Sunday, June 25, 2023

Female Physicians

We talked here about how women and Jewish women could be physicians in the Middle Ages, but it would be a mistake to think that there was no opposition to this phenomenon, especially after a change in 1220.

Consider that, technically, anyone could practice medicine. No one would object to a mother caring for a family member, or a nun feeding a leper (as in the illustration). More formal, professional medical practice in France, however, required a degree from the University of Paris. This prevented many, women especially, from helping their fellow human beings. There were consequences for treating the sick if you were not "official."

Consider the case of Jacqueline Felice de Almania, a woman from Florence who was living in Paris. Her reputation was excellent: she was known for finding cures for patients who had been treated elsewhere without relief. She did not charge fees unless the patient was cured. 

In 1322, she was brought to trial by the University of Paris. The accusation was treating patients without any "real" knowledge of medicine; that is, she did not have a degree. Seven former patients were brought as witnesses; all testified that she had helped them where male doctors had failed. Her actions involved analyzing urine by sight, taking the pulse of patients, examining their limbs, etc. She was found guilty of practicing without a license, fined 60 pounds, and threatened with excommunication if she ever treated patients again.

The year 1322 was popular for cracking down on unlicensed medical practitioners. In that same year, records show women named Clarice of Rouen (banned for treating men), Jeanne the Convert (likely originally a Jew) of Saint-Médicis, Marguerite of Ypres, and "Jewess Belota" all were banned from practicing medicine.

The University of Paris in 1325 appealed to Pope John XXII to speak out strongly on this issue. He wrote to Bishop Stephen of Paris to forbid women practicing without medical knowledge or acting as midwives, because what they were doing was akin to witchcraft. A bit of a stretch to go from medicine to witchcraft just because the person was female, but then, John was determined to stamp out witchcraft...and a lot of other things, which I'll talk more about tomorrow.

(By the way, women earning medical degrees at the University of Paris was suppressed until the 19th century!)

No comments:

Post a Comment