The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

Excerpt

Higher education for women produces monstrous brains and
puny bodies; abnormally active cerebration and abnormally weak
digestion; flowing thought and constipated bowel.

—E. H. Clarke, Sex Education:
A Fair Chance for Girls,
1873

The frontier of the wild West resisted attempts to tame it by adventurous pioneers who were hell-bent on making a life for themselves and their families on the open range. The terrain was rough and unyielding, not unlike its new inhabitants. Most of these inhabitants were as stubborn about accepting female doctors as the land was about accepting them.

Women in the mid-1800s who possessed a strong desire to help the sick studied, worked, and struggled for places in medical schools. After receiving their degrees they studied, worked, and struggled to find a place to practice their vocation. The western frontier, with its absence of physicians and high demand for healthcare, provided women the opportunity to open medical offices. It did not, however, assure them patients. For a while it seemed most trappers, miners, and emigrants would rather suffer and die than consult a woman doctor. The lady doctor repairing a head wound on an injured farmer in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries would have had to endure criticism from skeptics and male physicians who believed women shouldn't be in the profession at all.

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