Event Title

The X-Ray Lady: Surveillance and Identity of the New Woman

Location

Panel 22: Kearney 308

Start Date

27-10-2012 1:15 PM

End Date

27-10-2012 2:45 PM

Description

The use of x-rays in American visual culture began as a spectacle of the body, an illumination of the corporeal interior with “new light” penetrating through skin and tissue. After the discovery of x-rays in late 1895, science-savvy technicians incorporated them into special attractions. The United States fell into an “x-ray craze--” an eight-year period roughly 1896-1904, characterized by x-ray parties, portraiture, interactive lectures, yellow journalism, and movies. Middle and upper class women were the primary consumers of the x-ray craze. Inherent to x-ray imagery is an unstable identity: the body is in a state between presence and absence. Understanding this phenomenon in the Modern era reveals complex social motives for male scientists and female subjects. By examining the technology of the x-ray apparatuses in the 1890s, and drawing from newly discovered primary sources detailing real accounts of women’s x-ray experiences, I will present an analysis of the craze as a mode to understand Americans’ compliance to receive radiation. I will argue that many women did not function as passive objects of masculine inquiry but rather as active agents in x-ray image production.

This paper includes the work of Dr. William James Morton of New York City, an early Roentgenologist whom Thomas Edison claimed in June 1896 was “the best X-ray expert in this country.” Morton conducted his early experiments with female participants who were more than willing to subject themselves to x-rays even after reports of harmful radiation. By 1898, Morton had initiated the practice of creating non-medical x-ray portraits that he marketed exclusively to upper class women in the City, spurring a subculture of high-society consumption of x-ray imagery that displayed bejeweled female hands. By exploring x-rays in visual culture, I will begin to theorize what influenced Americans’ acceptance of x-ray radiation as part of normal life.

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Oct 27th, 1:15 PM Oct 27th, 2:45 PM

The X-Ray Lady: Surveillance and Identity of the New Woman

Panel 22: Kearney 308

The use of x-rays in American visual culture began as a spectacle of the body, an illumination of the corporeal interior with “new light” penetrating through skin and tissue. After the discovery of x-rays in late 1895, science-savvy technicians incorporated them into special attractions. The United States fell into an “x-ray craze--” an eight-year period roughly 1896-1904, characterized by x-ray parties, portraiture, interactive lectures, yellow journalism, and movies. Middle and upper class women were the primary consumers of the x-ray craze. Inherent to x-ray imagery is an unstable identity: the body is in a state between presence and absence. Understanding this phenomenon in the Modern era reveals complex social motives for male scientists and female subjects. By examining the technology of the x-ray apparatuses in the 1890s, and drawing from newly discovered primary sources detailing real accounts of women’s x-ray experiences, I will present an analysis of the craze as a mode to understand Americans’ compliance to receive radiation. I will argue that many women did not function as passive objects of masculine inquiry but rather as active agents in x-ray image production.

This paper includes the work of Dr. William James Morton of New York City, an early Roentgenologist whom Thomas Edison claimed in June 1896 was “the best X-ray expert in this country.” Morton conducted his early experiments with female participants who were more than willing to subject themselves to x-rays even after reports of harmful radiation. By 1898, Morton had initiated the practice of creating non-medical x-ray portraits that he marketed exclusively to upper class women in the City, spurring a subculture of high-society consumption of x-ray imagery that displayed bejeweled female hands. By exploring x-rays in visual culture, I will begin to theorize what influenced Americans’ acceptance of x-ray radiation as part of normal life.