Women in Early Medicine

Women in Early Medicine

In 14th—century Europe, women were forbidden to study at university levels and were refused licenses to practice medicine. They were permitted to continue working as midwives and "wise women," but the laws restricting them from other medical procedures were vigorously enforced.

In 1322 five women were brought to trial by the medical faculty at the University of Paris for practicing medicine without a license. One of the defendants was Jacqueline Felicie de Almania. The charges brought against her at the trial were that "she would cure her patients of internal illness and wounds. . . . She would visit the sick and examine their urine in the manner of physicians, feel the pulse and touch the body and limbs." She was quoted as having said to a sick person, "I will cure you by God's will, if you will trust in me." She made a pact with patients and received money from them.

The main witness against her was the surgeon John of Padua. Since women could not practice as lawyers, John declared, it was even more important that they not practice medicine, because losing a life was far more serious than losing a legal decision. Jacqueline was not without her own witnesses to testify in her behalf. Eight of de Almania's patients testified that she had been able to cure them when male doctors had failed to do so. The charges against her were not that she was incompetent but that as a woman she dared to cure at all.

De Almania also testified, arguing that women patients receive better treatment from a female physician, who would be able to examine their "breasts, belly, and feet" while the male counterpart could not. A male doctor was permitted to examine a female patient only while she was under a blanket or sheet and could diagnose only what he was able to feel. Even those in the courtroom at the time agreed with her testimony.

The judge remained unconvinced and stated, "It is certain that a man approved in the aforesaid art could cure the sick better than any woman." All five women were found guilty and received a most severe penalty for that historical era: they were all excommunicated from the Church.

From the book: 
Petrified Lightning