The Role of Women in the development of Medicine through time.

The Role of Women in the development of Medicine through time.

Women have played a crucial and often overlooked role in medicine over the ages. From prehistory through to today, the first port of call for most people who are sick is someone in their family. This person is used to offer advice, provide remedies based on experience, family history and to make arrangements for care and treatment of sick relatives. Traditionally this role has been played by women, and continues to be the case in most families to this day.

Many medical areas of expertise have been unofficially designated as being roles for men or women over the years. Though there are exceptions to each of the following, they are, in general, examples of continuity in the role of women:

Nursing. There are countless examples of women taking a leading role in the nursing of the infirm. In the Ancient World there are examples of wives and mothers following armies and caring for the wounded after a battle. Likewise there is evidence of women caring for one another during pregnancy and in an ante-natal capacity throughout time.

Minor ailments. There is much evidence of women being used as a first port of call for minor ailments, common illnesses and for general advice about healthcare. One example of this is that of the Wise woman, examples of which can be found in the Ancient World, Middle Ages and into the modern day.

Women and professional medical service

Despite women taking a leading role in the care of their relatives, they have until recently been excluded from professional medicine in many parts of the world. Women Doctors, Surgeons and Dentist are all things we take for granted today, but only a hundred years ago it would have been incredibly unusual to find trained and qualified women working in the medical profession.

The following links are to external sites. These provide detailed narratives outlining the breakthroughs achieved by a number of great women from the history of medicine.

Florence Nightingale

Nightingale is often referred to as the Lady with the Lamp. Her methods reduced death rates in the British army and, following the Crimean War, led to the introduction of new methods of nursing. many of the remaining pre NHS hospitals are designed according to principles that she set out, with ‘Nightingale Wards’ a common feature of many hospitals in the UK.

You will also find references to Florence Nightingale and source material relating to her work in the Public Health section of this website.

Mary Seacole

Information about Mary Seacole from Dan Lyndon’s Blackhistory4schools website.

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first woman to gain a medical qualification in Britain.

More detailed: – an academic look at the changing role of women in medicine. Contains an excellent lecture about women in medicine along with links to some pretty useful materials, such as timelines.