Women in Medicine


Within the ancient world, women were fundamental to medicine. They acted as healers within the home throughout the prehistoric medicine; passing down herbal remedies through generations of women. Within the Ancient Egyptian period, there was evidence of there having been female physicians - which could be said to reflect the fact that godesses, such as Sekhmet, were often feared in thought that such powerful supernatural individuals could inflict disease upon people. Yet, by the time of the Medieval era, the medicine was largely dominated by men; and it would stay this way until the mid to late nineteenth century; at which point women began to regain recognition within the medical world. 

The seventeenth century only saw men being allowed to gain a licence to practice medicine; women were denied such a right in light of the Christian Church's fear that some might be witches. The following century denied women of access to a university education, which thus restricted them of the potential to become surgeons. In 1852, quite notable, the Medical Registrations Act was passed; and so it became a legal requirement for all medical personnel to be registered to one of the Colleges of Physicians, Surgeons or Apothecaries - each of which were closed to women.

As has been made apparent, it was extremely difficult for women to gain the education necessary if they were to become physicians. It was generally seen that women held the sole purpose of bringing up children; and hence education was only considered valid if it regarded this. Many hoped to achieve ensuring the full redundancy of women in medicine; with it being common amongst wealthy families to train male physicians to use forceps, and thus replace midwives.

Elizabeth Blackwell was the first woman to find herself upon the official register of British doctors, after her 1849 qualification. Being prohibited access to the appropriate education in the UK, she was forced to be educated in the USA, to return fully qualified. She therefore couldn't be denied access to work as a physician; and, through her work, was to act as an inspiration to many women with the same aspirations - including Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. 

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was a woman who held a dream of becoming a physician, amidst a nation determined to disallow her this opportunity. Working as a


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