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Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers PDF, ePub eBook    Women have always been healers, and medicine has always been an arena of struggle between female practitioners and male professionals. This pamphlet explores two important phases in the male takeover of health care: the suppression of witches in medieval Europe and the rise of the male medical profession in the United States. The authors conclude that despite efforts to    Women have always been healers, and medicine has always been an arena of struggle between female practitioners and male professionals. This pamphlet explores two important phases in the male takeover of health care: the suppression of witches in medieval Europe and the rise of the male medical profession in the United States. The authors conclude that despite efforts to exclude them, the resurgence of women as healers should be a long-range goal of the women’s movement.

30 review for Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ivonne Rovira

    Is Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, first published in 1970, a bit dated? Yes. Does it contain an excellent history of how healing women (who once acted as midwives, yes, but as general healers as well) were first diminished by being deemed witches and then shunted into the supporting role of nurse? Yes, as well. This slim volume still makes for excellent reading, particularly to see how the Church and the emerging physicians’ associations made common cause in keeping wo Is Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers, first published in 1970, a bit dated? Yes. Does it contain an excellent history of how healing women (who once acted as midwives, yes, but as general healers as well) were first diminished by being deemed witches and then shunted into the supporting role of nurse? Yes, as well. This slim volume still makes for excellent reading, particularly to see how the Church and the emerging physicians’ associations made common cause in keeping women in their place.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jen

