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Forgotten Healers

Forgotten Healers

Women and the Pursuit of Health in Late Renaissance Italy

Sharon T. Strocchia

ISBN 9780674241749

Publication date: 12/17/2019

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Winner of the Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize

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.


  • 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.

    —Judith Brown, author of Immodest Acts


  • 2021, Winner of the Margaret W. Rossiter History of Women in Science Prize
  • 2021, Winner of the Phyllis Goodhart Gordan Book Prize
  • 2020, Winner of the Helen and Howard R. Marraro Prize


  • 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.

Book Details

  • 352 pages
  • 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press