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The Lady Physician, circa 1880
Higher educational opportunities of any kind hardly existed for women during the early Nineteenth Century in America, and so was the case in medicine. The usual arguments against women included the question of inferior intellect, her passivity of mind, her physical weakness and her tendency toward hysteria.
Since the practice of medicine frequently required inflicting pain on the patient, an integral part of the male physicians self-image dictated that empathy be balanced with cool detachment. His role was to cure, not to soothe. This manly detachment, it was argued, could not be achieved by women.
These arguments were soon to erode. Industrialization brought about separation of home and work. This reduced the father's role in domestic life. Women became the moral and spiritual leaders of the family. This was a powerful tool used by feminists to push for a wider definition of women's sphere.
Although questioned, women's intellect had not been tested and when allowed to do so, it was found to be the equal of man's. Arguments for males physical strength were countered by those for the physical stamina of women. With the introduction of anesthesia in 1846, the necessity of manly detachment was undermined and women's skills of nurturing and providing a more tender humanity gained acceptance.
The title of "mother of the American women physician" is bestowed on Harriot Hunt (1805-1875). A native of Boston, she applied to Harvard Medical School but was denied admission based on her gender. Consequently, she and her sister Sarah completed an apprenticeship with the British "naturalist" physicians Dr. and Mrs. Mott. They began practice in 1835 treating mostly women and children.
After Sarah's marriage in 1840, Harriot continued the practice and ultimately received an Honorary Medical Degree from The Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania.
An English emigrant, Elizabeth Blackwell(1821-1910) became the first female to graduate from a United States medical school. After rejections from several medical schools, she was accepted to the Geneva Medical College in upstate New York in October of 1847. Her admission had been an accident, a misunderstanding between the faculty and students. In spite of the difficulties encountered, she graduated at the top of her class in 1849.
Dr. Joseph Longshore(1809-1879), a Philadelphia Quaker with enlightened views about women's rights, and businessman William Mullen chartered the first Women's Medical College of Pennsylvania on October 12, 1850. By the end of the century, six more women's medical schools were founded.
I have chosen 1880 for Anne Crawford to depict the status of medicine for The Lady Physician.
From the beginning, women physicians assumed a role most often neglected by their male counterparts, prevention. Although they had office practices, they preferred going to the homes of patients to observe local conditions and advise and teach sanitation and personal hygiene. Most of their patients were women and children of the working class.
The lady physician has a binaural stethoscope around her neck. The first monaural version was invented by the Frenchman, Laennec(1781-1826) and used until superceded by the newer binaural version developed in the mid 19th Century. A thermometer held in her left hand was introduced in the 17th Century and standardized in the 18th Century by Hermann Boerhoave in conjunction with G.D.Fahrenheit.
The problem with early thermometers was the mercury reading would began to fall as soon as it was removed from the body orifice. It was a difficult and distasteful task for the physician to read it while still in the patient.
The 19th Century brought about the self-registering thermometer and with it the practice of medicine into the scientific era. An ophthalmoscope invented by Hermann von Helmholtz(1821-1894) in 1851 is placed on the kitchen table. Additional items that might be found in the medical bag include an assortment of pharmaceutical agents, diagnostic tools such as tongue depressors, a nasal speculum, various forceps and therapeutic articles such as lances and probes.