    I adored this book, especially since the authors included a caveat at the beginning which attempted to neutralize any overly-vehement or one-sided arguments, "...we ... cringe a little at what read now like overstatements and overly militant ways of stating things." From what I've read of Ehrenreich's work, I wonder if more of her books wouldn't be better-served to have this type of warning in the introduction. Nevertheless, I was able to overlook what I thought were glaring omissions. For exampl I adored this book, especially since the authors included a caveat at the beginning which attempted to neutralize any overly-vehement or one-sided arguments, "...we ... cringe a little at what read now like overstatements and overly militant ways of stating things." From what I've read of Ehrenreich's work, I wonder if more of her books wouldn't be better-served to have this type of warning in the introduction. Nevertheless, I was able to overlook what I thought were glaring omissions. For example, the 1910 Flexner report, which revolutionized American medical education at a time when anyone could set up a medical practice or even a school, was surely as the authors contend a devastating influence on blacks and women. Not allowed into the more prestigious schools, those who were black and female and sought a medical career found their schools were almost universally forced to close after the report revealed their education to be sub-standard. And it's undoubtedly true, as the authors claim, that "Flexner and the foundation had no intention of making such training available" to anyone except the wealthy white men who attended the schools which received grants from the Carnegie Corporation by whom Flexner was employed. However, a few sentences about what were assuredly the multitudes of dangerous faith healers, quacks, and other people practicing medicine at the time would have given their argument more credence by making it obvious that the authors were more aware of the complex social environment of the time. It was interesting to note that in Europe, the extensive witch hunts were often targeted at lay healers, usually women, and in this way much of our ancestral herbal knowledge was destroyed. As the authors state so well, "It was witches who developed an extensive understanding of bones and muscles, herbs and drugs, while physicians were still deriving their prognoses from astrology and alchemists were trying to turn lead into gold." The issue of lay healing by women and ultimately midwifery being driven to extinction in America is served especially well. The precedent in Europe for the Church having many motives for ousting lay healers culminates in America, where midwifery, "the last holdout of peoples' medicine," was nearly destroyed: "Midwives were ridiculed as 'hopelessly dirty, ignorant, and incompetent.' Specifically, they were held responsible for the prevalence of puerperal sepsis (uterine infections) and neonatal ophthalmia (blindness due to parental infection with gonorrhea). Both conditions were easily preventable by techniques well within the grasp of the least literate midwife (hand-washing for puerperal sepsis, and eye drops for the ophthalmia.) So the obvious solution for a truly public-spirited obstetrical profession would have been to make the appropriate preventive techniques known and available to the mass of midwives." This is in fact what happened in England, Germany, and most other European nations: Midwifery was upgraded through training to become an established, independent occupation." This rings so true, it is difficult to debate. Especially since just this positive scenario occurred with the midwives on the Farm in Tennessee with the obstetricians who educated and supplied them, contributing to excellent fetal outcomes. The authors claim midwifery was driven out for the purposes of money; 50% of births attended by midwives in 1910, the authors claim, "was an intolerable situation to the newly emerging obstetrical specialty." I am tired of this claim - for all that I am saddened by the history of midwifery, I don't believe obstetricians to be, on a personal level, evil, and I resent the implication that individuals in healing professions can make such selfish decisions so consistently. Maybe I'm an idealist, and maybe I'm incorrect in assuming that obstetrics is a healing profession, but I would hate to be proven wrong. Further research is clearly necessary on my part. I especially appreciated the discussion of class as it related to the hospitalization of childbirth. It seems complicated and is not clearly outlined, but touched on throughout the book, so I'd also like to read more about that. The book does highlight some significant problems I have with second-wave feminism, that is as I understand it the feminism that characterizes "home-making" as a trap for women who should instead be out building careers and keeping up with men. I'm totally in support of that if that's what a woman chooses to do, but in their haste to be free from home and children, second-wave feminists seem to have forgotten or never realized that the beneficiaries of the freedom that they so valiantly won for us might choose, perhaps ignorant of that history, a life of domesticity, and be quite content with it -- while also self-identifying as feminists. As they write, "...feminists of the late-nineteenth century were themselves beginning to celebrate the nurse/mother image of femininity. The American women's movement had given up the struggle for full sexual equality to focus exclusively on the vote, and to get it, they were ready to adopt the most sexist tenets of Victorian ideology: Women needed the vote, they argued, not because they are human, but because they are Mothers. 'Woman is the mother of the race,' gushed Boston feminist Julia War Howe, 'the guardian of its helpless infancy, its earliest teacher, its most zealous champion. Woman is also the homemaker, upon her devolve the details which bless and beautify family life.' And so on in paeans too painful to quote." While I can see that, in an era when homemaking is the only acceptable life for a woman, or only alongside a similar occupation such as nursing or teaching, that could be a nauseating tract to read. However, in my life, free to choose what I wish, I actually find it touching. It does, however, highlight a continued controversy in my mind. Men are clearly capable of being the "mother of the race," as defined above, but clearly birth and breastfeeding imply more involvement of the mother in the early life of the child. Where do we draw the distinction between biologically-determined gender roles and those that are imposed only by our culture? It's a very important question, and I think it can only be resolved on a personal level. I think some of that dilemma is, perhaps unconsciously, addressed later amidst a wildly controversial discussion of the role of the nurse as it developed in the twentieth century. "Healing, in its fullest sense, consists of both curing and caring, doctoring and nursing. The old lay healers of an earlier time had combined both functions, and were valued for both. (For examples [sic], midwives not only presided at the delivery, but lived in until the new mother was ready to resume care of her children.) But with the development of scientific medicine, and the modern medical profession, the two functions were split irrevocably. Curing became the exclusive province of the doctor; caring was relegated to the nurse." The split of the role of healer into superior "curer" (doctor) and subordinate "carer" (nurse) mimics the split into gender roles that our society pushes us, aided by our biology. To become whole, to become the healer, carer and curer in all, is similar to becoming a whole person despite gender roles. (As an aside, while I do see some glimmers of truth in their discussion of the history of nursing as a history of women's oppression, I think it deserves a far more nuanced discussion than they gave it.) Lastly, I found this tidbit in their conclusion to be worth remembering: "There is no historically consistent justification for the exclusion of women from healing roles. Witches were attacked [in Europe during the 14th and 15th centuries] for being pragmatic, empirical, and immoral. But in the nineteenth century the rhetoric reversed: women became too unscientific, delicate, and sentimental. The stereotypes change to suit male convenience -- we don't, and there is nothing in our "innate feminine nature" to justify our present subservience." All in all, I find that what the authors state, somewhat apologetically, in the new introduction, to be true: "If some of the sources of our anger now seem quaint, this is only because of works like WMN [Witches, Midwives, and Nurses] and the movement it came out of. No matter how I take issue with their bias, I have to affirm that women who charged forth with such bias blazed the way for women like me. I am thankful, but I hope that the polarization of public opinion that such radicals have fueled has not done more harm than good.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Diana Bogan

