From Human Dairies to Milk Riders: A Visual History of Milk Banking in New York City, 1918-2018

Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies , Vol. 40, No. 3 (2019), pp. 139-170

32 Pages Posted: 29 Apr 2020

See all articles by Mathilde Cohen

Mathilde Cohen

University of Connecticut - School of Law

Hannah Ryan

St. Olaf College

Date Written: July 4, 2018

Abstract

In 2016, a milk bank opened its doors in Hastings-On-Hudson, New York, to collect, process, and distribute human milk for premature or sick babies whose parents cannot breastfeed for a host of reasons. That same year, to facilitate the gathering of the milk from various depots and make urgent deliveries to NICUs and families, the bank forged a much buzzed about partnership with the Sirens Women’s Motorcycle Club of New York City. Based on interviews with the primary women involved as well as archival research, this essay highlights the connections between today’s milk bank and the “breast milk dair[ies]” which saw the light in Manhattan and Brooklyn one century ago. Is the newly minted bank part of the same socio-cultural lineage as its pre-war antecedents? Are the people at the forefront of milk banking (who most often identify as women), either as bank workers, transporters, or donors, treated and seen in the same way now and then? Based on feminist and visual studies perspective, we argue that as in the past, present-day milk banking relies on a form of embodied female labor that is both emancipatory and exploitative, and in that respect, can be connected to a long history of providing human milk for profit in the form of wet nursing.

Keywords: human milk, breastfeeding, milk bank, NICU, neonatologist, milk depot, embodied labor, motorcycle, New York, LGBTQI, queer theory, feminist studies, gender studies, wet nurse, visual studies

JEL Classification: I1, I14, I18, I3, Z13

Suggested Citation

Cohen, Mathilde and Ryan, Hannah, From Human Dairies to Milk Riders: A Visual History of Milk Banking in New York City, 1918-2018 (July 4, 2018). Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies , Vol. 40, No. 3 (2019), pp. 139-170, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3531978

Mathilde Cohen (Contact Author)

University of Connecticut - School of Law ( email )

65 Elizabeth Street
Hartford, CT 06105
United States

Hannah Ryan

St. Olaf College ( email )

1520 St. Olaf Avenue, Northfield
MN 55057
United States

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