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Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (Glass Mountain Pamphlets)

Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers (Glass Mountain Pamphlets) - Barbara Ehrenreich, Deirdre English This was quite an interesting read for a non-feminist, 21st century medical student. From 1972, Barbara and Deirdre bring us an academic, synthesized approach to the History of female health professionals. It is quite obvious that women have always been the cornerstone of the medical arts, but for some obscure reason have never been regarded as so. In the dark ages, we called them witches, inferior to the rational knowledge of physicians and sought out feverishly, for even when their treatments were successful, the Malleus Maleficarum classified them as pure evil, thus protecting the medical class from any competition. In fact, what was labeled as superstitious was the basis of the empiric method we still use in some therapies; and what was called perverse might have been the first attempts at physical examinations, since the doctors even feared touching the patient for too long, dissecting was considered a crime and medical studies were dedicated to ancient history, astronomy and theology. Then it came the time for the midwives, restrained to child-bearing assistance, since too much knowledge was said to interfere with a woman’s fertility. And politics crept in to keep women from going to medical schools – the course was extended so that only the higher classes could afford to and younger women felt divided between starting a family or a career (this is where it starts sounding familiar). Moreover, even after graduating, women couldn’t perform as physicians since no hospital would take in a female intern.Finally, Florence Nightingale spreads nursing schools through the country, educating docile, submissive housemaids that History has baptized as the first nurses. Indeed, this was quite a surprise to me – for a woman that conquered so much, I didn’t expect Nightingale to be so determined to keep nurses as assisting maids, heeding to the doctor’s every order, with no scientific knowledge whatsoever. But certainly it was the beginning of a new era, nursing is now more than cleaning and feeding, it is a vast study. Presently, I can say medical schools are attended by more young women than men but I think such a long history of male supremacy in this profession has left its marks and they won’t fade for a long time.