Wax Moulage of a Syphilitic Lesion (c. 1924-1935)
Canada Science and Technology Museum, No. 2002.0075
Medical students and faculty often used these kinds of models as references to study anatomy and disease. This model, however, had a public use and a specific connection to the Canadian eugenics movement; it was used in exhibits to display the social dangers of sexually transmitted disease and immigration.
The Canada Science and Technology Museum (CSTM) obtained this model from the former Academy of Medicine – History of Medicine Museum in Toronto. Earlier in the century, the Canadian Social Hygiene Council owned this model and used it in their travelling public exhibitions. This particular model displayed a “syphilitic lesion on a 27-year old Chinese male.” It was made by Hortense Pauline Douglas (later Cantile) (1901-1979).
Douglas had trained as a medical illustrator in both 2D and 3D forms. From 1924 to 1935 she worked at the Montreal General Hospital. We do not know the exact path the model took to the Social Hygiene Council, and then Toronto General Hospital. It came to the History of Medicine Museum in 1981.
The Canadian Social Hygiene Council (1922-1935) derived from the Canadian National Council for Combating Venereal Disease which was founded in 1919. The Social Hygiene Council used public health displays across Canada to promote a eugenics agenda. In 1935 it became the Health League of Canada. Library and Archives Canada has extensive materials related to these organizations.
Objects in museums preserve surprising histories. I had known about the Social Hygiene Council, but through researching our moulages, I learned more about the extent and importance of the public exhibits of the Council. We often use objects to tell general histories of medicine – e.g. education or anatomy – but in this case the provenance of the object takes us into a very different aspect of medical and Canadian history. I have displayed and examined this model during a collection tour for high school students. They were studying the history of fascism in Europe, and the moulage provoked much discussion. They were shocked that notions of racial purity existed in Canada as well. It was a great entry point for them to explore these issues.
Curator, Physical Sciences and Medicine