The Evolution of British General Practice 1850-1948

By Anne Digby | Go to book overview

7
Women Practitioners

THE history of women in general practice is that of female practitioners operating in a semi-detached professional sphere. This was in part the product of gendered cultural values, but was also the result of the medical market whose congested state was worsened by the entrance of women themselves. This highly competitive situation encouraged ecological practice niches, where female GPs developed distinctive career paths and patient constituencies. As the period advanced, the forces making for a gendered separatism became weaker, so that medical women became more assimilated.1 Increasingly women did not wish to see themselves as a separate group: their self-perception became one of themselves as doctors in their profession, but as women in their private lives.2


Access and Training

Evolutionary theory informed debates on the suitability of women to enter higher education and study medicine.3 Male doctors claimed the authority to prescribe conditions of female lifestyle, and in which medical 'knowledge' would enable an optimal interaction of woman's body with its environment. In this way harmful changes to the physiology of the individual would be impeded, the degeneration of the race be prevented, and evolution be advanced. Unusually, a male doctor such as the Darwinist, Lawson Tait, might argue that an exceptional woman who had 'the fitness for survival' had the right to enter the 'great struggle of life' in the ranks of the medical profession.4 Feminists, who included early women doctors, framed their

____________________
1
I have found two theses especially helpful in providing a general contextual framework for women within the wider profession: Mary Ann Elston, "Women Doctors in the Health Services: A Sociological Study of their Careers and Opportunities" (unpubl. Ph.D., University of Leeds, 1986); Diana Palmer, "Women, Health and Politics", 1919- 1939. Professional and Lay Involvement in Women's Health Campaigns, (unpubl. Ph.D., University of Warwick, 1986).
2
P. Jalland (ed.), The Autobiograpky of Octavia Wilberforce ( 1989), 99-101.
3
The insights of the thesis by K. J. Rowold, on "The Academic Woman: Minds, Bodies, and Education in Britain and Germany c. 1860-c. 1914" (University of London Ph.D. thesis, 1996), informs this paragraph.
4
L. Tait, "The Medical Education of Women", Birmingham Medical Review, 18 ( 1874), 84. Tait later changed his mind on this issue.

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The Evolution of British General Practice 1850-1948
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgements vii
  • Contents ix
  • List of Plates, Maps, and Figures xi
  • List of Tables xiii
  • Abbreviations xiv
  • 1 - Constructing General Practice 1
  • PART I - Careers 21
  • 3 - Recruitment, Education, and Training 40
  • 4 - Reinventing Roles 66
  • PART II - In Practice 91
  • The Medical Market 93
  • 6 - Organizing A Practice 126
  • 7 - Women Practitioners 154
  • 8 - Medical Investigation and Treatment 187
  • 9 - Patients 224
  • PART III - A Wider World 257
  • 10 - Public Duties and Private Lives 259
  • 11 - Generalists, Specialists, and Others 287
  • 12 - National Health Insurance 306
  • 13 - The National Health Service 325
  • Select Bibliography 343
  • Index of Medical Names 365
  • General Index 369
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