    I am a fan of Barbara Ehrenreich's work as well as a fan of midwifery, and so it was with great interest that I picked up this pamphlet. However, I naively expected it to go in depth into the history of midwifery and women healers. I was not anticipating that having been written two years before I was born, the over-riding feminist perspective and thesis of this work. I have never stopped to consider that the nursing profession is a way of oppressing women and keeping them locked into the mother I am a fan of Barbara Ehrenreich's work as well as a fan of midwifery, and so it was with great interest that I picked up this pamphlet. However, I naively expected it to go in depth into the history of midwifery and women healers. I was not anticipating that having been written two years before I was born, the over-riding feminist perspective and thesis of this work. I have never stopped to consider that the nursing profession is a way of oppressing women and keeping them locked into the mothering, nurturing, obedient roles by a ruling class of men. I am not one to read much politically or feminist driven work. So this was a bit out of my comfort zone. Even though I respect both authors and believe they produce work with integrity, the claims in the pamphlet are hard for me to swallow. Rather than dismiss the information, I am the type of person who wants to "see for myself." So this pamphlet is, for me, a gateway to finding more information on the subject before I can really draw any conclusions and before I can probably even fully appreciate this little body of work.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cynda

    The book depicted here is the 1972 first edition, main text and intro. The book I read is the 2010 second edition which has retained the same text but with 2 intros, the 1972 and the 2010. The writers judge the main text to present a succint and an accurate look at women as medical practitioners. However it seems that the writers Barabara Ehrenreich and Dierdre English needed to go back to update their intro to reflect their lower level anger/frustration and to update the professionalization of n The book depicted here is the 1972 first edition, main text and intro. The book I read is the 2010 second edition which has retained the same text but with 2 intros, the 1972 and the 2010. The writers judge the main text to present a succint and an accurate look at women as medical practitioners. However it seems that the writers Barabara Ehrenreich and Dierdre English needed to go back to update their intro to reflect their lower level anger/frustration and to update the professionalization of nurses and the increasing number of female doctors. Somewhere between 2003 and 2005, I read Woman as Healer (1990) by Jeanne Achterberg--effectively an update to Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers I am now interested in finding a more current book about female medical pracitioners. If anyone has a suggestion, I will consider it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    This pamphlet obviously has some dated info. The statistics about male to female med school ratios are laughable in our time where numbers have largely equalized. Still, one of the main reasons I did not choose medical school as my own entry into healthcare is the ongoing if not out right patriarchy of medicine then at least its overbearing paternalism. I don’t think the answer necessarily will come from direct reform of the professional role of physician as much as it will come from the diversi This pamphlet obviously has some dated info. The statistics about male to female med school ratios are laughable in our time where numbers have largely equalized. Still, one of the main reasons I did not choose medical school as my own entry into healthcare is the ongoing if not out right patriarchy of medicine then at least its overbearing paternalism. I don’t think the answer necessarily will come from direct reform of the professional role of physician as much as it will come from the diversification of professionally trained and scientifically competent providers and partners (for instance nurse practitioners!) within the health care system as a whole. I found the examination of witch as medieval healthcare provider as well as the struggle for credibility amongst midwives and other so-called “lay” practitioners in America to be fascinating examinations of the oppression of women, women’s health care, and female providers from a feminist perspective. However, I wish these statements and sources had been better cited. This is a pamphlet not an academic paper and there is a bibliography at the end, but I think more thorough and systematic citations would lend the report more credibility. Lastly, nurses… I disagree with some of the authors interpretation of the profession of nurse as a means of enforcing upper class ideas of ladyhood on working class women, putting them in the role of subservience to male doctors that mirrored domestic subservience to a male patriarch. Yes, nursing history is tainted by this notion of subservience, and well into the 20th century the relationship of nurse to doctor was one of dominance with nurses giving up their seats to doctors on hospital floors, something that is laughably absent on any hospital floor I have worked on today. I also know very little about Florence Nightingale, so I guess I can’t really speak about her with complete accuracy. I read a young-adult biography of her life when I was 10 or 11-years old, and other than that I really only have secondhand knowledge acquired by being in a profession that universally loves Nightingale. And I have to say my bias is towards admiring her not criticizing her. The authors state that she held up the ideal of nurse as lady. A caregiver, not a medical professional based in scientific practice. Anyone who has a passing knowledge of Nightingale’s later work in epidemiology knows this cannot be true. Her lasting influence in public health and hygiene are based in science in a time before such things as antibiotics made cures commonplace. Her rhetoric on nursing as a profession may be politically influenced by the world she lived in where women were not respected for intellect. Her desire to create a credible, as well as viable profession in the Victorian system had to work within such ridiculous notions such as separate spheres for men and women that I do not believe can be judged by today’s feminist morality (or perhaps I should say second-wave feminist morality). The authors cite Victorian suffragette writings on why women should have the right to vote as having similar rhetoric placing women on a pedestal of kindness, gentility, and maternal morality that would guide them when voting. Such notions are absurd by today’s standards, but early advancement of women and opportunities outside the home such as nursing and teaching often sprung to life within notions of womanhood at the time and provided real opportunities for women that became the stepping stones for the 20th century Women's movement. I think it belittles the history of women and feminism to play down the professional origins of nursing as just another role that confined women to a certain sphere. Nursing provided a very real opportunity outside the home that has created an avenue for economic independence and personal pride for centuries. It has moved well beyond the role of subservience and certainly continuing to harp on notions of “lady hood” is a part of why the profession continues to have a low number of men even as areas such as education have gained more male members. Perhaps it is time to stop thinking about why there is a health care role that is supposedly stereotypically “female” and to look at what it is about men that keeps them out of the profession. Because a good nurse focuses on patient centered care, holistic approaches to a person’s whole health picture (not just modern “heroic” medical procedures), and patient education and empowerment. Is this too “feminine” to apply to men? I don’t think it is an issue with nursing so much as it represents a crisis among male hyper-reactivity to feminist advances in the 20th Century. From a 2012 perspective, the lack of male nurses is not a problem with nursing, it is a problem with the definition of what is “masculine” and the increasingly restrictive “spheres” that men are allowed to reside in.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Tamara Agha-Jaffar

    Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English traces the systematic and systemic persecution of women as healers beginning with the witch-hunt craze of the 14th through 17th centuries up to the early 20th Century. As Ehrenreich and English demonstrate, women have always been healers, primarily healers of women and the poor. But their journey has been fraught with peril. For over five centuries they faced a systematic, two-pronged attack on the Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers by Barbara Ehrenreich and Deirdre English traces the systematic and systemic persecution of women as healers beginning with the witch-hunt craze of the 14th through 17th centuries up to the early 20th Century. As Ehrenreich and English demonstrate, women have always been healers, primarily healers of women and the poor. But their journey has been fraught with peril. For over five centuries they faced a systematic, two-pronged attack on their vocation: first from the church and then from the male-dominated medical profession. The number of women in Europe who were tortured, burned at the stake, or executed by the Protestant and Catholic churches over a period of three centuries is staggering. By some estimates it is in the millions. These women were accused of any number of crimes: consorting with the devil; committing sexual crimes against men (including causing male impotency and making their penises “disappear”); committing murder; distributing poison. They were even persecuted for using their knowledge of human anatomy and medicinal herbs and remedies to heal and help the sick! As Ehrenreich and English point out, there has not been a consistent justification for shunting women from healing roles. As we moved toward the 20th Century, the establishment of medicine as a profession requiring university training further diminished the role of women as healers since women were denied access to university. Forced out of the role of healers, women adopted the supporting role of nurses. As such, they manifested the “wifely virtue of absolute obedience” to the doctor, and the “selfless devotion of a mother” to the patient. Even though the situation for women in the medical profession has improved since its publication (the 1970s), Witches, Midwives and Nurses: A History of Women Healers is still well worth reading because it illuminates how two powerful forces systematically and consistently colluded for many centuries in ejecting women from their role as healers and replacing them with male physicians. Highly recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Joana

    This was quite an interesting read for a non-feminist, 21st century medical student. From 1972, Barbara and Deirdre bring us an academic, synthesized approach to the History of female health professionals. It is quite obvious that women have always been the cornerstone of the medical arts, but for some obscure reason have never been regarded as so. In the dark ages, we called them witches, inferior to the rational knowledge of physicians and sought out feverishly, for even when their treatments This was quite an interesting read for a non-feminist, 21st century medical student. From 1972, Barbara and Deirdre bring us an academic, synthesized approach to the History of female health professionals. It is quite obvious that women have always been the cornerstone of the medical arts, but for some obscure reason have never been regarded as so. In the dark ages, we called them witches, inferior to the rational knowledge of physicians and sought out feverishly, for even when their treatments were successful, the Malleus Maleficarum classified them as pure evil, thus protecting the medical class from any competition. In fact, what was labeled as superstitious was the basis of the empiric method we still use in some therapies; and what was called perverse might have been the first attempts at physical examinations, since the doctors even feared touching the patient for too long, dissecting was considered a crime and medical studies were dedicated to ancient history, astronomy and theology. Then it came the time for the midwives, restrained to child-bearing assistance, since too much knowledge was said to interfere with a woman’s fertility. And politics crept in to keep women from going to medical schools – the course was extended so that only the higher classes could afford to and younger women felt divided between starting a family or a career (this is where it starts sounding familiar). Moreover, even after graduating, women couldn’t perform as physicians since no hospital would take in a female intern. Finally, Florence Nightingale spreads nursing schools through the country, educating docile, submissive housemaids that History has baptized as the first nurses. Indeed, this was quite a surprise to me – for a woman that conquered so much, I didn’t expect Nightingale to be so determined to keep nurses as assisting maids, heeding to the doctor’s every order, with no scientific knowledge whatsoever. But certainly it was the beginning of a new era, nursing is now more than cleaning and feeding, it is a vast study. Presently, I can say medical schools are attended by more young women than men but I think such a long history of male supremacy in this profession has left its marks and they won’t fade for a long time.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Dana Stabenow

