Marie Sklodowska Curie II

Lead: Winner of two Nobel prizes, the French physicist Marie Curie, born Maria Sklodowska near Warsaw, Poland, helped advance the understanding of radioactive substances.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Learning was a lifetime passion for Marie Curie. Her parents lived and taught in a private school and as a child she demonstrated a remarkable memory in academic matters but hers was not a purely abstract scholarship. During Maria's childhood, her native Poland could not be found on the maps of eastern Europe. For centuries Polish territory had been parceled out to hostile neighbors and in 1863, due to an abortive revolt, Poland had become little more than a Russian province. The Polish language was suppressed. As a teenager she took part in the secret nationalist "free university" where she taught the Polish language to women workers.

Marie Sklodowska Curie I – A Personal Word from Dan Roberts

Lead: In 1937 Marie Curie died of leukemia caused in part by her long exposure to radiation seeking to determine its value in medical treatments. Today I would like to share a personal word.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the quarter century I have written and related these narratives as a public historian I have avoided making myself the focus of the story. Nevertheless, recently many loyal and supportive listeners have expressed concern about a perceived change in the quality of my voice. They are correct to have noticed this change. Perhaps the struggle of Madame Curie is a good platform to explore the value and challenges associated with radiation.

Eugenics II

Lead: From its start as an optimistic approach to improving the human condition, eugenics degenerated into a racist tool in the hands of bigotry and ultimately led to the gas ovens of the Third Reich.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: The fundamental problem with eugenics, even as Sir Francis Galton articulated it in the 19th century, was that it focused primarily on inborn characteristics and almost completely disregarded social, environmental, educational, and physical factors when examining the human race. Basically, eugenicists advocated a form of genetic determinism. A person is born with a genetic imprint that determines the course of their lives. Not surprisingly these theories became a powerful tool in the hands of racists. It all depends on who is setting the standard. If society is to improve itself, it is said, it must eliminate genetic threats to racial purity. In the sad history of eugenics, a wide variety of groups have been singled out for social restriction, sterilization, or elimination. Feeble-minded or mentally ill people, habitual criminals, sexual libertines, Negroes, Native Americans or any non-whites, Jews, gypsies, and evangelical Christians have all fallen under the wary and sometimes fatal scrutiny of the eugenic mandate. They bore undesirable human traits.

Eugenics I

Lead: In the 19th and 20th centuries, theories about the way to improve the human condition spawned the pseudo-science of eugenics. Unfortunately, optimism about making mankind better degenerated into the darkness of racism.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Sir Francis Galton confessed to having had a happy childhood. His upper-class parents gave him a Cambridge education though he never took his degree, and left him sufficient inherited funds so that he could avoid work and indulge his great love of travel. From 1845 to 1853 Galton explored parts of the Middle East and Africa, including a very careful but ultimately fruitless expedition from West Africa in search of Lake Ngami, which is in Botswana, north of the Kalahari Desert. After his marriage he turned to more scholarly pursuits producing books on a wide variety of subjects including fingerprinting, calculus, genetics and weather prediction. Galton is best known, however, for his advocacy of improving the human species through selective parenting, a process he called eugenics.


Medical Miracle in Panama III

Lead: Sanitation made possible the construction of the Panama Canal.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: In the years following the Spanish American War, Army Surgeon Dr. Walter Reed had transformed the city of Havana, Cuba, virtually eliminating the tropical diseases of malaria and yellow fever. He did so by rejecting the common medical wisdom of the time that such illnesses were caused by bad air or swamp gas. Reed went after the mosquito which, some scientists at the time believed, transmitted the diseases when it fed upon a victim. Reed cleaned up the city. Malaria and yellow fever were almost completely eradicated.

Medical Miracle in Panama II

Lead: Before they could build the Panama Canal, American engineers had to eradicate malaria and yellow fever.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: Attempting to duplicate their triumph in the construction of the Suez Canal, French engineers were defeated in great measure by two deadly diseases. Malaria and yellow fever had for time immemorial been the curse of the tropics. Thousands died before the French gave up the quest in the 1880s.

Medical Miracle in Panama I

Lead: Before breaching the Panamanian land bridge, the builders of the Isthmus Canal knew they first had to deal with disease.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: After his brilliant construction of the Suez Canal, Ferdinand de Lesseps set out in the 1870s to duplicate his achievement by crafting a shipping canal across the Isthmus of Panama. He failed. De Lesseps underestimated the enormity of the task, his technology was much too primitive, and the French design for a sea-level canal was fatally flawed, but much of the failure can be attributed to a deadly pair of diseases. Malaria and yellow fever took thousands of lives and put many more in bed for weeks of convalescence and depression. Engineers freshly graduated from the École Polytechnique in Paris would arrive in Colon filled with enthusiastic anticipation and die within a week. Thousands of manual laborers recruited from Caribbean islands fell victim in this grim harvest of death.

Miracle of Anesthesia II

Lead: Until 1846 the work of the medical surgeon was a gruesome, often brutal exercise in torture, but for seventy years the solution had been just a giggle away.

Intro.: A Moment in Time with Dan Roberts.

Content: With the invention of the ligature - the stitch - by a French military surgeon in the sixteenth century, the practice of surgery began to take on a certain scientific respectability. No longer was the stump of an amputee dipped in boiling tar to seal the blood vessels nor were wounds cauterized with hot irons. They were sewn up. With the ability to close a wound as well as open it, a surgical operation might actually save someone's life on occasion. However, the strongest block to successful surgery was the pain it inflicted on the patient, or better said, the victim. Yet, after 1772, the solution, even though unrecognized for years, had at last become available.