From about 1850, American women physicians won gradual acceptance from male colleagues and the general public, primarily as caregivers to women and children. By 1920, they represented approximately five percent of the profession. But within a decade, their niche in American medicine—women’s medical schools and medical societies, dispensaries for women and children, women’s hospitals, and settlement house clinics—had declined. The steady increase of women entering medical schools also halted, a trend not reversed until the 1960s. Yet, as women’s traditional niche in the profession disappeared, a vanguard of women doctors slowly opened new paths to professional advancement and public health advocacy.
Drawing on rich archival sources and her own extensive interviews with women physicians, Ellen More shows how the Victorian ideal of balance influenced the practice of healing for women doctors in America over the past 150 years. She argues that the history of women practitioners throughout the twentieth century fulfills the expectations constructed within the Victorian culture of professionalism. Restoring the Balance demonstrates that women doctors—collectively and individually—sought to balance the distinctive interests and culture of women against the claims of disinterestedness, scientific objectivity, and specialization of modern medical professionalism. That goal, More writes, reaffirmed by each generation, lies at the heart of her central question: what does it mean to be a woman physician?
In her probing and meticulous study, Ellen S. More weaves profiles of unsung female doctors into a history that ranges from the 'maternalist' health care initiatives that grew out of the pioneering efforts of Victorian women doctors such as Sarah Adamson Dolley (1829-1909) to the impact of the civil rights and women's movement on the medical profession.
A number of books about women physicians are available, but most focus on the lives of women doctors during the 19th and early 20th centuries. More's book covers these eras, but its real strength lies in its examination of the obstacles women physicians faced in the mid- to late 20th century. More concentrates on the concerns and difficulties these women encountered as they attempted to find a balance between their personal and professional lives. She also surveys the evolution of women's medical societies and looks at women physicians' efforts during the world wars. Perhaps most interesting is her analysis of how these women reconciled the conflicts between traditional values and career goals as they began to gain some level of prestige during the baby boom era.
To tell the story of women in medicine in this country over the last century and a half, More focuses on a few physicians to say something in detail about their lives, work, and the obstacles they overcame. Her emphasis on balance between the roles of women in families and in their profession is a useful one and her focus on the Women's National Association, on women in hospital settings and on the Sheppard Towner Act all make Restoring the Balance stand out from previous books on this subject. Using well chosen examples from the lives of Sarah Dolley, Mary Calderone, and others, More shows how these women responded in different ways to varying personal and social needs. This book has a great deal to say about the process of professionalization of American medicine, from a personal or individual perspective and from an institutional one.
Intelligently conceived and elegantly written, Ellen More's fresh look at the history of women physicians makes an important contribution to the increasingly vibrant field of gender and health care studies. It will appeal to historians and the general reader alike.
Ellen More practices what she preaches. Just as she writes in this book that the history of women in medicine represents a constant search for balance, between personal, community, and professional interests, More balances her own account between wonderful individual stories of medical women's lives and a flowing narrative of the ups and downs of their collective professional history over 150 years. There is lots to learn in this highly readable and highly recommended book.
Restoring the Balance is an exceedingly important and needed study of the history of women in the American medical profession. What is particularly notable is its focus on broad cultural factors that have impeded the work of women physicians, not merely on explicit barriers of entry to the profession. The book also contains important lessons for those who wish to advance the cause of women in medicine today. This is a major contribution to the history of medicine that should prove enduring.
Forget the sentimental claptrap of triumph, tragedy, or the impossibility of 'having it all' for women physicians. Ellen More provides us with a nuanced and fascinating chronicle that interweaves the individual life stories of a diverse sample of women doctors with the institution-building and cultural shifts that have shaped the histories of women physicians over the last century. At last, here is a book that brings the history of medicine and women physicians into the contemporary period, exploring the pressures for separatism, assimilation, maternalist medicine, the differences of racialized experiences, and the modern women's movement in one intriguing, thoughtful, and very readable account.
This scholarly yet accessible work traces the struggle of women physicians to achieve a balance between personal and professional obligations It also exposes the barriers encountered by these women, who were often excluded from hospital staffs, specialty training programs, and medical societies The book is well researched and reverberates with the voices and experiences of remarkable women physicians. The last two chapters are especially relevant to the concerns of women physicians today.
- 2003, Winner of the History of Women in Science Prize
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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