    Ehrenreich writes an introduction for this reprint of a 1973 classic, and as she says ...we have to remind ourselves that WMN was written in a blaze of anger and indignation. This book was contemporaneous with Our Bodies, Ourselves, the feminist text on the female body. It enlightened a generation of women who until then had taken elective hysterectomies and automatic mastectomies for granted, both money-making procedures for the mostly male doctors who populated the medical profession by design. Ehrenreich writes an introduction for this reprint of a 1973 classic, and as she says ...we have to remind ourselves that WMN was written in a blaze of anger and indignation. This book was contemporaneous with Our Bodies, Ourselves, the feminist text on the female body. It enlightened a generation of women who until then had taken elective hysterectomies and automatic mastectomies for granted, both money-making procedures for the mostly male doctors who populated the medical profession by design. Ehrenreich sounds a little rueful above, but I'm still pissed. Five years before this second edition was published, Grey's Anatomy debuted on ABC, with a female doctor lead and a large, mostly female supporting cast who are all doctors, too. I wonder if Ehrenreich and the authors of Our Bodies, Ourselves watch it, and what they think if they do.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Amena

    Reading the history of women healers and the development of the medical profession was fascinating. However, I was surprised at the authors' conclusions on the nursing profession at present. The authors state, 'The drive to professionalize nursing is, at best, a flight from the reality of sexism in the health system.'...a completely absurd statement and a very outdated perspective. It is truly a profession that requires skill and intelligence, in addition to showing compassion and 'nurturing ten Reading the history of women healers and the development of the medical profession was fascinating. However, I was surprised at the authors' conclusions on the nursing profession at present. The authors state, 'The drive to professionalize nursing is, at best, a flight from the reality of sexism in the health system.'...a completely absurd statement and a very outdated perspective. It is truly a profession that requires skill and intelligence, in addition to showing compassion and 'nurturing tendencies'. It is a fine, delicate balance. One that should be celebrated and applauded by feminists.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    For a rather academic text, this is an easy read. It's organized in short chapters, (it's only 48 pages total), and lays out historical events in a clear narrative. It's dry, but you'll get an infuriating picture of how classism and sexism helped ruin our healthcare system and how the medical profession reinforces that classism and sexism. You'll also get more evidence that Barbara Ehrenreich is bad-ass.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Renée Yoxon

    From the perspective of a patient in the medical system today, I really enjoyed reading this and I would be really interested in reading some of the sources in the bibliography. I would be curious what today's nurses and women doctors think about some of the conclusions. I wonder how they hold up after 50 years.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kaitlin

    A nice essay, but quite dated and opinionated at times. I wish there were an updated essay on this topic, as the authors note some information has since been proven incorrect. I love the topics combined: witches and midwives and nurses oh my! As a nurse and lover of midwifery with a huge interest in witches, I was expecting more cohesiveness. A good intro. Needs revision with more references.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Nick Klagge

