’, Pharmacy in History, 41 (1999), 33–4.

  56. 56.

    Today, moon-milk is known to be a white deposit consisting of carbonate materials, for example calcite, hydro-magnesite, and gypsum. It is slowly formed in caves of aggregates of very fine crystals of varying composition.

  57. 57.

    Bicker, Zog der vrouwen, 108.

  58. 58.

    George Wilhelm Stein, Kurze Beschreibung einer Brust- oder Milchpumpe (Kassel, 1773); Johann Gottlieb Stegmann, Kurze Beschreibung einer Saug- und Drukpumpe (Kassel, 1774). On the issue whether Stein or Stegmann had first invented the pump, and on its commodification in France, see Margaret Carlyle, ‘Breastpump Technology and ‘Natural’ Motherly Milk in Enlightenment France’, Women’s Studies International Forum, 60 (2017), 89–96.

  59. 59.

    A nipple cup or petit chaperon looked like a little thimble and was a well-known device among midwives. See François Mauriceau, Traité des maladies des femmes grosses (Paris, 1682); Pierre Dionis, Traite general des accouchemens (Paris, 1718), 358; Jacques Mesnard, Le guide des accoucheurs, ou Le maistre dans l’art d’accoucher les femmes (Paris, 1743), 357. Ordinary nipple shields were often made of tin. More luxurious versions were made of silver, glass, or ivory, such as A641255, A606830, and A606829, c. 1800, Wellcome Library, London.

  60. 60.

    Johann Christoph Sturm, Collegium experimentale, sive curiosum (Nuremberg, 1676), vol. 2, 56. See for example A606855 and A606862, Science Museum, London.

  61. 61.

    Eighteenth-century breast pumps are still extant in museum collections today. See for example A124874, Science Museum, London, and V05517, Museum Boerhaave, Leiden.

  62. 62.

    George Wilhelm Stein, Korte beschryving eener borst- of zog-pomp (Utrecht, 1775). See also Isaac Henri Gallandat, ‘De zogpomp, voorgesteld en aangeprezen’, Verhandelingen van het Zeeuwsch Genootschap der Wetenschappen, 13 (1786), 538–58.

  63. 63.

    In comparison, 10 guilders would get you 100 kg of rye bread or 155 l of beer. See Jan Luijten van Zanden, ‘The prices of the most important consumer goods, and indices of wages and the cost of living in the western part of the Netherlands, 1450–1800’, International Institute of Social History, (accessed 1 June 2020).

  64. 64.

    Tersier, Melk, 5.

  65. 65.

    Ibid., 6.

  66. 66.

    Jacob Cats, Houwelyck: Dat is de gansche gelegentheyt des Echten staets, 7 vols (Middelburg, 1625), vol. 5, 45.

  67. 67.

    Steven Blankaart, Verhandelinge van de opvoedinge en ziekten der kinderen (Amsterdam, 1684), 1–10. A similar example is Johan van Beverwijck, Wercken der genees-konste, bestaende in den Schat der gesontheyt, Schat der ongesontheyt, Heel-konste (Amsterdam, 1680).

  68. 68.

    Johann Hendrik Schutte, De wel onderwezene vroedvrouw, of grondig en beknopt onderwys, van het geen een vroedvrouw weeten, en by alle voorkomende natuurlyke en tegennatuurlyke zwaare geboortens door vaardige handgreepen, verrichten moet (The Hague, 1771).

  69. 69.

    Johann Hendrik Schutte, Beschreibung des Clevischen Gesund-brunnens (Cleve, 1742); idem, Beschryving van de nieuw uitgevondene Cleefse gezond-bron (Amsterdam, 1742).

  70. 70.

    Von Haller, Praelectiones, vol. 5, pt. 2, 439–40; idem, Academical Lectures, vol. 5, 210.

  71. 71.

    Schutte, De wel onderwezene vroedvrouw, 199.

  72. 72.

    Ibid., 202.

  73. 73.

    Johan Hendrik Swildens, Vaderlandsch A-B boek voor de Nederlandsche jeugd (Amsterdam, 1781), [B2r]. On Swildens, see Barry J. Hake, ‘Between Patriotism and Nationalism: Johann Hendrik Swildens and the ‘Pedagogy of the Patriotic Virtues’ in the United Provinces during the 1780s and 1790s’, History of Education, 33 (2004), 11–38.

  74. 74.

    Scheffer, ‘Het dagboek’, vol. 105, 4.

  75. 75.

    Elisabeth Wolff-Bekker, Proeve over de opvoeding, aan de Nederlandsche moeders (Amsterdam and The Hague, 1779). A French translation appeared as Essai sur l’éducation. Dédié aux Mères de Famille Hollandoises (The Hague, 1785). More on Bekker and Deken, see Peter Altena and Myriam Everard, eds., Onbreekbare burgerharten: De historie van Betje Wolff en Aagje Deken (Nijmegen, 2004). On the context of Dutch literary authors, see Inger Leemans and Gert-Jan Johannes, Worm en donder: Geschiedenis van de Nederlandse literatuur 1700–1800. De Republiek (Amsterdam, 2013).

  76. 76.

    Wolff-Bekker, Proeve over de opvoeding, 85.

  77. 77.

    Elisabeth Wolff-Bekker and Agatha Deken, Economische liedjes (The Hague, 1781), 4.

  78. 78.

    Aagje Luijtsen to Hermanus Kikkert, Den Burg, 20 September 1777 in Perry Moree, ed. Kikkertje lief: brieven van Aagje Luijtsen, geschreven tussen 1776 en 1780 aan Harmanus Kikkert, stuurman in dienst van de VOC (Den Burg, 2003), 91–3.

  79. 79.

    Félicité de Genlis, Adèle en Theodoor, of Brieven over de opvoeding, trans. Elisabeth Wolff-Bekker, 3 vols (The Hague, 1782–1783), vol. 1, 105–8.

  80. 80.

    Johanna van Steensel to Christina van Steensel, Leeuwestijn, 28 April 1787 in Dik and Helmers, De briefwisseling, 88.

  81. 81.

    Johanna van Steensel to Christina van Steensel, Leeuwestijn, 12 May 1787. Ibid., 91.

  82. 82.

    Christina van Steensel to Jean Malherbe, The Hague, 4 September 1792. Ibid., 122.

  83. 83.

    See for example J.C. Voorduin, Proeve eener karakterschets van nu wijlen Hare Majesteit, de Koningin der Nederlanden, Frederika Louisa Wilhelmina (Utrecht, 1837), 35–6; and C.P.E. Robidé van der Aa, Frederika Louise Wilhelmina van Pruissen, eerste koningin der Nederlanden: als een voorbeeld ter navolging, der Nederlandsche meisjes aangeprezen (Amsterdam, 1838), 46.

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Verwaal, R.E. (2020). Crying Over Spilt Milk. In: Bodily Fluids, Chemistry and Medicine in the Eighteenth-Century Boerhaave School. Palgrave Studies in Medieval and Early Modern Medicine. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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