Tuesday, July 7, 2015

The Female Physician: A Deviation from 19th-Century Gender Roles?

This is the tenth anniversary of the Library Company first working with an intern from Haverford College’s Hurford Center for the Arts and Humanities. In their summers at the Library Company, each one has helped increase the digital resources we offer significantly. They have brought their own training in history, literature, anthropology, sociology, or art history to their projects in useful and thought-provoking ways. This summer we are very pleased to be working with history major David Zabliski, and look forward to another great outcome.

David Zabliski, Haverford College '17

For his internship, David Zabliski has two projects. One is working with Curator of Women’s History Cornelia King on the “Making, Maintaining, and Mending: Women’s Work in Early American Homes” project. Here’s what David writes about an item he has selected, in the process of identifying original materials that can be digitized to enrich the K-12 curriculum for the study of American history:

This 19th-century image of a lone female physician making a heroic midnight visit seems out of context for a time in which the majority of women worked inside the home cooking, cleaning, and raising children.  However, it illustrated a book by a male writer who supported traditional conceptions of gender.  In his 1870 publication, Woman: Her Rights, Wrongs, Privileges, and Responsibilities, Linus P. Brockett argues that despite dangers like “midnight rides in dark nights and over rough roads,” the more delicate and nurturing qualities of women, especially their “tact … skill … [and] … knowledge how to manage … a child, which seems almost intuitive [to them],” gave women the potential to be excellent physicians (p. 160-165).

Illustration from Woman: Her Rights, Wrongs, Privileges, and Responsibilities (Hartford, 1870).

This summer I have been looking for images of 19th-century American women that could be used as tools for teaching students American history. I’ve learned that even when women did venture outside of their homes, they could not escape the conceptions of domesticity and sentimentality that characterized them in their private lives.  These conceptions shape both Linus P. Brockett’s arguments for and reservations against female physicians.  Brockett explains that women’s domestic experience and sentimental capabilities would give them a leg up providing comfort to the sick and undertaking pediatric care. At the same time, he expresses the fear that female physicians might neglect their own motherly duties and that their sentimentality might make them ill-equipped to handle the harsh realities traveling physicians would face (Brockett, p. 158-166).  From the debate over their role in temperance movements to the debate over their work with benevolent organizations like orphan asylums, the conversation by male writers about women’s role outside of the home often involved arguments formulated around women’s domestic qualities.

David Zabliski, Haverford College '17
LCP intern, Summer 2015

For his second project, David Zabliski is cataloging stereographs in the Raymond J. Holstein Stereograph Collection. In the late 19th and early 20th century, looking at stereographs in stereoviewers to create the illusion of 3D was a common form of home entertainment, and the Holstein Collection joins our already considerable holdings of stereos depicting scenes in the Philadelphia area. Stay tuned for David’s next post on that project!

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Sarah J. Williams was elected the first City Physician of Springfield, MA, in 1872. With no family to support her, she had graduated from Mt. Holyoke. She was extremely popular among her patients, primarily women and children, and the residents ("inmates") of the alms house.