Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women: Autobiographical Sketches by Elizabeth Blackwell

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2006-01-01
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Blackwell, Elizabeth
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Bix, Amy
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Abstract

The history of women as healers dates back many centuries, long before the life of Elizabeth Blackwell. We i have evidence of women as healers and midwives in ancient Greece; for example, some women have funeral inscriptions describing them with the terms "midwife" and "physician." Women's practice of medicine was not universally welcomed; in Athens during the fourth century BCE, female healers were apparently accused of performing illegal abortions and banned from the profession. Stories suggest that one of the era's most famous medical women, Agnodice, had to cut her hair and dress in men's clothing to attend physicians' classes, since her practice of medicine was illegal. Allegedly, when her secret was revealed, Agnodice had won such support among a high-status female clientele that those women blocked their husbands and friends from punishing her. According to some accounts, Agnodice was permitted to continue her work, and the laws were amended to allow women to study and practice medicine as long as they confined their treatments to a female clientele.

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This is the introduction from Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women: Autobiographical Sketches by Elizabeth Blackwell, reprint by Prometheus Books, Humanity Books Classics in Women’s Studies Series (Amherst: Prometheus books, 2005): 9-41.

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