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
Date Written: July 4, 2018
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: Suggested Citation