The Souvenir of Western Women/Women in Medicine

Women in Medicine


THE practice of medicine as a whole appeals strongly to women, because of their sympathy for the sick and afflicted and their innate desire to relieve such distress, while obstetrics and gynecology are the special branches that they naturally choose.

The first record with reference to a woman's practicing obstetrics is in Genesis. A midwife attended Rachel, the wife of Jacob, at the birth of her second son, Benjamin. History tells us that Rachel was in hard labor, and a midwife said: "Fear not; thou shalt have this son also." But poor Rachel died and was buried, though there is no evidence that the midwife was responsible.

Again, in the book of Exodus, it is related that the Egyptian king, who wished to deal wisely with the children of Israel lest they multiply too rapidly, gave command to the Hebrew midwives before the birth of Moses that they should destroy all male children at their birth. "But the midwives feared God, and did not as the king of Egypt commanded them, but saved the men children alive," giving the lame excuse that the Hebrew women were not like the Egyptian women, but were delivered before the midwives arrived. After the midwives disobeyed the king he gave his command to all his people, saying: "Every son that is born ye shall be cast in the river; every daughter ye shall save alive." That the king gave the command to the people, after the women had deceived him, would indicate that men did not practice obstetrics at that time; otherwise the king would have charged the men instead of the midwives to destroy the male children. There seemed to be no danger of "race suicide" in those -days, or the king would not have issued this decree.

I have looked into the history of the practice of medicine in ancient Egypt, as far as I have been able, in order to find out more definitely what part women took in the practice of medicine in ye olden times. Mythology ascribes to the Egyptian Isis the duty of watching over the health of the human species, and the discovery of many drugs. Hygeia, the daughter of Esculapius, and Ocyrone, the daughter of Chiron, were learned in medicine, and Esculapius is portrayed as followed by a multitude of both sexes who dispensed his benefits.

The ancients considered that women had the right to the distinction of being, above all, the guardians of health, on account of woman's nurturing and caring for the young. So highly esteemed and worshiped by the Greeks was the Goddess Hygeia that a temple was devoted to this divinity, and even in our day, when a doctor, upon receiving his degree, takes the Hippocratic oath, he not only swears by Apollo, the physician, and Esculapius, the god of medicine, but by Health and Allheal—Hygeia and Panacea. Herodotus tells us that physicians were allowed to study one branch of medicine only, hence women would be given obstetrics as rightfully belonging to them. The midwives of ancient Egypt were doubtless educated and capable, for we learn from Ebers' "Egyptian Princess" of the high position women held, that queens reigned in their own right, and that sons of royalty just as often traced their descent from the mother as from the father.

In the eleventh century before Christ there existed a college of physicians in Egypt for both sexes, and several women aequij-ed renown as teachers in the great school at Salerno, and various universities of Italy.

Concerning Ainia Ma/zaloni, whose husband held the chair of anatomy at Bologna, "it happened that he fell ill, and she being a loving wife, sought to supply to him the place of his enfeebled powers, so she became an anatomist and delivered his lectures for him behind a curtain." It is interesting to note that she was offered a professorship in IMilan, which she refused. However, in the year 1806 Marie Delia Donne received her degree at Bologna and was appointed by Napoleon to the chair of midwifery in the university; and the names of Madames Ija Chapelle and Volvin stand pre-eminent in the annals of French medicine as the most renowned accoucheurs of their age.

These various instances testify to the fact that in all ages there have been women who possessed qualities fitted to render them successful practitioners of the art, and exim promoters of the science of medicine.

The pioneer in the struggle for a medical education for women in America was Miss Elizabeth Blackwell. In the year 1849 she received her diploma as a leader of her class from the medical college of Geneva, New York. At the conclusion of her studies in America Dr. Blackwell visited Europe, where she was kindly received at St. Thomas, St. Bartholomew's, and a few other London hospitals. Here she met Florence Nightingale, and says she owes to her chiefly the awakening to the fact that "sanitation is the supreme goal of medicine, its foundation and its crown."

More than two thousand years ago Christ gave the command to preach the gospel and heal the sick, and Dr. C. E. Swain, a graduate of the Woman's Medical College of Philadelphia, enjoys the honorable distinction, not only of being the pioneer woman physician in India, but the first woman physician ever sent out by any missionary society into any part of the non-Christian world. After some years of successful service in North India she accepted an appointment as resident physician at the court of the Raji of Ketri. Through the influence of this woman and other missionaries, the Punditi Ramabai, a high-cast Hindoo woman, came to this country and completed a course in medicine in the Woman's Medical College of Philadelphia. She then returned to her native country, and is working faithfully for the welfare of her less fortunate sisters. It was principally through Lady Dufferin's work that women doctors have received so much recognition in India. Probably between 300 and 400 medical women are now working under the Dufferin fund, some in charge of hospitals, some as medical missionaries and a few in private practice. It is good news to hear that similar work is being started by the French government in Algeria. The native women who are prevented by their social customs from consulting male doctors will now be able to consult qualified woman physicians free of charge.

Dr. Yamei Kin is the first Chinese woman to take the medical degree in America, and she intends to do work among the Chinese in this country. Women physicians are doing good work in Persia, in China, and the imperial household of Korea has one employed.

Dr. Anneta Newcomb McGee has the honor to the appointed to the United States Army, and did service in the Philippines. Last year she was elected president of the Spanish-American War Nurses. She kindly offered her services to the Japanese government, and was accepted, and for half a year she has been caring for the sick and wounded Japanese and Russians in the Mikado's hospitai and aboard the Imperial Hospital Ship.

While woman physicians are achieving honors at home and abroad, we must not forget their work in the Oregon Country. Dr. Mary P. Sawtelle was probably the first woman in the. Pacific Northwest to practice regular medicine. She located in Salem in the early '70s, and from there moved to California. Following her was Dr. Frances Carpenter Blumauer, a graduate of the Woman's College of Philadelphia, who is now enjoying her well-earned laurels in the City of Portland.

Later we find the names of Dr. Owens-Adair, now residing in North Yakima, who is still in active practice. Dr. Lydia Hunt King, Dr. Denlinger and Dr. Helen Parrish have passed to the great beyond. Dr. N. J. A. Simons, of Vancouver, Washington, one of the pioneer workers, and a graduate of the Homeopathic College of Boston, has retired from the practice of medicine on account of loss of sight. Dr. Victoria Hampton stands at the head of the profession as an expert chemist, and when the testimony of minute chemical analysis is required her authority is unquestioned. There are between two hundred and three hundred women physicians engaged in the regular practice of medicine in Oregon, Washington and Idaho.

The woman doctor of to-day asks of her fellow practitioner nothing but her right of equal advantages for her sex, and of the world at large the opportunity to prove for herself that the time-honored profession of medicine may be successfully followed by her daughters as well as her sons.

In February, 1843, Mrs. Spalding was so sick it was feared she would not live. A Nez Perce chief said: "If it could be, I would gladly die in her stead that she might live to teach the people."

"Shortly after my arrival at Portland, in '52," says Rev. John Flinn, "I attended a marriage ceremony, a family wedding. The minister officiating received a pair of gloves and fifty dollars in gold for his services."
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