Growing up I would occasionally eat at a local restaurant with very eclectic décor. I particularly remember that the menus contained interesting facts and I would find humor in outdated and therefore ridiculous laws that some states and jurisdictions in the US still had in place. There obviously is a story behind those laws, but as times change and they become obsolete, they were either forgotten or it seemed too much trouble to actually change the legislature.
But what about laws and systems that were originally established in order to maintain some sort of power (be it economic, social, political, etc) that one group of people had over another? What if the collective reasoning that prompted their passage was acceptable then but abhorrent today? In this quarter’s update we want to highlight someone who took on and made significant change to an unjust and outdated law in the 1880s.
Katharine Bushnell was an American physician who was passionately opposed to the subjugation of women, an ardent supporter of women’s suffrage, and also a leader in exposing and resisting sex trafficking. Using her medical credentials to gain access to brothels worldwide in the late 1800s and early 1900s she exposed multiple sex trafficking operations. What’s more, in Wisconsin, her investigation was able to show how sex trafficking was supported by state law. Historian Kristin Kobes Du Mez describes how Dr. Bushnell was able to show “girls … had often been tricked into a life of servitude under promises of respectable work, but because of the ‘previous chaste character’ loophole in Wisconsin law they had been stripped of all legal protection. According to this statute, anyone who procured a girl of questionable chastity could be held guiltless, not only in her procurement, even if done under false pretenses, but also of any injustices committed against the girl, such as the withholding of pay or physical beatings.”
Aside from the sex trafficking this condoned, she also was upset by the sexual double standard in ideology that was used to create this law, which exclusively subjugated and punished females. Initially the state governor and judiciary dismissed her report, but the state legislature did invite her to address them. In short, what resulted was legislation that penalized traffickers, called by many “the Kate Bushnell Bill.”
There are so many things I love about Dr. Bushnell’s story, which you can read more about below. As a medical director of a nonprofit clinic designed to care for those the system (medical, social, legal, organized religion, etc) has failed and at times taken advantage of I am truly inspired by the above. She was brave and her efforts toward equality and equity of the sexes are important for us to recognize and remember today.
SINCE WE LAST TALKED

  • One new patient has been referred to and is in the process of starting trauma sensitive therapy services.
  • One patient who is near completion of a series of EMDR sessions is now able to be back at work and feels that her life is her own again.
  • Families of patients are also receiving care from us!

HOW TO HELP


  1. Increase awareness of systemic injustice and join us in our opposition to it
  2. We are always accepting certain medical supplies, if you have any to donate contact us directly at contact@hfjvc.org
  3. If you are a licensed healthcare or mental health professional and want to volunteer your time and skills, contact us directly at contact@hfjvc.org
  4. Partner with us financially to help our patients be able to start a new chapter in their life

HISTORY (ALMOST) FORGOTTEN


In Kristin Kobes Du Mez’s biography of Katharine Bushnell, A New Gospel for Women, we learn of the life and work of an American physician who also was a prolific Christian feminist in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. After her medical training was completed, Dr. Bushnell started her career as a medical missionary to China. She initially was quick to pass judgement on foreign cultural practices that led to poor health outcomes, especially when these cultural practices were disproportionately practiced on females compared to males, e.g. foot binding. Apart from adverse health outcomes, she also directly observed culture’s influence on what she prior had thought was unchangeable. After becoming literate in the local Chinese dialect she was surprised by the differences between her King James Version and the Chinese translation of the Bible. In one of Paul’s letters, the Chinese translation changed the two women he was exhorting into men. Her surprise turned to astonishment after showing this discrepancy to a male missionary colleague who supported this change as it made their evangelism more acceptable to another culture. These experiences and the fact that the two main English Bible translations in use at that time had never allowed women as part of the translation process led Dr. Bushnell to investigate them for sex-bias as well.
As she set out to learn Hebrew and Greek to answer this question, she returned to the US and started working for the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. This work and her role as a physician provided access to brothels, enabling her to investigate and report on sex trafficking of women that existed in the US, India, and China. In what is considered her most prolific work, God’s Word to Women, Dr. Bushnell shows how patriarchy in western culture has mis-translated the English Bible from its original languages and these translations have then been used to form theology which in turn has acted as the basis for social, cultural, and political norms that condoned the subjugation of women globally.

KNOW THE PAST TO CHANGE THE FUTURE

To quote Maya Angelou, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, you don’t know where you’re going.” The more we know about the past history of slavery the more we can understand how we still have this immoral power dynamic active in our local and global world today. Through our awareness of how we got here we can continue the work of people like Dr. Bushnell by caring for our neighbors in need and responding to unjust and oppressive systems that are still active today.