Letter to Ladies, in Favor of Female Physicians
Boston: Published by the [American Medical Education] Society, 1850. First edition. Original stitched and printed wraps with title and price to front and American Medical Education Society Constitution printed to rear. Small loss to foot of spine, and lightly toned overall. Internally unmarked, with occasional offsetting or toning. Complete in 48 pages. A scarce and important example of male doctors using their privilege to advocate for the expansion of respect for women in the field, it has only appeared on three occasions at auction (the same copy twice in 1971 and an additional copy in 1983).
"In the mid-nineteenth century, the term 'female physician' was a derogatory epithet used to describe informally trained women who performed abortions. Until Elizabeth Blackwell earned her medical degree in 1849, there were no licensed woman physicians, only self-taught and lay practitioners, or women who employed folk remedies in their own homes...Even midwives had been supplanted by male obstetricians when the development of forceps gave rise to the field of obstetrics as a medical speciality [ie, requiring a medical degree for practice]" (Clevenger). Women's access to university medical programs was hard won, as was their reentry into family and women centered healthcare careers that had previously been dominated by them. Ultimately, male allies like Dr. Samuel Gregory made women's formal participation in the field possible.
"In 1848, Dr. Samuel Gregory founded the New England Female Medical College in Boston to train midwives and educate woman physicians. Gregory sought to return women to the birthing room out of the conviction that 'the employment of men in midwivery practie is always indelicate, often immoral, and constitutes a serious temptation to immorality'" (Clevenger). Drawing on Victorian assumptions about the delicacy of women as well as observed abuses of power by male doctors against female patients, professionals like Gregory helped gradually shift the needle, increasing women's access to the training now mandated for practice. The present pamphlet, directed at female readers, encourages them to consider entry into such training programs and subsequent careers. He opens the work by positioning himself as their collaborator: "These pages are addressed to you, Ladies, because it is your welfare they were chiefly designed to promote; and upon your influence and aid must depend, in great measure, the success of the object recommended." He urges women to join medical programs despite the stereotypes and hyped claims that seek to deter them; and he acknowledges that a male-only field is indeed a poorer one. "Everyone who is at all acquainted with the subject must be aware that great inconvenience and unnecessary suffering, mental and physical, result from confining this knowledge and these qualifications to male physicians." What follows is a more detailed call to women to tap into their intellects, expand their skills, and bring improvements to areas of healthcare that affect them most. (Item #4105)