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.

Editorial Reviews


Based on extensive archival research and a wide reading of secondary literature, this clearly written book demonstrates that women played a large role in Italian Renaissance health care.

Sheila Barker

Makes a vital contribution to the history of medicine, gender studies, and Renaissance studies. With plentiful excursuses throughout that reward curiosity with delightful explanations, and lucid and engaging prose, Strocchia showcases the various roles carried out by women in the provision of health care in early modern Italy.

Sandra Cavallo

Impeccably researched and highly readable, Forgotten Healers is the most comprehensive study of early modern women’s involvement in medicine to date. A remarkable book with fresh perspectives that significantly advances our understanding of the distinctive ways of learning and knowing that characterized the early modern age.

Paula Findlen

Beautifully illuminates the many ways in which women acted as medical agents and became medical artisans in Renaissance Florence and beyond. Strocchia’s deeply researched study reveals how Medici women, controversial saintly healers, nun apothecaries, and hospital nurses in an age of syphilis all participated in a political economy of family, faith, health, and charity. Essential reading for anyone interested in gender and medicine in the early modern era.

Judith Brown

This superbly researched and elegantly written study of women’s roles in the pursuit of health in late Renaissance Italy puts women back in the center of medical knowledge and medical practices during a major turning point in European history.

Katharine Park

Forgotten Healers defines medical work to include the activities of people beyond professional physicians and surgeons. This broader understanding of early modern medical knowledge and practice underwrites Strocchia’s powerful rethinking of early modern medicine, making women and women’s contributions not only integral but central.

Journal of Interdisciplinary History - Douglas Biow

One of the best books on the Italian Renaissance in years—at once insightful, illuminating, wide-ranging, and comprehensive…It is also a pleasure to read.

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: 705,015
Product dimensions: 6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

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