Women & the history of medicine (No, they’re not mutually exclusive)

I was never interested in history at school; I chose not to study it and often tuned out when my brother shared his many 'fun' (usually grotesque) history snippets at family dinners. 

However, as I have aged and learned to critically analyse the world around me, the importance of understanding the world's history - particularly women's history - has become increasingly obvious to me. Many women (and some men) sacrificed much for the human rights of women to be recognised and supported (and we still have a long way to go).

My PhD research on women's experiences of endometriosis includes a historical component. I am interested in analysing how the discipline of medicine has viewed women and their bodies throughout history and what this might mean for the modern health care of women with endometriosis.

In doing this research I have come across some useful resources that I wish to share with you all today. I'm surprised by how little is known about women as both practitioners and patients (even among those working in the history of medicine). It’s well past time that we change this!


The majority find its past by Gerda Lerner
Medicine as culture: Illness, disease and the body by Deborah Lupton
The women in the body: A cultural analysis of reproduction by Emily Martin
Managing the monstrous feminine by Jane M. Ussher
The madness of women: Myth and experience by Jane M. Ussher

The mind has no sex? Women in the origins of modern science by Londa Schiebinger

Making sex: Body and gender from the Greeks to Freud by Thomas Laqueur [and to gain a more balanced perspective on this work, I recommend The one-sex body on trial: The classical and early modern evidence by Helen King]

Lamaze: An international history by Paula Michaels

Bodies of knowledge: Sexuality, reproduction and women’s health in the second wave by Wendy Kline

Women and achievement in 19th century Europe by Linda L. Clark

Journal papers

"Do mad women get endo or does endo make you mad?": Clinicians' discursive constructions of Medicine and women with endometriosis by Kate Young (me!), Jane Fisher and Maggie Kirkman [NEW]

The egg and the sperm: How science has constructed aromance based on stereotypical male-female roles by Emily Martin

Sexism in medicine by Richard Levinson – A great quote from this paper:

"A foreign visitor noticed that workers on electronic circuits in a factory were all women, ‘It’s close work, and women have the finger dexterity for it,’ the visitor was told. Later on in her tour, she visited a medical school class in brain surgery and remarked that the students were all men. ‘But they’ve got to be men,’ the answer came. ‘Brain surgery takes a steady hand!’"
Science and social reform: Women in public health by Elizabeth Fee and Barbara Greene