Introduction: This last class examines women's work in medicine around the end of the nineteenth century and explores the legacy of their leadership in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. By the turn of the twentieth century, women made up about 5% of physicians, and declined in numbers until the 1960s. In a magazine illustration from 1870 in the widely read Harper's Weekly, a male doctor vaccinates a baby. Even though women had been licensed and practicing for 20 years, the popular image of the physician who aids mothers is a man. The faces of the three figures in this illustration are very different. Each represents a stereotyped persona that reinforces the social hierarchies against which women of all races battled in gaining medical education and authority. On the other hand, illustrated newspapers like Frank Leslie's Illustrated Paper were capitalizing on the interesting sight of women performing traditionally male work in medical schools and dissection labs.
As we saw in Class 5, African American women had made the most progress closer to the end of the century, with seven medical colleges for African Americans open and offering resident physician and teaching positions for women. Although all the women's medical colleges founded in the nineteenth century were defunct by 1900, in 1893 Johns Hopkins University became the first medical college in the nation to accept women on the same terms as men. During the latter half of the 20th century, the numbers of female physicians rose. A trio of readings by two physicians and a surgeon offer insight into the experience of practicing medicine around the turn of the twenty-first century. As late as 1994, physician Susan Mates's short story dramatizes unfair demands on women physicians because of their gender as well as the conflict between professional medicine and family life for women. Dr. Elspeth Cameron Ritchie offers an autobiographical account of her work with AIDS patients and the rigors of modern medical work. Dr. Lori Alvord, the first Navajo woman surgeon, has advanced patient care techniques by including culturally appropriate interactions with her Navajo patients, thereby improving clinical outcomes.
An exercise in reading the biographies of physicians under one of the categories provided on the Changing the Face of Medicine website asks students to apply what they have learned about women's history in medicine and assess women's place in the profession in the twenty-first century. At the same time, well into the twentieth century, women continued traditional healing practices in their communities. In "Strong Horse Tea," Alice Walker dramatizes the effects of poverty and racism in the conflict between white doctors and African American midwives; together with E.S. Powell's photograph from class 5 of Maude Collen serving an African American community, we can see how women healers continued their work and carried on their traditional knowledge long after slavery ended and even in the face of professional medicine trying to extinguish their practices.
Students perform the remaining research, and work in pairs or small groups to brainstorm titles and finalize their draft segments of the biography. The whole class votes on the best title. They also discuss and identify possible places where the biographies may be published, such as school or local museum/historical society website, a blog, a community newsletter, or a public site, such as "Share Your Story" in Changing the Face of Medicine. Optionally, students reflect individually or as a class on what they learned about their physician, about "real-life" research and the value of recovering women's contributions to medicine and community healing, and about themselves.