Friday, December 30, 2011

Germany's first female doctor ...

Dorothea Erxleben became Germany’s first licensed female doctor in the mid-1700s, but it wasn’t without a long struggle against societal norms. As a teen, she displayed an aptitude for intellectual pursuits, although there were few opportunities outside of the house and home for women. Her father, a doctor in the German city of Quedlinburg, encouraged and supported her academic study, however. She studied medicine under his watchful eye, and was admitted, even as a woman in that day, to the University of Halle, which she attended for a time with her brother. But when her brother was drafted into the military, societal norms prevented her -- a young, single woman -- from continuing her education at the university. She returned to her home town and later married a widower with several children, and subsequently the couple had several children of their own. Her husband became ill, and to support him and the children, she began treating patients. Her activities brought charges of "quackery" from three local physicians (including Henricus Grasshoff, one of my direct ancestors!) after one of her patients died.

Londa Schiebinder, in her book The Mind Has No Sex?: Women in the Origins of Modern Science, writes that “Erxleben considered her enemies accusations ‘gross insults to truth’ and concluded her letter by offering to take a qualifying exam – but only on the condition that her accusers also take the exam. The doctors, of course, refused to take such an exam, and claimed that ‘the dear lady considers herself a doctor, only by virtue of the fact that she can toss around some broken Latin and French. Such is her feminine understanding.’”

After Erxleben passed her exam in 1754, the university rector announced that she "proved herself a man." She practiced medicine without further trouble until her death in 1762.

No comments: