The Story of CC437

Rachel Davalos, College of Arts and Science, Florida Gulf Coast University '17

Mariela A. Martínez, Department of Natural Sciences, University of Puerto Rico at Cayey Campus ’17

Editor’s Note     

This series of biographical sketches were authored by the 2015 class of the Howard University branch of AAMC’s Summer Medical Dental Enrichment Program at the W. Montague Cobb Research Laboratory. The students were assigned a Cobb Collection Individual and conducted research about that individual. The papers were reviewed by The Backbone Editorial Team and the name of the CC individual was redacted.

Understanding the society, era, economy, and political status of the people at that time is an essential part of understanding someone’s history. W. Montague Cobb Research Lab is a key component in understanding history as a result of the research being conducted. They are advancing the development of scientific, anthropological and biological knowledge. They involve a combination of these disciplines to advance their knowledge. This is achieved by obtaining a variety of corpses, with the main objective to study the impact of the death of that particular person due to their race and social status in their society in that time frame. Research like this allows us to profoundly understand physiological, mental, economic, cultural and geographical details that affect a specific individual and complete society. is a website that serves as a primary source in the recollection of data from the National Archives and the 1920 Census of a citizen named CC437. 

Due to the fact that the 1920 Census was the fourteenth Census conducted in the USA there are some details lacking that we would be able to find on today’s Census. They were not particularly detailed in the information like your exact address or date of birth. But instead it focused on name, occupation, race, place, and literacy. During this same time period there were many changes going on in the nation.  World War I had ended. The 19th amendment was passed and even though it didn’t give the right to vote to Southern African Americans due to their legal status, it was a start. The Harlem Renaissance also began in this time, it was the explosion of art, culture, and social interest.(The Harlem Renaissance) There was a large amount of change happening with the African American population. 

CC437 was described as a Negro female that is thought to be born around the 1890’s right in at the start of The Progressive Era of the United States. She was found to have lived in Maryland her whole life. Both her parents were born in Maryland meaning that she probably had family in the area. She seemed to be stable in the sense that she didn’t have a major move or change in environment. When she moved, it was from areas that were not very far from each other.  From the census of 1920 there was a lot of information given to us about CC437. In the census we found out that she was educated because they mention she could speak English as well as read and write. Her occupation in 1920 was as a laundress, where she was part of the economical and racial disadvantage, since this in that time was a common job for African-American women. Out of all of the African American women in the 1920’s approximately 1,500,000 were working gainful occupations. Specifically there were around 280,000 laundresses at this time. Agriculture jobs were more common having around 400,000 working gainfully and then servant being 350,000 women. Typically, if one was not working in an agriculturally based job, one were either a servant or laundress. Historically, it was a poorly paid job requiring hard work and labor. Additionally, this occupation was about 75% of the work African American women did during this time period to earn a living. Many sources stated that a large amount of laundresses were employed in private homes. Due to this many laundress’ were overworked leading to “The New Deal” which helped to have those paid extremely poorly have a standard minimum wage as well as not be overworked be implementing a maximum of 40 hours per weeks. These workers typically worked for 14 to 30 cents an hour. (Adna Hill 110-113) CC437, in 1920, lived as what was called a “roomer”. This meant different people were living in the same home with many people who were not necessarily family. She lived at the time in Maryland on a street named Cookey Court just 40 miles from the center of District of Columbia. CC437 lived with three other people with the names of Edward Alexander, Marble King, and Raymond Proctor. They each had different lives but convened together when it came to paying the rent for the house. Alexander was 38 years old at the time of the census he worked as a cement mechanic; he was the head of the house he rented. In the census they mention he could not read or write. King was also a roomer in the same home as CC437. She was 24 at the time, married, and a laundress just like CC437 and was as able to read and write just like our patient. The last person, Proctor, was a 30 year old divorced man who was a driver that was able to read and write as well. (All 1920 United States Federal Census Results)This lifestyle is one which can be interpreted as lack of economic stability or in need to be close to their jobs; therefore have to agglomerate many people in the same place in order to survive. We imagine that she lived in this home to be near her employer and get the best advantage. 

 CC437 had died at a very young age approximately fifty- four years old. It is said to be at an early age because life expectancy in the USA in 1951 was approximately 71.4 years according to the website "Life Expectancy in the USA, 1900-98." At the time of her death she was a resident at 1876 M Street N.W. District of Columbia, USA. She had died at the Gallinger Municipal Hospital Psychopathic Ward on January 26th of 1951. We propose that she had been going in and out of the hospital since she was 28 years old since could not find any more information about her after the 1920 census because it could be possible that they didn’t take into consideration people with mental illnesses or in a mental ward during the census.

The cause of death of CC437 was respiration obstruction as well as food aspiration. She died at an early age of 54, meaning that she could not have died due to a disease through her age. Typically, people who experience this life-threatening situation are experiencing a solid that is lodged in the trachea preventing breathing or swallowing leading to asphyxiation causing death. This is a life-threatening emergency and without assistance and immediate attention will result in death. The close to complete obstruction of the airways would cause immediate death but other smaller items could be swallowed and stuck in your esophagus. These items stuck in your esophagus or in other parts of the digestive system could lead to infection if not extracted in time causing severe pain or even death. (Warshawsky) She was a psychiatric patient; we imagine that her mental state was highly severe where she was not able to ingest food or medications by herself.  If she was mentally capable then when she needed the assistance she was neglected care.

The hospital where CC437 died at was commonly known as Gallinger Hospital or officially known at the time as Gallinger Municipal Hospital Psychopathic Ward. This was located in the District of Columbia. This hospital had later on changed its name to be District of Columbia General Hospital in 1953.  Then, after 2001, the area where the hospital was located had changed into a health campus with a variety of clinics. They offered everything from women services to a detoxification center. This hospital had been serving people for over 200 years ever since 1806. It was originally an infirmary later turning into an asylum. Not until 1922 was the building where CC437 was treated at was built.  (Historic Medical Sites in the Washington) From what we interpreted, due to the time frame the hospital was open; there was segregation between blacks and whites in the population. Due to this fact, she may have not had the best care or attention she needed at the time. The hospital may have had too many people attending the patients and with little staff the patients didn’t have quality care. It could have been possible if there was more staff maybe this tragedy wouldn’t have happened to CC437. 

 We were comparing CC437’s hospital Gallinger to another psychiatric institution that was in the same area at that time. It could have been possible that if CC437 had been a patient of St Elizabeth’s Hospital she may have had attention quicker and would have survived that issue. The hospital was known for their advance technology since it was the first psychiatric hospital in USA, which opened in 1855. This hospital cared thousands of patients in 1950s around the same time Mahoney was hospitalized. In fact it provided health care for mentally ill residents of the District of Columbia, US Army and US Navy. (Historic Medical Sites in the Washington, DC Area)

 Patients with mental illnesses were treated very different from modern times. It was possible that CC437 had suffered electroshocks, hydrotherapy, metrazol convulsion and insulin shocks who were very popular methods in 1930s, the same time we believe that she was hospitalized. Later in the 1950’s, doctors used only artificial fever therapy and electroshock. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) is defined by Mayo Clinic as “a procedure in which electric currents are passed through the brain, intentionally triggering a brief seizure. ECT seems to cause changes in brain chemistry that can quickly reverse symptoms of certain mental illnesses. It often works when other treatments are unsuccessful. Much of the stigma attached to ECT is based on early treatments in which high doses of electricity were administered without anesthesia, leading to memory loss, fractured bones and other serious side effects”.  Patients described this as a horrible treatment that put them in the worst situations. 

 We have concluded that if CC437 lived in modern day society she may have had a longer life than what she had experienced. With hospitals such as Psychiatric Institute of Washington with services for adults like CC437vshe could have had an intensive short-term care that treats disorders such as depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. It could be possible that she developed a mental disease due to work or the stressful environment she was in. But either way even if she did end up with a mental condition in modern day society there are many qualified psychiatrist that she could have gone to diagnose her mental illness and consider possible treatments. We would consider as well that if she had to be instituted into a mental hospital that she would have had more attention now than should did in the 1950’s.  In the last several decades there have been many new changes and advancements in mental illnesses, even though there is still improvement needed it is still better than in the 1950’s , we have a better understanding of the brain as well as technology to see the brain like MRI. In the 1950’s the era of over the counter drugs for treatment mental illnesses was just starting and obviously the poor could not afford those medications.  Many patients during that time were sent to hospitals for care and spent years there which are what we suspect happened to CC437.  Besides this, many people purposely went to these hospitals as alternatives to incarceration or even homelessness. This could be a possible factor as well. We believe due to situations like hers in the past we in healthcare have learned to prevent problems like respiration obstruction and food aspiration by being there attentive to any issues patients have while eating. We consider as well that now she would have received better and more urgent care than in her time frame, it could be possible that she could have died due to neglect because of her skin color. If a nurse or a physician were there at the moment she could have lived. We believe her cause of death now a day is slowly becoming less and less because of the amount of commoners who know CPR and the Heimlich maneuver.***


