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Gender and Women's Studies


Part I: Ancient Medicine

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Hippocratic Writings

Hippocrates, G.E.R. Lloyd

This collection of writings about hippocratic medicine is a great place to start when exploring the origins of modern medicine. One aspect of the text that may come as a surprise to readers is the fact that in Hippocrates' day, medicine was considered to be an art and not yet a science.

  • "The Oath" and "The Canon" describe the character and ethics of Hippocrates' ideal physician.

  • "Epidemics, Books I and III" gives the reader an insight into the medical notes of a Greek physician and allows them to draw conclusions and diagnoses based on the patients' symptoms. For those interested in obstetrics and gynecology, many of the female patients' conditions (notably identified by their relationship to a father or husband) are correlated with birth and pregnancy. 

  • "Airs, Waters, Places" describes various societies and nations that Hippocrates is familiar with. This chapter involves a discussion of fertility in relation to a population's health and environment. Some of the most interesting analyses of gender roles in a society come from Hippocrates' analysis of the Sauromatae and the Scythians.

  • "Aphorisms" provides a list of medical facts and treatments from Ancient Greece, some of which are still scientifically accurate, and some that are plainly bizarre. The majority of aphorisms pertaining to bodies with uteruses are found in Section V, 28-62.

  • "The Seed" and "The Nature of the Child" discuss conception, pregnancy, and childbirth. Hippocrates' proposed mechanism for conception is particularly fascinating, and differs slightly from Aristotle's. 

On the Generation of Animals


Aristotle's biological text on human and animal reproduction provides context not only into the scientific beliefs of his time but also the societal and cultural beliefs regarding gender and women's place in society.

  • "Book I" describes human anatomy, including Aristotle's explanation of menstrual periods. He also introduces the two major schools of thought in regards to reproduction at that time.

  • ​Book II establishes the female as "a mutilated male" and "that which comes into being is male, is better and more divine than the material whereby it is female."

  • Book IV describes the determination between whether a fetus develops as a male or a female. It also describes "female character as being a sort of natural deficiency". This chapter also provides an explanation as to why many women do not menstruate while nursing after childbirth. 



Aristotle's text on politics and society may not seem at first to have much to do with medicine, but it provides significant insight into Ancient Greek gender roles and Aristotle's perspective on women's role in society. 


The story of Agnodice is, at its heart, one of a physician who truly cares for her patients. While her existence is likely to be one of fiction rather than fact, she leaves behind a legacy for all physicians, regardless of gender, to follow in her footsteps. 


Source: The British Museum

The Canon of Medicine

Avicenna, translated by O. Cameron Grunner

In this eleventh-century Islamic medical text, Avicenna (Ibn Sina) follows the four humors theory of medicine similar to Aristotle and Hippocrates over a thousand years before him. Book I, part 3 is notable in that it provides a comprehensive guide to breastfeeding and nursing. Though I was only able to access a translation of the first book of The Canon of Medicine, I have listed below a series of scholarly articles that analyze the text and its proposed treatments and etiology for a variety of topics.

"The Relations of Ancient Medicine to Gynaecology"

Edward W. Jenks, M.D.

This article from 1876 serves as an analysis of ancient medical practices as well as a comparison of these ancient practices to the practice of obstetrics and gynecology in the nineteenth century. Jenks also makes a case for studying medical history in this text, stating that, "History repeats itself in medicine, as elsewhere" (20). Interestingly, he also acknowledges that future generations of physicians may one day come to judge his generation's own practices as they are judging the practices of ancient physicians. 

The Trotula

Monica H. Green (Translator)

Supposedly written by a female physician in Salerno, Italy in the eleventh- or twelfth century, The Trotula serves as a comprehensive guide to obstetrics, gynecology, and medicine in the middle ages. The text provides information on everything from preventing pregnancy to removing wrinkles to faking virginity to treating ear worms. It characterized the uterus as a "a wild beast of the forest...wandering" (119-121). It proposes that one may tell whether they will have a male or female baby based on which breast is larger (105). It even suggests wearing the womb of a goat who has never given birth as a means of pregnancy-prevention (97). The text is a must-read for anyone interested in medieval medicine. 

Below is a list of scholarly articles also pertaining to obstetrics and gynecology in the Middle Ages:

Medicine, Religion and Gender in Medieval Culture

Naoë Kukita Yoshikawa (Editor)

This collection of essays explores the ways in which religion affected gender roles and medical practice in Medieval Europe. A selection of these essays is listed below. 

  • Dianne Watt's "Mary the Physician: Women, Religion and Medicine in the Middle Ages" explores the relationship between religion and healing, specifically in relation to the Christian Virgin Mary and the comfort she often provided women who were ill or experiencing pregnancy or childbirth. 

  • In "'Maybe I'm Crazy?' Diagnosis and Contextualization of Medieval Female Mystics", Juliette Vuille discusses religious mysticism and how female mystics were received in comparison to male mystics. It also discusses the ethics of diagnosing historical figures without being able to fully understand the context within which they lived their lives. 

  • "Disabled Children: Birth Defects, Causality and Guilt" by Irina Metzler analyzes the Medieval view of disability and birth defects, which were often believed to have occurred due to a moral failing on behalf of the parents as a punishment from God. This blame was most often placed on the mother.

  • "Marking the Face, Curing the Soul? Reading the Disfigurement of Women in the Later Middle Ages" by Patricia Skinner tells the stories of multiple Medieval women who either damaged their faces or threatened to do so when threatened with a marriage that they opposed due to religious beliefs. This essay speaks to the desperation that these women felt when faced with these proposed matches, and also the moral judgements placed on them when they followed through with their threats, even from religious communities.  

