3 Women in medicine: doctors and nurses, 1850–1920
Women have always cared for the sick. They have nursed family members within the home and worked as nurses, healers and midwives within the community. In the eighteenth century, a few women worked as ‘doctresses’ and ‘surgeonesses’, having received some form of training similar to male practitioners. However, when formal medical training began to be developed in hospitals and medical schools in the early nineteenth century, women were not admitted. Thus they were excluded from the ranks of the medical profession. It was not until the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, after a long and often bitter struggle, that women gained access to formal medical training. But even after this barrier had been crossed, women still encountered difficulties in pursuing a career as a doctor.