IN attempting to sketch the history of the entrance of women into the medical profession, we find the earlier periods obscured by a meagerness of material and a lack of sequence which our superficial researches have failed to supplement.
Isolated cases of gifted women attaining notable surgical skill and successfully pursuing the divine art of healing are recorded at various epochs in the history of the intellectual development of woman, but they occur at long intervals of time and in widely scattered chronicles. In the following pages we have not undertaken to present an exhaustive history or catalogue of female practitioners of medicine; we have simply collected a few scattered notices, and molded them into an outline to be hereafter filled up by a more competent hand.
These notices refer to the earlier history only, and by earlier history we mean the period prior to the establishment of medical schools for women, and to the present movement for their higher education. From the earliest times women have successfully grappled with a most difficult branch of medical science, gynecology, but long-existing and deep-seated prejudices prevented an extension of their practice, and save in exceptional cases they were forbidden both the acquirement of accurate and systematic knowledge and the exercise of their chosen vocation. So long as the practice of medicine formed a part of the priestly functions, as in ancient Egypt, the crafty guardians of superstition sedulously concealed their superior knowledge from an ignorant and credulous people, and especially from women. Yet the story of the birth of Moses shows that female gynecologists were not unknown to the Egyptians.
At a later period the Greeks thought to add dignity to the practice of medicine by forbidding it to slaves and (forsooth!) to women. During the middle ages, when every branch of science was more or less dishonored by degrading superstitions, we find women, as well as men, yielding to their influence and exercising the double calling of sorceress and healer of the sick; nor has the intelligence of the common people even in the nineteenth century reached such a height as to render the business of medical clairvoyant nugatory and profitless.
The invention of medicine was almost universally attributed by the ancients to the gods, and it is a curious fact that in both Egyptian and Grecian mythology we find female deities occupying important
- An address delivered at the commencement exercises of the Woman's Medical College of the New York Infirmary, May 27, 1880.