The Doctor Was a Woman: Stories of the First Female Physicians on the Frontier

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Smallpox, tuberculosis, childbirth, diphtheria, gunshots, “Spanish flu,” broken bones, and more. These are just some of the maladies that settlers and others living in the western US faced during the late 1800s and early 1900s. This slim history provides well-researched vignettes of ten women who became doctors and served their communities in that period. Often, their own families didn’t support their ambitions and they had to work teaching or sewing or laundering to afford medical school. Facing prejudice, blizzards, prairie fires, and personal hardship, they persevered to attain education and recognition. But in the West, towns with no other doctors were willing to take a risk on these tough resilient women, many of whom lived in their nineties. Several of the women also advocated for the right to vote and for temperance, although one notably argued for the sterilization of the “criminally insane,” convinced that such tendencies were hereditary. This reader was particularly impressed with the physician who reconstructed a man’s face through thirty cosmetic surgeries over six months, in 1887! And the patient lived another two decades. Illustrated with period photographs, this well-researched book also includes medical advice of the era: treatments for flu, the care of infants, and eye health. Thi is a fascinating read for anyone interested in history, health care, and women’s history.

Reviewed By:

Author Chris Enss
Star Count 5/5
Format Hard
Page Count 192 pages
Publisher Globe Pequot
Publish Date 06-Feb-2024
ISBN 9781493062928 Buy this Book
Issue April 2024
Category History


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