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The Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

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?NO WOMEN NEED APPLY.? These four discouraging words of admonition often greeted female physicians looking for jobs in the frontier-era West. Despite the dire need for medical help, it seemed most trappers, miners, and emigrants would rather suffer and die than be treated by a female doctor. Nevertheless dozens of highly trained women headed West, where they endured hardship and prejudice as they set broken limbs, performed operations, delivered generations of babies?and solidified a place for women in the medical field. Susan La Flesche, the
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Doctor Wore Petticoats: Women Physicians of the Old West

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“NO WOMEN NEED APPLY.” These four discouraging words of admonition often greeted female physicians looking for jobs in the frontier-era West. Despite the dire need for medical help, it seemed most trappers, miners, and emigrants would rather suffer and die than be treated by a female doctor. Nevertheless dozens of highly trained women headed West, where they endured hardship and prejudice as they set broken limbs, performed operations, delivered generations of babies—and solidified a place for women in the medical field. Susan La Flesche, the youngest daughter of an Omaha Indian Chief, felt called to medicine when at the age of twelve she saw a woman die because a government-paid doctor was too busy hunting prairie chickens to help. Destitute divorcee Bethenia Owens Adair traded in laundry work for a successful medical practice. Flora Hayward Stanford, the first female doctor in Deadwood, was known to patch up gunfight victims and to treat the likes of Buffalo Bill Cody and Calamity Jane. With a determination and strength of spirit that resonates even today, these incredible women and seven others profiled in The Doctor Wore Petticoats are sure to inspire.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
A New York Times Bestseller
For this gem, Chris Enss combines two fields of expertise?—?frontier lore and women's history. Her straightforward presentation speaks volumes about gender prejudice and limited expectations for professional women in the 19th century. The daily work demands of sterilizing equipment, measuring dosages on a balance beam scale, and traveling the outback to visit patients attest to the persistence of care givers dedicated to health. Enhancing the humanity of female physicians are individual accounts of rejection from medical colleges, deaths of husbands and children, patients debilitated by malnutrition, and payment scraped together in fresh vegetables, eggs, and wool. Essential to the text are citations from letters and diaries. A bibliography directs the researcher, teacher, student, and general reader to additional sources on women's advancement in the professions. KLIATT Codes: J—Recommended for junior high school students. 2006, Globe Pequot, 125p. illus. bibliog., Ages 12 to 15.
—Mary Ellen Snodgrass
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780762735662
  • Publisher: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
  • Publication date: 3/1/2006
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 144
  • Sales rank: 635,107
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.38 (d)

Meet the Author

Chris Enss
Chris Enss, an award-winning screen writer who has written for television, short subject films, live performances, and for the movies, is the author of Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, How the West Was Worn: Bustles and Buckskins on the Wild Frontier, and Buffalo Gals: Women of Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show. She is also the co-author (with JoAnn Chartier) of Love Untamed: True Romances Stories of the Old West, Gilded Girls: Women Entertainers of the Old West, and She Wore A Yellow Ribbon: Women Patriots and Soldiers of the Old West. The Cowboy and the Senorita and Happy Trails she co-wrote with Howard Kazanjian. Enss has done everything from stand-up comedy to working as a stunt person at the Old Tucson Movie Studio. She learned the basics of writing for film and television at the University of Arizona and is currently working with "Return of the Jedi" producer Howard Kazanjian on the movie version of The Cowboy and the Senorita, their biography of western stars Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
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Read an Excerpt