1. Adna Hill, Joseph. "Women in Gainful Occupations, 1870 to 1920 Pages 110-113." Google Books. United States Government Printing Office, 1929. Web. 3 July 2015. < inthe1920&source=bl&ots=S9u9mGYy7f&sig=S6eQ6KNeRCdrpAHIdrCkVpoWwis&hl=en&sa=X&ei=alqTVcKYCIOy-AGI8KKgBg&ved=0CCEQ6AEwAQ#v=onepage&q=laundress in the 1920&f=false>. 

2. "All 1920 United States Federal Census Results." - 1920 United States Federal Census. 1920 United States Federal Census. Web. 3 July 2015. <>. 

3. Anderson, Mark, and Lynda Cannova. "50 Years of Mental Health Hope and Struggle: 1957-2007." Council on Crime and Justice. 2005. Web. 3 July 2015. < • Arnesen, E. (2007). Encyclopedia of U.S. Labor and Working-class History. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. 

4. "Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)." - Mayo Clinic. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 July 2015.>. 

5. "Historic Medical Sites in the Washington, DC Area - District of Columbia General Hospital." U.S National Library of Medicine. NIH U.S. National Library of Medicine. Web. 3 July 2015. <>. 

6. "Life Expectancy in the USA, 1900-98." Life Expectancy in the USA, 1900-98. Web. 3 July 2015. 

7. Rosenberg, Jennifer. "The 1920s - Historical Timeline of Events." About Education. Web. 3 July 2015. 

8. "The Harlem Renaissance." PBS The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow. Educational Broadcasting Corporation, 2002. Web. 3 July 2015. <>. 

9. "The Progressive Era (1890 - 1920)." The Eleanor Roosevelt Paper Project. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 June 2015.

10. Warshawsky MD, Martin E. "Foreign Body Aspiration." Medscape : Background, Pathophysiology, Epidemiology. Medscape, 20 Nov. 2013. Web. 3 July 2015. 



Rachel Davalos is currently an undergraduate student at Florida Gulf Coast University where she is studying a Biology major in the Department of Arts and Science. During the summer she participated in the SMDEP program offered at Howard University which she had collaborated with the Cobb Lab Research. At her university she has participated in a broad spectrum of activities like leadership opportunities and community service. She currently works as a lifeguard for Campus Recreation at Florida Gulf coast University and is also president of the Alpha Sigma Chapter of Hermandad de Sigma Iota Alpha Inc. Once she graduates she plans to apply to be a Dentist, currently to prepare she has tried to learn more by shadowing and learning about new technology.



Mariela A. Martínez is a junior bachelor degree student from the University of Puerto Rico, Cayey Campus in the General Program of Natural Sciences and will be graduating in the Summer of 2017. Ms. Martínez was part of the Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP) at Howard University during Summer 2015. She engaged the program because of her interest in dentistry. Being in SMDEP gave Ms. Martinez supplementary knowledge to become a stronger applicant within her entry to Dental School. She gained clinical experience participating in different dental rotations, obtained intensive academic and professional enrichment by taking science classes and attended learning and study skills seminars. Moreover, she participated in a research program with the W. Montague Cobb Lab Research. Performed a case study on an individual from the Cobb Collection gathering information about that individual’s lifestyle and historical context to determine altered methods that could change the cause of death in a contemporary context. During the Fall 2015 semester at the University of Puerto Rico she developed a qualitative research based on the experiences of fibromyalgia patients. This case study contribute considered information about the interviewed patient’s functionality to further understanding the syndrome. Ms. Martínez is the public relationist of the Puerto Rico Pre Dental Association at Cayey Campus, being in charge of the coordination logistics for different activities. She also helps the community by joining a leadership movement that serves homeless people during night hour’s giving them basic need articles, but above all conversations.

Cobb Lab