Late Victorian Medicine
in the Woman ‘s Sphere
The fact of a medical society conducted by women physicians is an in-
novation… We are members of a learned profession of which the op-
posite sex are as the sands of the sea compared with us in numbers.
They hold precedence by right of occupation of the premises and
also by reason of general prejudice of the public.
Mary Stark, M.D., Practitioners’ Society annual meeting, 1889
THE ESTABLISHMENT of women’s medical societies and dispensaries (outpatient clinics for the indigent and working poor) was one of the legacies of pioneer women physicians like Sarah Dolley.1 Such institutions provided professional settings in which the next generation of women doctors could prepare themselves to gain professional acceptance in previously all-male medical institutions. Just as important, they also satisfied the special interest in women’s and children’s health that had motivated many of them to enter the profession in the first place. Primarily, therefore, their earliest professional institution building was accomplished within the “woman’s sphere.”
Although the etiologic and therapeutic philosophies of male and female physicians were essentially similar, their practices did differ in important ways. The settings in which women practiced medicine, their deep empathy for and interest in the problems of women and children, and the meaning they and society at large accorded their activities bracketed women’s medicine as a special domain until nearly the end of the nineteenth century.2 At a time when the majority of women physicians still received their medical education in all-female colleges, it is