Eliza Cook: Nevada's First Woman Doctor
Prejudice against women in medicine flourished in 19th Century America. "We hope never to see the day", declared a medical journal of 1867, "when female character shall be so completely unsexed, as to fit it for the disgusting duties which imperatively devolve upon one who would attain proficiency, or even respectability, in the healing art." In other words, doctoring was man's work, too nasty and too intimate for the delicate sensibilities of true womanhood. Even if a woman was thick-skinned, resourceful and persistent enough to earn a degree, people still doubted her capabilities. A woman doctor, even more than a man, had to prove herself, and after she did, most of her practice was confined to women patients.
By the late 1800s, a fair number of women were entering the medical arena in the West, but they had a long way to go before they could overcome the prejudice of their male counterparts. Female students at Johns Hopkins could examine men only from the neck up. The hostility directed at "unnatural" women invading this male realm was palpable, ranging from hissing and curses to outright sabotage.
In the 1890s Dr. M. Cary Thomas requested permission to attend a class at johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. She dared to tread where no other woman had been allowed. She was accepted only on the condition that she sit behind a screen. Later Dr. Thomas became president of Bryn Mawr College.
Dr. Eliza Cook also dared to walk the path of prejudice to enter a "man's field." Eliza became Nevada's first woman doctor in 1884, and she successfully practiced medicine in Carson Valley for over 40 years.
Eliza Cook was born on February 5, 1856, in Salt Lake City and moved to the Carson Valley with her mother and sister in 1870. They lived with Eliza's uncle who had settled near Sheridan.When her mother died, Eliza, who had always been interested in medicine, became a nurse to Dr. H. H. Smith of Genoa. He was so impressed with the young woman's skill and ability in the care of the ill that he encouraged her to study medicine. Eliza became his assistant as well as his student, and, with the doctor's help, she was accepted at the Cooper School of Medicine in San Francisco. The college later became part of Stanford University.
In 1884, at the age of 28, Eliza received her medical degree. She had completed the customary two years of study required at that time and returned home to practice.
Doctors were scarce in the 1800s, especially in the large sprawling Carson Valley where freezing winter storms frequently pounded the Sierra. The erect figure of Dr. Cook, and her black buggy, soon became a welcome sight throughout the area. No matter how late the hour or how far she had travel, the dedicated doctor answered the call to attend the needs of the ill and injured. She traveled ice roads, fought blizzards, and crossed flooded rivers to complete her rounds and care for her patients. Late at night, returning home cold and weary, Eliza could always tell the time by the lights shining in the windows of the various ranches in the valley. She had traveled the area so many times that she knew the habits of each family.
On many occasions, Dr. Cook was summoned by a frantic husband to deliver a baby. When she had completed her professional duties Eliza would return each day for two weeks to bathe the child (she loved babies) and care for the mother. In many instances, Eliza would also help the family by cooking and cleaning until the mother could assume the household chores.
Eliza was a tall, slender woman with dark hair pulled severely back from her intelligent, pretty face. She wore long black coats and dressed with high-stemmed collars adorned by a simple brooch. She called her patients by their first names and was considered a lady who "went along with the times." Eliza often frowned on girls wearing socks instead of stockings, but would shrug her shoulders and say "things change." She was always proper, and when dancing, she was careful to keep a "safe distance" from her partner.
Although Eliza often appeared severe and professional, she was a warm, kind, dedicated person. She was loved by all and affectionately called "Auntie" by her devoted nieces and nephews, as well as the other local children. Many times a sick child would be frightened at the sight of Eliza's dark apparel and black buggy. In order to dispel this fear, Eliza would bake cookies and take them to the children she treated.
Dr. Cook never married; however, she was considered a wonderful homemaker. Her seven-room house, near Mottsville, was set against the backdrop of the Sierra. The large kitchen was the focal point for entertainment.
There she cooked fine food on a tiny three-foot woodstove with an oven that opened on both sides. Dr. Cook had a special cup without handles that she would hold to warm her hands after a cold day of caring for the ill.
Eliza had a deep love of nature and growing things. Her home was surrounded by lovely flowers and behind it there was a large apple orchard that she irrigated and cared for herself. In the autumn the scent of apples stored in her cool pantry filled the air. She made delicious applesauce, apple butter, and preserves that were delivered to her patients and friends. Eliza also crocheted, tatted, and made exquisite lace creations that are carefully wrapped and lovingly kept at the home of her great-grand niece in Gardnerville.
As well as an expert physician, she was also a pharmacist. Dr. Cook set broken limbs with splints she made herself and skillfully prepared prescriptions on a little apothecary scale. It was kept on a table in her dining room where she measured the exact dose of medicinal powders. She would wrap the medication in a small piece of white tissue approximately 4 inches by 5 inches and fold it to an oblong size encasing the powders.
Each dose was numbered, then placed in an envelope with the patient's name, date, and instructions for dispensing. Members of the family saved tissue paper for her home-operated pharmacy. Each piece was carefully sterilized with dry heat and cut to the required size. Eliza was extremely well-read and traveled extensively during her lifetime. She gave frequent lectures and was a respected speaker as well as dedicated doctor. Although Eliza was disciplined and stern in her profession, she was always sympathetic with young people. She would spend hours helping them find out who they were and stressed the importance of doing what they enjoyed. Her many deeds inspired others to become involved in medicine.
In 1894 Eliza Cook became an ardent member of the woman's suffrage movement. In addition to her already heavy schedule, she managed to actively support women's rights, finding the time to lecture and to circulate petitions. Dr. Cook strongly believed there were many injustices in the social system and worked hard to help overcome them.
Eliza practiced medicine for over 40 years in the Carson Valley. In her last years of caring for patients, Eliza put her horse and buggy away and started driving a Model T. She retired in the late 1920s, and many of the babies she delivered during her career still live in the valley.
Death for Dr. Eliza Cook was met with her usual acceptance of life. She passed away quietly, in 1947, at age 91, at home in her own bed. She must have had a premonition that her time was near. Her home was in order and her hands were peacefully folded upon her breast.
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Table of Contents

(1) Introduction (2) Bethenia Owens-Adair (3) Georgia Arbuckle Fix (4) Susan La Flesche Picotte (5) Susan Anderson (6) Nellie Mattie MacKnight (7) Patty Bartlett Sessions (8) Nellie Pooler Chapman and Lucy Hobbs Taylor (9) Mary Canaga Rowland (10) Ellis Reynolds Shipp (11) Franc Johnson Newcomb (12) Flora Hayward Stanford (13) Frontier Medicine (14) Advertisements and Women Physicians (15) Bibliography
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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 21, 2014

    I Also Recommend:

    The Doctors Wore Petticoats is an inspirational book about femal

    The Doctors Wore Petticoats is an inspirational book about female physicians in the Old West. It is well researched and well written. I give it my highest recommendation.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 26, 2014


    This free, non-fiction, 100 page book offers an insight on how hard it was for women to become doctors during the 1800's. This book includes the biography of several of these women practicing medicine in the western part of the United States. Pictures are included, as are some popular, but useless home remedies of this time frame. Some Native American customs and folk lore are also described. This book was perfectly edited and very well written. I found it fascinating and really enjoyed it. For readers, ages 12 and up.


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 28, 2014

    Do not recommend - no substance

    The stories would have been very good if there had been more to them. They were too short and too general. No substance. Would have been better to have fewer stories and more detail.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted February 14, 2014

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted April 14, 2012

    No text was provided for this review.

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