    I read this after seeing mention of it in a cool Lithub profile of the radical bookstore Firestorm Books in Asheville, NC, in which the owners mentioned it was their best-selling title in 2018. The owners compared it to a simpler version of Federici's "Caliban and the Witch," which I have been interested in reading, but which isn't available from either of the libraries I use regularly--so I checked this out from the library instead. It's quite short, more of a pamphlet than a book, really. I rea I read this after seeing mention of it in a cool Lithub profile of the radical bookstore Firestorm Books in Asheville, NC, in which the owners mentioned it was their best-selling title in 2018. The owners compared it to a simpler version of Federici's "Caliban and the Witch," which I have been interested in reading, but which isn't available from either of the libraries I use regularly--so I checked this out from the library instead. It's quite short, more of a pamphlet than a book, really. I read the recent re-issue edition from The Feminist Press at CUNY, which has an interesting foreword by the authors reflecting on the genesis of the book and the circumstances of its publication. I thought this alone was worth reading--it was a fascinating window onto the women's health movement of the early 1970s (which produced the famous "Our Bodies, Ourselves") and the grassroots efforts of a couple of college teachers who scraped together what information they could find and self-published a pamphlet that they distributed in diaper boxes. Although Ehrenreich and English acknowledge, in the foreword, some weaknesses and inaccuracies in their original analysis--likely inevitable given the extremely limited scholarship available at the time--overall they say they are surprised at how well the analysis has held up over the ensuing decades. Their primary argument is a class- and gender-based analysis of the process, in Western Europe and the US, by which society removed recognition of the medical expertise of traditional healers (who were largely women) and limited it to professionally-recognized men (who were almost all men), and in the process created the gendered and (at least originally) de-skilled role of nurse. In particular, they set out to dispute the just-so story that traditional healers were people of unscientific superstition ("old wives' tales"), who were replaced by professionals when scientific medicine came along. In fact, E&E argue, the "professionalization" of medicine and stigmatization of traditional healers began, and was largely completed, long before medicine developed any real scientific character--while it was still the domain of leeches and the four humors. Furthermore, they argue that traditional healers were at least quasi-scientific in the sense of being empirical, as contrasted to the ineffective theoretical ideas of contemporaneous professionals--and in fact, for this reason, were perceived as a threat to the church, which favored theistic ideas around illness and recovery. I'm clearly in no place to judge the arguments independently, but they struck me as very believable. Things have improved a lot since the era of the book's publication, both in terms of the representation of women in medicine, and the availability of information about women's bodies and health. But the legacy has by no means been erased, as is obvious from current articles about biases in diagnosis and treatment of women's pain, maternal morbidity in the United States, and racial biases in health care delivery. This book is, I think, a good example of history as a radical discipline. We can see, from a sufficient remove, the obvious injustices and biases of both the historical era under study and the one in which it was written. Reflecting on these should lead us to think more carefully about current injustices and biases that we may otherwise be quick to dismiss or disinclined to confront.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Michelle

    This book managed to piss me off with its shoddy scholarship. It read as one long thesis statement with little evidence to back it up. There were only 17 books in the bibliography for a pamphlet that was supposed to span Middle Ages to the 1970s. Objective language is thrown out the window and history is given a value-judgment without much struggle in arriving at that value-judgment. The historian, whether feminist or not, will cringe at some of the value-laden words used in this small pamphlet. This book managed to piss me off with its shoddy scholarship. It read as one long thesis statement with little evidence to back it up. There were only 17 books in the bibliography for a pamphlet that was supposed to span Middle Ages to the 1970s. Objective language is thrown out the window and history is given a value-judgment without much struggle in arriving at that value-judgment. The historian, whether feminist or not, will cringe at some of the value-laden words used in this small pamphlet. I do have strong feelings about history, most of them the same as English and Ehrenreich. But the way I see it, my job is to try and immerse myself in a former culture and then, when out again, understand that I am subject to historiography and write with that understanding. To write with self-awareness, not self-righteousness. I love history, I'm a feminist, and I have enjoyed some of Ehrenreich's previous works. I picked this book up at a booksale, hoping to read about the very rich history of women healers and midwives. Instead of reading about empowered women, taking power back when they could in difficult circumstances, I read about how men took all the power away. My grandmother was a midwife in the early 1900's. I heard her stories and remember being awed as a little girl. She knew so much! And she was so stoic, so many secrets. She'd seen so much. She did later become a nurse for Sacred Heart. According to the book the midwives were empowered and the nurses were an extension of sexism. How could my grandma be both? I just don't think that's the only word on the story and I was so disappointed to read this book and hear the flat, good/bad, man/woman simplistic thesis statement. Maybe the authors should have taken a single portion of the history they overviewed and focused on just that, with double the primary documents and double the secondary sources. They could have given the midwives and nurses so much more form and character, given those incredible women bone in our modern day. I want to read that book! I did not enjoy this pamphlet. It pissed me off.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Oriyah Nitkin

