Tomorrow's Children Highlights
Evidence Highlights Index, 1870 - 1930

The Black Stork: Movie Ads

The Black Stork, a feature film from 1917, dramatically expresses the anxieties people had about medicine and disability during this period: disability was equated with disease, doctors claimed absolute authority. Dr. Martin Pernick discusses The Black Stork in Tomorrow's Children, an excerpt of which is available here on RealAudio. Other material relevant to the film is available at the Tomorrow's Children Highlights page.

The film was inspired by the sensational case of Dr. Harry Haiselden, a Chicago surgeon who convinced the parents of a newborn with multiple disabilities to let the child die instead of performing surgery that would save its life. In the film, Haiselden actually plays himself, a wise doctor who attends the birth of a child born with congenital syphilis -- incurable at the time and a major cause of congenital disabilities. Two other doctors interfere, out of personal pride and misplaced benevolence, and try to convince the woman to save the child's life. The woman is forced to choose.

She dreams a tormented dream of her child's probable future: He grows up physically, mentally, and morally deformed. He becomes a criminal, and fathers a brood of disabled children. He isn't allowed to enlist in the Army ("Uncle Sam won't take anybody who's not perfect"). Aware that he is entirely different from others, despised and angry, he returns to kill the doctors who performed the operation that saved his life.

After this vision the woman decides to accept the doctor's advice and lets the infant die.

Haiselden's activities brought forth a storm of public controversy in which all of the currently popular attitudes toward disability were expressed. Many prominent thinkers, including Clarence Darrow and Helen Keller, argued that physicians had the right and the duty to decide whether a life was worth living. Although it was widely accepted that doctors should make these decisions and act on them in their private practices, it was rare that the subject was argued in public.

RealAudio: Marty Pernick & Laurie - Block on The Black Stork
A conversation with Martin Pernick about the Black Stork

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from the Chicago Herald, April 1, 1917


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from Motography, April 14, 1917


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from Exhibitors' Trade Review, March 10, 1917


The Black Stork Movie Stills