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Doody's Review ServiceReviewer: Kathleen G. Rawls, RN, BA, MA (Irvine Valley College)
Description: This is a history of American women physicians and their struggle for acceptance in the patriarchal medical profession. First published in 1985, this book has been republished with a new preface reviewing subsequent scholarship on the subject.
Purpose: This book contributes to the field of women's history by using methodologies emerging from the new social history of medicine. It contains an invaluable bibliographic essay on secondary sources.
Audience: The intended audience is historians, women physicians, and the lay public.
Features: This remains an important work on women in medicine because it successfully combines "medicine as an artifact of culture" with "the relationship of women to public and private life." Beginning with colonial women in healthcare, the book outlines the history of the emerging medical profession within the context of changing gender roles in American society. Morantz-Sanchez uses her own experience in a male dominated academic profession to shape her inquiry into the challenges faced by women physicians. Through a study of institutional archives, as well as case studies of representative female doctors such as Elizabeth Blackwell and Mary Putnam Jacobi, the author discusses the strategies employed by women to gain entrance into medicine.
Assessment: Fifteen years after the original publication, some of the issues presented here reflect more "dated" aspects of analysis. For example, the author seems compelled to cast women doctors as "feminists" by virtue of their actions even if some of them eschew feminism. Why women physicians should be seen as feminists is not persuasively explored. Yet, this book ultimately succeeds in demonstrating ways in which women's history has moved beyond the search for feminist role models through a comprehensive analysis of power plays affecting women's advancement in a male dominated profession.