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To the Ends of the Earth: Women's Search for Education in Medicine.

This lively narrative history of European and North American women's struggle for medical education is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the histories of education and medicine as well as to more general questions in women's history. Professor Bonner demonstrates how the different social and economic conditions in Russia, Switzerland, Germany, France, Britain, the United States, and Canada shaped the kinds of training permitted to women and the attitudes towards women's quest for medical degrees.

In 1847, Elizabeth Blackwell was admitted to Geneva Medical School in New York but those who attempted to follow her were informed that her "admission was an experiment, not intended as a precedent" (p. 6): European universities exercised a similar ban on women students until mid-century. Bonner argues that medical education was regarded as too strenuous for women's weaker bodies and minds and many feared the subject itself would destroy women's special sensibilities. This justification will come as no surprise to readers familiar with nineteenth-century notions of femininity. More information about the perceived status of medical education and the kinds of men who studied for the degree in the different countries might have given a richer sense of the particularities of women's exclusion from this profession.

Bonner explores how after mid-century, women did gain admission to some medical schools. The Swiss universities were particularly important because they opened their doors to women on the same basis as men and required only a letter of introduction from foreigners who wished to study. This opportunity was taken by many young Russian women. Their professional training was demanding and even dangerous; eight women who began study in 1872 died of tuberculosis before the year was over. Still, seven hundred women did complete their course of study between 1872-82. Many of these women embraced radical politics and hoped to use their knowledge to further social and political reform in Russia. Indeed, six of the eight women involved in the murder of the Tsar in 1881 had medical training. Many Russians regarded foreign universities as virtual training academics in radical political action. As a result, in 1895 a medical institute for women was founded in St. Petersburg where the state could keep a watchful eye on the students. The curriculum was the same as at the men's institutions and the graduates were to be given the same recognition as men doctors. By 1917, over five thousand women practiced medicine in Russia, a number unrivalled by any other country.

In contrast, British women faced persistent opposition. A number of women's medical schools were established in the second half of the nineteenth century but the facilities and curriculum mere widely regarded as inferior. In 1869, five women gained admission to the University of Edinburgh, noted for its liberal attitudes and sympathetic faculty. One of the women, however, outscored all the other first year students in chemistry, entitling her to a scholarship. When the scholarship was instead awarded to a man, she appealed and journalists, professors, and doctors rushed to comment on the situation. It was said her "ambition and brilliancy put the cause back fifty years" (p. 127).

Bonner also describes the growth of women's medical education in France, Germany, the United States, and Canada and concludes with a comparative assessment of the situation after 1914. He introduces a number of women who valiantly struggled to study medicine despite the barriers and it is a pleasure to read about their achievements.

Bonner does not address the work of historians like Ludmilla Jordanova or Carolyn Merchant on the gendering of scientific knowledge and the vision of woman as the natural object of scientific discovery. This study also does not directly address recent debates in the history of women's education or women's history more generally. For example, a substantial literature on the history of nursing has shown how the profession developed as a distinctly feminine one, where women were trained to defer to male physicians. Bonner does not locate his study within that larger history nor does he actively engage with the historiography. The book's strengths are its comparative, crossnational focus and the author's graceful, readable prose.
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Author:Walker, Pamela J.
Publication:Canadian Journal of History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 1993
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