"Aquinas on Human Ensoulment, Abortion and the Value of Life"

John Haldane and Patrick Lee

In this article from Philosophy, the authors discuss the history of the Catholic Church's beliefs regarding ensoulment (when a fetus gains a human soul). This information is useful to provide context to the modern abortion debate, which is often dominated by religious rhetoric. 

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Part II: Development of Modern Medicine

The Female Body in Medicine and Literature

Andrew Mangham and Greta Depledge (Editors)

In a collection of essays ranging from the early seventeenth century to the mid-twentieth century, a variety of authors discuss several topics affecting women, gynecology, and obstetrics through the context of literature, pregnant machines, riddles, forgotten medical sub-specialties, and divorce cases. 

"The Life of John Snow, M.D."

B.W. Richardson

Pages xxx through xxxii of this document discuss how Anesthesiologist and Epidemiologist John Snow administered chloroform anaesthetic to Queen Victoria for the birth of her son, Prince Leopold, in 1853.

Medical Bondage:
Race, Gender, and the Origins of American Gynecology

Deidre Cooper Owens

Dr. James Marion Sims is known as the "father of American gynecology" for his research on gynecological surgery, the repair of the vesico-vaginal fistulae in particular. However, the women whom he performed these dangerous operations on, often without consent and without anesthetic, are often ignored. Sims performed these surgeries on over a dozen enslaved women. In this book, Owens tell the stories of Anarcha, Betsy, Lucy, and other "mothers" of this field. 

"On Criminal Abortion: A Lecture Introductory to the Course on Obstetrics, and Diseases of Women and Children"

Hugh L. Hodge MD

This 1854 lecture to an all-male medical school class is a primary account of nineteenth-century medical opinions and protocols regarding pregnancy, childbirth, and abortion.

From Hysteria to Hormones: A Rhetorical History

Amy Koerber

Using a rhetorical perspective, Amy Koerber analyzes the sensationalized diagnosis of "hysteria", commonly diagnosed to women for behavior that was deemed to be peculiar or deviant. Beginning with uteruses that traveled throughout the body in the days of Hippocrates and progressing through modern understandings of hormones and even discussing victim-blaming politicians, this text provides context for the development of modern diagnoses from medical history.

"Woman as a Physician"

Eugene F. Cordell, M.D.

In this 1883 lecture to female medical students, Cordell describes historical women physicians, such as Agnodice, and medical schools throughout history who have trained women, as well as giving his audience advice on their practice as women in medicine.

Fragment of an Analysis of a Case of Hysteria

Sigmund Freud

Freud's 1905 text on psychoanalysis and dream analysis is a case study of a young woman named Dora whom Freud proposes suffers from "hysteria". This text lends itself for several possible judgments by the reader, from the ethics of publishing such a case study to Freud's attitude towards Dora and the unwanted sexual advances that he postulated had caused her behavior. 

Below I have listed two other publications by Freud which I read over the course of this project:

"The Freudian Coverup"

Florence Rush

In her 1996 paper, Rush analyzes Freud's observation that many of his patients who suffered from "hysteria" had also experienced sexual abuse in childhood, often by their fathers. She argues that Freud's refusal to blame the fathers, instead placing blame on the patients' mothers or the patients themselves, or even by insisting that the abuse was only a fantasy, has perpetuated a culture in which experts and healthcare providers may blame survivors of sexual abuse for their own assault. 

"Lesbians in Psychoanalytic Theory and Practice"

Evelyn Torton Beck and Susan (Shanee) Stepakoff

The authors of this paper analyzed five books discussing sexuality and psychoanalytic theory, specifically focusing on lesbianism. Through the context of these books, the Stepakoff and Beck describe Freud's view of homosexuality and how it affects psychoanalytic practice today.

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Part III: Modern Medicine

Sexual Behavior in the Human Female

Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin, Paul H. Gebhard, et al.

Published in 1953, this second part of the Kinsey Reports describes the sexual behaviors and attitudes of thousands of American women. For the purposes of this project, I focused on chapters 1-5, 7-10. Kinsey and his colleagues provided statistical analyses of various types of sexual behavior compared with socioeconomic status, religious affiliation, education level, and several other factors. The authors also provided commentary on the cultural contexts within which these behaviors occur. Some of these 1950s stigmas and superstitions may be familiar to modern readers, while others, such as attitudes about the LGBTQ+ community, have greatly changed. 

Alternative Medicine and What the Body Told

Rafael Campo

These two collections of poetry describe life through the lens of Campo's family, culture, and career. The poems most relevant to this specific project tend to center on Campo's role as a physician, with many poems discussing his experience as a gay man and a physician during the AIDS epidemic. Recommended poems include "My Feminine Side", "Once There Was Great Love", "Canción de las Mujeres", "Song for Our Daughter, XIII. Population Explosion", "Ten Patients, and Another", "Song Before Dying, XII. The Patient-Doctor Relationship", "Hospital Song", "Phamacopedia for the New Millenium", "Recent Past Events", "Band of Gold", "Nude", and "Sestina in Red". 

The Pride Guide:
A Guide to Sexual and Social Health for LGBTQ Youth

Jo Langford

This guide, written for LGBTQ+ youth, provides non-judgemental information on mental and physical health, pronouns, identities, STIs, online safety, parenting, coming out, and so much more. 

Killing the Black Body:
Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty

Dorothy Roberts

Originally published in 1997 and still relevant over twenty years later, Dorothy Roberts discusses Black women's role in the contemporary reproductive justice movement. Roberts provides evidence that society's drive to control Black women's bodies and their reproduction did not end with the abolition of slavery, but it still maintained in government programs that discourage pregnancy and childbirth for Black women and in societal attitudes and prejudices against Black mothers. This text is indispensable for anybody who strives to practice intersectional feminism and anybody who is interested in reproductive medicine. 

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General Resources and Archives

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