A History of Women Doctors

By Tim Lambert

Early Women Doctors

There were women doctors in Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece. There were also women doctors in the Roman Empire. One famous woman doctor was Antiochis of Tlos. She lived in what is now Turkey in the First Century. Another famous woman doctor was Metrodora. She wrote a textbook called On the Diseases and Cures of Women.

In the Middle Ages, there were women doctors in France and Italy. (For instance, Trota of Salerno, who lived about 1100 was a famous woman doctor and she wrote a famous textbook about medicine). Rebecca Guarna c. 1200 was also a famous doctor. Dorotea Bucca 1360-1436 was a famous physician. Dorotea was a professor of Medicine at the University of Bologna.

There were also female doctors recorded in France in the 13th century. Nuns may also have practiced medicine.

A famous abbess, Hildegard of Bingen wrote two famous books about medicine, Physica and Causae et Curae. But women were, generally ‘squeezed out’ during the Renaissance.

The only record of women doctors in Medieval England was in the 13th century when two women doctors called Solicita and Matilda were recorded in Hertfordshire.

In 16th and 17th century England normally only men were doctors. However, some women practiced medicine, although they could be prosecuted for doing so. In 1586 a woman named Alice Leevers was prosecuted for practicing medicine. but the Lord Chamberlain intervened. She was allowed to carry on practicing but her case was exceptional. Doctors were almost always male. In the late 17th century Elizabeth Moore and Mary Rose were given a license to practice medicine. But it was highly unusual for a woman to be given a license.

Modern Women Doctors

In the 19th century, higher education opened to girls. In the USA the first woman to qualify as a doctor was British-born Elizabeth Blackwell in 1849.

Meanwhile in the USA New England Female Medical College was founded in 1848. Rebecca Lee Crumpler studied there and she became the first African American woman doctor in the USA in 1864. The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania opened on 11 March 1850.

In 1859 Elizabeth Blackwell became the first woman to have her name entered in the British General Medical Council’s medical register. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson followed in 1865.

In 1874 a woman named Sophia Jex-Blake helped found the London School of Medicine for Women. Then, In 1876, in Britain the Medical Act allowed anyone to be registered as a doctor regardless of their gender. In Canada, Emily Stowe became the first woman doctor, in 1880. The first woman doctor in Australia was Emma Constance Stowe, in 1890.

In 1886 Anandibai Gopalrao Joshi became the first Indian woman to obtain a degree in Western medicine. In 1889 Kei Okami became the first Japanese woman to gain a degree in Western medicine.

In 1889 Susan LaFlesche Picotte became the first Native American woman to gain a medical degree.

Meanwhile in the USA Lucy Hobbs Taylor became the first American woman to graduate from a dental college in 1866. In Britain, the first woman to qualify as a dentist was Lilian Lindsay in 1895.