    Although I'm pretty well-versed in the history of obstetric care in the US, this pamphlet gave somewhat of a broader societal context and analysis of how this came to be. It's amazing to see how far women have come in society since this text was written, but at the same time, how much work still needs to be done, and what valuable knowledge was lost to us due to the oppression and suppression of women as healers in times past. There was a blatant "feminist theorizing" flavor to the book. As a fe Although I'm pretty well-versed in the history of obstetric care in the US, this pamphlet gave somewhat of a broader societal context and analysis of how this came to be. It's amazing to see how far women have come in society since this text was written, but at the same time, how much work still needs to be done, and what valuable knowledge was lost to us due to the oppression and suppression of women as healers in times past. There was a blatant "feminist theorizing" flavor to the book. As a feminist, I somewhat relate, but am also wary to a degree, as at times the authors take an overly dramatic approach. "...[the feminist movement]...did not challenge nursing as an oppressive female role. In fact, feminists of the late 19th century were themselves beginning to celebrate the nurse/mother image of femininity. The American women's movement had given up the struggle for full sexual equality to focus exclusively on the vote, and to get it, they were ready to adopt the most sexist tenets of Victorian ideology: Women need the vote...because they are mothers..."Women is the mother of the race," gushed Boston feminist Julia Ward Howe, "...Woman is also the homemaker, upon her devolve the details which bless and beautify family life." And so on in paeans too painful to quote." (p.38.) I suppose if I felt that women were still engaged in a major day to day life struggle for equality, I might consider such statements painful, but the authors' statements are, for me, difficult to relate to.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Steph (thebookfox)

    A paper originally produced in 1973 which charts women as healers through history, from witches/cunning women to midwives, to the formation of the modern medical profession (in the US) and women’s place within it. Really interesting and insightful, more so because of the 2010 introduction with some revisions and updates by the authors. Makes it clear that medicine and healing have been legally and systematically taken out of women’s hands (and those of working class people and people of colour) A paper originally produced in 1973 which charts women as healers through history, from witches/cunning women to midwives, to the formation of the modern medical profession (in the US) and women’s place within it. Really interesting and insightful, more so because of the 2010 introduction with some revisions and updates by the authors. Makes it clear that medicine and healing have been legally and systematically taken out of women’s hands (and those of working class people and people of colour) at various times in history, usually to the detriment of poorer people. It’s pretty scary stuff reading the original 1970s text and discovering that at that time nurses were still taught how to apply makeup as part of their training.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Aviva

    This book was written when I was a preschooler, and it just boggles my mind what a different world it was back then. My mother has said that she started college studying pharmacology but after a year or two her father told her it was time to get serious and her career options were to be a nurse (as her SIL did) or be a teacher, which she chose and then hated. I would be very interested in learning more of the history of women healers, as the subtitle of this book says it is, but this felt much m This book was written when I was a preschooler, and it just boggles my mind what a different world it was back then. My mother has said that she started college studying pharmacology but after a year or two her father told her it was time to get serious and her career options were to be a nurse (as her SIL did) or be a teacher, which she chose and then hated. I would be very interested in learning more of the history of women healers, as the subtitle of this book says it is, but this felt much more political for the then-modern day than a true history. I had to keep reminding myself that I had greatly benefited from what these and other feminists fought for and that many things I take for granted would be very different if they hadn't taken on these causes.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Waverly Fitzgerald

    Another book I'm reading while researching the English Civil War. I read it long ago when it was first published and it was an amazing revelation. Since then some of the assertions have been questioned but the essential premise is still stunning and provides lots of food for thought as I'm writing about a woman working as a healer in the 17th century. The focus is on how university-educated male physicians worked to suppress the wisdom of women working with other women, particularly as midwives Another book I'm reading while researching the English Civil War. I read it long ago when it was first published and it was an amazing revelation. Since then some of the assertions have been questioned but the essential premise is still stunning and provides lots of food for thought as I'm writing about a woman working as a healer in the 17th century. The focus is on how university-educated male physicians worked to suppress the wisdom of women working with other women, particularly as midwives but also as healers, and expert users of plant medicine based on practical applications, and possibly of prayers and charms, as effective magic. I wish there were better footnotes.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Pat

