Forgotten Healers: Women and the Pursuit of Health in Late Renaissance Italy

Forgotten Healers: Women and the Pursuit of Health in Late Renaissance Italy

by Sharon T. Strocchia


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A new history uncovers the crucial role women played in the great transformations of medical science and health care that accompanied the Italian Renaissance.

In Renaissance Italy women played a more central role in providing health care than historians have thus far acknowledged. Women from all walks of life—from household caregivers and nurses to nuns working as apothecaries—drove the Italian medical economy. In convent pharmacies, pox hospitals, girls’ shelters, and homes, women were practitioners and purveyors of knowledge about health and healing, making significant contributions to early modern medicine.

Sharon Strocchia offers a wealth of new evidence about how illness was diagnosed and treated, whether by noblewomen living at court or poor nurses living in hospitals. She finds that women expanded on their roles as health care providers by participating in empirical work and the development of scientific knowledge. Nuns, in particular, were among the most prominent manufacturers and vendors of pharmaceutical products. Their experiments with materials and techniques added greatly to the era’s understanding of medical care. Thanks to their excellence in medicine urban Italian women had greater access to commerce than perhaps any other women in Europe.

Forgotten Healers provides a more accurate picture of the pursuit of health in Renaissance Italy. More broadly, by emphasizing that the frontlines of medical care are often found in the household and other spaces thought of as female, Strocchia encourages us to rethink the history of medicine.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780674241749
Publisher: Harvard
Publication date: 12/17/2019
Series: I Tatti Studies in Italian Renaissance History , #24
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 701,007
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

About the Author

Sharon T. Strocchia is Professor of History at Emory University. Her research focuses on the social and cultural history of Renaissance Italy, gender and sexuality in early modern Europe, and the history of health and medicine. She is the author of Nuns and Nunneries in Renaissance Florence, which won the Marraro Prize for the best book on Italian history from the American Catholic Historical Association.

Table of Contents

List of Figures ix

A Note on Dates and Currency xi

Introduction 1

1 The Politics of Health at the Early Medici Court 14

2 Gifts of Health 50

Medical Exchanges between Court and Convent

3 The Business of Health 85

Convent Pharmacies in Renaissance Italy

4 Agents of Health 130

Nun Apothecaries and Ways of Knowing

5 Restoring Health 179

Care and Cure in Renaissance Pox Hospitals


Abbreviations 227

Notes 229

Bibliography 289

Acknowledgments 319

Index 323

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