A Vital Force: Women in American Homeopathy

By Anne Taylor Kirschmann | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Adding Women
to the Ranks

Nineteenth-Century
Medical Societies and the
Admission of Women

AT THE 1869 ANNUAL MEETING of the American Institute of Homoeopathy (AIH), George W. Swazey opened discussion of “the woman question” with a formal motion. Two years earlier, a woman's application for membership had been denied by a close vote; now, he said, with no “particular lady” in the equation, his colleagues should decide the “abstract question” rather than have it “hang over us year after year.” And in his opinion, the question of women's rights had nothing to do with it: “The question is whether, after having encouraged women to enter the profession, educated them, taken their money, permitted them to practice, and fraternized with them, we shall now debar them from the privilege of our larger institutions.” 1 The majority of Swazey's colleagues cast their vote in favor of women's admission to the AIH the following year. Twenty-five years later, Amelia J. Burroughs of Omaha, Nebraska, reflected on those earlier years. Until the AIH membership voted to admit them, she said, women had “knocked for admittance” year after year, turning away “disappointed but not discouraged,” determined to share the “benefits and power” of the national organization. 2

Women physicians, both regulars and homeopaths, applied for admission to medical societies beginning in the 1860s—a time when regular physicians were seeking to uplift their profession. The proliferation of proprietary medical schools, designed mainly to turn a profit; the emergence of sectarian medicine; and, the demise of compulsory state licensing earlier in the century had resulted in a plethora of poorly-trained doctors and “irregular” practitioners by

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