Masters Thesis

Every Woman Her Own Physician: Sustaining the Female Voice in Medicine in Seventeenth and Eighteenth-Century England

Purpose of the Study: The purpose of this research is to reveal the depth of knowledge, expertise, and involvement women had in medicine and physical health throughout early modern England with a particular emphasis on midwifery and herbal medicine. Despite limited opportunity due to the professionalization of medicine, women took to writing and publishing cookbooks in the eighteenth-century to convey their knowledge and expertise of physical health. Procedure: A series of data tables were constructed to provide a thorough analysis of original documents from 1550-1800. Appendix A lists books and manuals authored predominantly by men who wrote on subjects pertaining to women, medicine, and midwifery. Appendix B lists books and manuals published in the 1800’s by women or anonymous authors believed to be women who wrote on cookery, medicine, and physick. Appendix C is a comprehensive list of the identified female authors from my research who produced cookbooks that contained medicinal receipts. Appendix D lists the most frequently used ingredients in the medicinal receipts listed within the cookbooks. My research serves as an analysis of the quantitative data built to reflect the purpose of this study. Findings: England’s printed materials on women, midwifery, and medicine from 1548-1700 were predominantly written by men. The knowledge women possessed on similar matters became evident by the early 1700’s with the publication of cookbooks, which became the domestic avenue many women took to voice their knowledge and expertise of herbal medicine and physical health. The latter half of the eighteenth-century saw a notable increase of publications and numerous editions. The majority of female authors wrote their own medicinal remedies for numerous physical ailments in men, women, and children. Conclusions: Because women’s medicinal knowledge was contained within cookbooks, women were able to assert their own authority regarding medicine and physical health in the realm of domesticity without the otherwise limiting constraints existing in professionalized medicine. By analyzing copious books and manuals printed in England from 1548-1800, it became evident that women continued to practice midwifery, share knowledge of medicine, and sustained a voice in matters concerning physical health regardless of the limitations placed upon them.