Crazy days of the OSS + Pioneering female doctor who argued against rest for women

The Bizarre Ways America’s First Spy Agency Tried to Overthrow Hitler

EXCERPT: . . . Pearl Harbor finally forced the U.S. government to admit its shortcomings and establish the Office of Strategic Services. Most people know it today as the precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency, but OSS’s mandate was broader than that. [...] OSS was primarily shaped by two men: its director, William “Wild Bill” Donovan, and its chief scientist, Stanley Lovell.

[...] Nowhere were Donovan’s flaws more evident than in his hiring practices. Needing to throw together an agency quickly, he turned to his circle of friends in New York and hired blue bloods by the dozen. The OSS roster was lousy with [...] aristocrats They usually spoke several languages and knew Europe well. But holidays on the Riviera were a far cry from war...

Even more than aristocrats, however, Donovan loved misfits, and he staffed OSS with a bizarre array of talent. [...] Donovan did hire some brilliant misfits as well, including the chief scientist, Stanley Lovell. When Donovan first interviewed Lovell, he asked him to become the OSS equivalent of Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’s nemesis. But it’s more accurate to think of Lovell as Q from the James Bond franchise: His job basically consisted of puttering around in a lab and thinking up cool spy tools. He and his labmates developed bombs that looked like mollusks to attach to ships. They crafted shoes and buttons and batteries with secret cavities to conceal documents. They invented pencils and cigarettes that shot bullets. They devised an explosive powder called Aunt Jemima with the consistency of flour that could be mixed with water and even baked into biscuits and nibbled on without any danger; only when ignited with a fuse did Aunt Jemima detonate.

Like overgrown toddlers, Lovell’s team also developed several feces-based weapons. One, called caccolube, destroyed car engines far more thoroughly than sugar or sand when dumped into gas tanks. Another weapon involved creating artificial goat turds to bombard North Africa with, in the hope of attracting flies that spread diseases. (They called it Project Capricious.) Yet another project required synthesizing what was essentially eau de diarrhea, a compound that, as Lovell said, “duplicated the revolting odor of a very loose bowel movement.” They then hired small children to dart out and squirt it onto the pants of Japanese officers in occupied China. Lovell dubbed it the “Who, Me?” bomb.

And those weren’t even the cockamamie ideas... (MORE - details)

The Pioneering Female Doctor Who Argued Against Rest

EXCERPT: For many years, rest was a common recommendation for women for all sorts of ailments, including one that arrived each month: their period. Women must rest not only their bodies during menstruation, but their brains, too. Mental exertion, the reasoning went, drained their energy and diverted it from where it really belonged, in their reproductive system. [...] This particular concern had reverberated among male doctors for decades, with little to counter it. But at least one doctor—Mary Putnam Jacobi—saw the problem differently.

[...] By these measures, Jacobi was a living contradiction [...] In a rebuttal published in 1877, Jacobi [...criticized that such ...] recommendations ... lacked “experimental proof,” relied on “exaggeration of fact,” and served “many interests besides those of scientific truth.” In her view, [...these...] assertions weren’t medical at all, but a deliberate attempt to bar women from classrooms and offices and to keep them in the home. Sure, some women experience pain and discomfort during their period, Jacobi said, but menstruation doesn’t ruin the mind. In fact, women were more healthy when they were engaged in activity in general. Jacobi prescribed one of her patients, Charlotte Perkins Gilman, the author of “The Yellow Wallpaper,” a regimen of mental and physical activity for an ailment that now would likely be diagnosed as depression. Jacobi’s treatment proved more successful than the “rest cure” Gilman had previously received from a male doctor.

[...] her essay buttressed the fight against bad ideas about female biology, which were readily invoked by suffrage opponents as the movement moved into the 20th century. [...] Although the notion that periods ravaged women’s mental capacity eventually faded from clinical study, whispers of it linger today. [...] Still, menstruation has reached a normalization in public discussion that Jacobi, who died in 1906, probably never imagined. Some stigma persists, but no good doctor prescribes patients a week’s worth of bed rest out of fear that a little mental exertion might wreck their body. (MORE - details)

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