    Way more a treatise than anything, this little booklet appeared early-ish in Ehrenreich's career, clearly indicating the direction she would take as a critic of contemporary society. Excellent critique of the history of (mostly Western) healing. 5 stars for content and criticism. If you're not into feminist critique, don't bother. Her essay "Welcome to Cancerland," though, is an eye-opener for all women with breasts This history of women healers provides a rock-solid foundation for understanding Way more a treatise than anything, this little booklet appeared early-ish in Ehrenreich's career, clearly indicating the direction she would take as a critic of contemporary society. Excellent critique of the history of (mostly Western) healing. 5 stars for content and criticism. If you're not into feminist critique, don't bother. Her essay "Welcome to Cancerland," though, is an eye-opener for all women with breasts This history of women healers provides a rock-solid foundation for understanding the health care delivery system and its consumers.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sara

    A quick read that summarizes things that I've heard/read/intuited/somehow learned before, with additional elaboration and actual dates and times - tells the story of the Goddess-worshipping women that the men of the Catholic Church were so afraid of, with their healing powers and lack of sexual shame - and how that battle between ideologies and genders has been carried through today. Amazingly timely, considering it was written quite a while ago - unfortunately. It shows the inherent unease in t A quick read that summarizes things that I've heard/read/intuited/somehow learned before, with additional elaboration and actual dates and times - tells the story of the Goddess-worshipping women that the men of the Catholic Church were so afraid of, with their healing powers and lack of sexual shame - and how that battle between ideologies and genders has been carried through today. Amazingly timely, considering it was written quite a while ago - unfortunately. It shows the inherent unease in the marriage of nurse with midwife - the balancing between worlds, the struggle.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jessica

    Funny story about how I came to own an original copy of this. The women's center at my alma mater was dismantled, sad story, and all of the books were left out in the campus center. I was looking through and thought this was of interest. I didn't pick it up until about 5 years later when I was doing research on childbirth and picked up For Her Own Good and read the introduction and realized that For Her Own Good is an expanded version of this pamphlet.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    A brief feminist treatment of the history of medicine. Its claims are astounding and illuminating. I see lots of room for future historians and writers to develop a lot of the themes raised in this volume.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Alyssa Foll

    This book is a bit dated now (written in the 1970’s) but I did appreciate the new introductory chapter written by the authors in 2010. One thing is for certain, though: sexism and classism have been problems in medicine for centuries. I will enjoy doing further reading on this topic.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Liz

    Although I would have liked more specific information on women's roles as lay healers and why they were lay healers (as opposed to men), I really enjoyed this book. I love learning about forgotten women's history, and this is, of course, a very important chapter. :D

  25. 5 out of 5

    Grant

    Very interesting, would like to see a modern update

  26. 4 out of 5

    Dodie

    A quick read and a good introduction to the feminist health care. Though I would like to see a modern update.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Very strange and interesting historical synopsis. Less is focused on nurses but like the author, who has written Nickel and Dimed which is a life changing book about the less-employed in US

  28. 5 out of 5

    G. Lawrence

    A short, but interesting read

  29. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I stumbled across this title online, and, given my interests and reading habits, I was definitely interested right away. I definitely had an idea of what to expect, which was admittedly not this. I was expecting a sort of thorough look into women healers in earlier history. I didn't actually see the page count. I was pretty surprised when I finally put the book on hold with the library to see that it is quite a slim volume, and originally written before my mother was born. This is not to say I w I stumbled across this title online, and, given my interests and reading habits, I was definitely interested right away. I definitely had an idea of what to expect, which was admittedly not this. I was expecting a sort of thorough look into women healers in earlier history. I didn't actually see the page count. I was pretty surprised when I finally put the book on hold with the library to see that it is quite a slim volume, and originally written before my mother was born. This is not to say I was disappointed. I have read a fairly limited amount of feminist nonfiction from the second wave, so it was interesting to see that this was from that time. As a feminist, feminist literature is something I am always hungry to read more of. As a disabled/chronically ill woman, I have been interested in reading more in the way of nonfiction books about health and health movements. This book gave me both. Examining history in this way is important to me personally, so I found this to be a fascinating read. It did make for an interesting introduction to certain topics. While some of the claims made are obviously outdated, the second edition introduction addresses those concerns with corrections and a list of new sources. I definitely found this book to be informative and useful. It was an interesting look into social attitudes surrounding women's health and women as doctors. It definitely made me interested in reading more in-depth on the subject. I recommend it for anyone interested in the subject, or interested in reading second-wave feminist nonfiction concerned with health and class issues.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Genevieve

    Quick, informative read on history of sexism racism and classism in the medical field. A good primer.

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